Archive for May, 2018

WSJ: Partners in Blood

Monday, May 21st, 2018

Few organizations in Silicon Valley implode like Theranos has. [There also was Solyndra.] But Theranos is a good case example for the innovation process for the YCISL program. This entry is based on the article “Partners in Blood” by John Carreyrou published in the Saturday/Sunday May 19-20 issue of the WSJ (Review section).

The article describes ultimately poor leadership skills on the part of two main characters in the Theranos story: Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh Balwani.

By YCISL measures, they actually did a great job at problem-setting, brainstorming, and elevator pitch. They should also be given credit for product development with regards to setting a very compelling feature list.

However, there are two parts of the innovation leadership process that seem to not have been done according to Silicon Valley standards. One is the testing and readiness step. Alpha and beta testing must have revealed serious problems with what they had developed. Once the product was put in the hands of a real user, QA, QC, LIMS and all other lab protocols should have alerted everyone to problems.

The other step that went awry is prototyping. In YCISL, we emphasize “fail early, fail fast” in the prototype stage but Theranos kept developing a product past prototyping with showstopper failings. Any skilled analytical chemist would not trust data from small sample size due to the amplified issues with the “scientific method” including sampling error, sample contamination, sample preservation, and the conditioning of analytical instrument detectors. What Theranos did is an error usually made (but eventually understood) by first-time science fair students. The real failing here however is the denial of the flaws, and the inability of investors to resist the obvious fib. Fuel to the fire.

The lesson for YCISL is to be disciplined during the prototyping stage and even the testing stage. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to embrace failure and learn from it. Be comfortable starting again – Silicon Valley style.

Follow-on: I decided to re-read Jeff Raskin’s “HOLES IN THE HISTORIES” to remind myself how it only takes one acceptable “authority” to build a consensus resulting in fact but not truth. Theranos’ lie may have started as a small seemingly-manageable one, but one can imagine it getting out of hand once one investor bought in. At some point, people chose not to check primary sources and relied on secondary sources. People bought into the “fact” but took the truth for granted. Raskin also writes on DELIBERATE MISREPRESENTATION and the “reality distortion field” that Steve Jobs is closely associated with. This is a leadership “disease” which has spread widely and we should address by instilling stronger EQ in youth leadership.

WSJ: Advice to New Grads: Scale or Bail

Monday, May 21st, 2018

As I make final preparations for my YCISL workshop this weekend with undergraduate students from the City University of Hong Kong, I read “Advice to New Grads: Scale or Bail” by Andy Kessler in today’s WSJ (Opinion Section in Monday May 21 21, 2018 issue; Inside View column) looking for spreadable wisdom from the author’s perspective.


I thought it started off well, pulling in the advice that commencement speakers are giving at this year’s college graduations. Kessler’s main idea appears to be one of “scale” where the number of users are in the “thousands, or millions, or even billions.” His point about “Scale is about doing more with less” is quite inspiring – although I feel he needed the word “proportionally” in there.

To me, this resonates with Rory Sutherland’s point about “Stuff that has a big effect” and “Stuff that costs a lot of money” where there is opportunity to do “stuff” with big effect but costs little or no money. I think the key word here though is “opportunity” and it seems Kessler discounts opportunities and pathways (eg, “Stop doing one-off volunteering” and use of the word “Bail” in the title). It’s not that his advice is incorrect; it’s just that this advice itself doesn’t scale. It’s binary and not integrative. Innovation is about taking on uncertainty and risk. There is no guarantee.

Bottom line is that problems are everywhere and occurring all the time. Problem-solving – with huge (emotional) impact and rewards – spans all scales and requires action-takers willing to accept the possible outcomes. I think this article needs some framing correction for the social awareness component of EQ so that today’s graduates would be more willing to challenge their abilities and dynamically work with expectations on all scales.

CNBC: The world’s richest self-made woman shares her No. 1 key to success

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

I read an article on AsiaOne titled “The world’s richest self-made woman shares her No. 1 key to success” (by Serena Lin, dated May 8, 2018 on which tells a story of Zhou Qunfei. For context, this was on in their Leadership section.

This story seems like a good one to touch on several YCISL ideas.

  1. For YCISL, we view success as having many forms (just as we do for leadership and sustainability) and perhaps the least encouraged way is on the level of attained wealth. As I scan the story, I see success in (a) how she pursued her dream of starting a business, and (b) how she teamed with relatives. Her personal commitment to perseverance is also a success.
  2. As we learn from Shawn Achor, we should place happiness before success. In the story, neither “happy” or “happiness” or anything similar are mentioned. Did she sacrifice happiness or has she not yet found any?
  3. The use of “self-made” in the article’s story seems incorrect. The article touches on several instances in which her support network kicked in. The fact that she started a family watch lens workshop shows that there was a support network. So too are her daughter and Motorola. Given this, I would have liked to have read about how she has shown gratitude to her supporters.
  4. In YCISL, we train in “fail early, fail fast” and discuss how one of Silicon Valley’s key strengths is the embrace of failure (or failing well) and one’s ability to rebound with learned lessons from failure. The part of the story where she is contemplating jumping from a train platform illustrates the opposite.
  5. There are two photos of Zhou with wide smiles. Applying Guy Kawasaki’s lessons on real smiles (ie, associated with positive mindset), I wonder whether she has a positive and growth mindset – which I consider critical elements on leadership.

Overall, I feel it’s a good Your Personal Story. It starts with a strong reflection of the past (especially a series of good decisions that seems like she would make again if she had to), an identity in the present (such as Brother Fei), and…ok, the story is missing a message to her future self. Almost there.

A Study in Contrast: Smart Ideas vs Un-Smart Ideas

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018


When choosing a problem and solution for the YCISL Project Studio, teams are guided to draw from their own “universe” and work on something that comes from their own experience or an issue they are very familiar with. With our emphasis on creativity and innovation, we also encourage students to work on the “crazy” end of the spectrum. But by rollout, we expect the product and pitch to have a compelling form and story.

SMART IDEA. I am following news stories on the volcanic fissure and lava flow activity on southeastern part of Hawaii, and found the story about emergency kits for evacuees as a great example for the YCISL students. While emergency kits are generally generic (plenty of choices on Amazon), creating one for a specific situation in real time involves EQ, fast-thinking, and problem-solving. This activity also has elements of philanthropy (I don’t think they’re planning on selling these kits) and sustainability (the victims need resources which can sustain them). This would make a great model on which a YCISL team can develop something – such as a formula and process to create custom-kits as disasters strike.

UN-SMART IDEA. I was in the Financial District of San Francisco last weekend and found that the lack of EQ in how electric scooter sharing has been executed is comedic. Further, this clouded-thinking innovation has created more problems than it has solved – and there is a charge for it. Given this product’s propensity for safety risk and “pollution” (physically littering the streets), this is so un-sustainable. They’ve avoided design thinking. Had they tried to improve on issues with bike sharing in China? It’s quite obvious that the companies developing these scooter businesses are chasing free publicity in the marketing battle to see who will survive in this industry. To this end, could it be that they employ people to ride these scooters to garner attention?

YouTube Video: this $90 water bottle has a Hi Def Video Camera

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.14.05 AMThis morning (Tuesday May 1, 2018), Casey Neistat (actually I am finding several of his videos quite relevant to YCISL) posted a YouTube video review of a water bottle with a mini video camera built-in. The three main features (there are more, but you have to click on “Show more”) of this product as posted on the B&H web site are:

  • 1920 x 1080 Resolution
  • Motion-Activated Recording
  • Built-in Rechargeable Battery

The product name, although wordy, adds to the draw: BrickHouse Security Water Bottle with 1080p Covert Camera. For interesting contrast, the BrickHouse Security web site calls the product “HD 1080P Water Bottle Hidden Camera” and the three main features are:

  • Motion Detection Recording
  • Supports Up to 64GB Memory
  • Food Grade PET Plastic

We’ve visited the idea of a video camera in a water bottle in our workshop with teams that are assigned a GoPro Hero Session as their convergence inspiration for their water bottle design. While the GoPro is an action camera and less so (although capable) a surveillance/spy camera, it’s cool to see a company realizing such a product.

Beyond the convergence part of our exercise, positioning and framing could be factors considered for the presentation (an exercise in storytelling, perhaps). Framing would be the attempt to have prospective users imagine a scene in which the product is present, and positioning is messaging where exactly that product may appear within that frame. Framing and positioning are generally singular in messaging (lest you risk contradiction, confusion and dilution), but combining with the other elements of our elevator pitch exercise (eg, opportunity, ask and promise) should give rise to a compelling story. I feel the compelling story is missing which is why Neistat had both positive and negative recommendations in his review conclusion.