Archive for July, 2012

WSJ: Why Our Innovators Traffic in Trifles

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

In the Saturday/Sunday July7-8, 2012 issue of the WSJ, there is an article titled “Why Our Innovators Traffic in Trifles” by Nicholas Carr on page C2 (article can be found online at

The article addresses the immense public awareness and awe surrounding incremental innovations such as Instagram. Carr writes “What we are seeing is not a slowdown in the pace of innovation but a shift in its focus.” He adds “We are getting precisely the kind of innovation that we desire – and deserve.” He points to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” and suggests we are experiencing a progression in human desires.

But really, I only heard about Instagram when Facebook offered to acquire them. Even then, I would estimate 98% or more of us look at Instagram’s user interface level to assign a level of innovation quality. How innovative is the whole product from design level to architecture level to structural coding etc? I can’t tell you. Could you? I did, however, work with the Blazer team when Bluelark was acquired by Handspring and the web browser app would become central to the Treo. I knew of its server-side features, its security issues, interface challenges and user experience aims. This level of detail allowed me to appreciate the innovative qualities of the product and process. So, can innovation be judged by the user interface and interaction alone? The answer, broadly speaking is “Yes, but not well.”

I’ve long held the definition that innovation is a term that should exclusively be associated with inventions that had a massively influential effect on life. Some of the best examples are flight, fire, the computer and the pencil. However, now that I think more about innovation as a process than an object, there is room for incremental innovation – for those who have gone through the same process as for true innovation – and yielded something that is unique and provides a valued alternative to existing solutions. By thinking of innovation as a process, we can make it accessible to youth and provide lessons in creative thinking.

And to Carr’s point about focus, innovation is really a matter of perspective and the level of fascination that is realized. While the truest innovations affect all, most of what is held as innovation today is held so by adult eyes and their focal control. At best, these are quasi-innovations – objects that have unique life-changing qualities but only upon a limited segment of people. Therefore, I am looking forward to helping define innovation for the youth segment and differentiating it from the “trifle” that has filled our lives.

WSJ: Children Learn a New Way to Play At Summer Camp That Teaches Tech

Friday, July 6th, 2012

In the Thursday July 5, 2012 issue of the Bay Area edition of the WSJ on page A7B, there is an article titled “Children Learn a New Way to Play At Summer Camp That Teaches Tech” by Rachael King which describes the ID (“Internal Drive”) Tech Camps – some of which take place at Stanford. Many private non-Stanford companies run summer camps at Stanford as well as other university campuses.

One of my children attended a similar camp at Stanford in summer 2011 offered by Digital Media Academy – it was a compelling package including a Java curriculum based on Stanford’s popular CS106A course (including Karel the Robot) and overnight accommodations in a Stanford Row House. However, the only really authentic Stanford quality of these camps is the Row House living, dining in one of the Residence Dining Halls and being on-campus. Stanford classrooms are not used (our camp had a computer lab set up in the Row House’s kitchen), the people are migratory (just here for the summer), and the Stanford scholarly culture and atmosphere are missing.

I also say this to differentiate the YCISL program from these summer camps. The summer camps are a marvelous asset to extending learning opportunities when school is closed for the summer; this helps address the deep lull some students may get into when they are not tasked with school work (an interesting puzzle that there is way too much work during the school year, and relatively little during summer). So, I view the 3rd-party summer camps such as those at Stanford as competitors and I need to emphasize the YCISL features that works to our participants’ advantage. I also recognize that Stanford Summer College and EPGY are also competitors, and communicating the differences is warranted.

As for the WSJ article, I wish it had provided more evaluation on how camps such ID Tech helps supports education.