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Things I wish I had been involved in creating

There are a few things that make me wish I had been the creative genius behind them. If I was, it would be the ultimate fulfilling experience that one can ask for from a profession or livelihood. Having created them, I could say with absolute certainty, “The best is not yet to come. I’m done.” Then pick up my suitcase and go travel the world aimlessly for the rest of my life.

Yes, a lot of these things are made by a group of people, not just one person. But my intent is to put a benchmark on the vision and collective quality of work that went into making these. Here is the list:

  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • Google Earth
  • Apple iPod
  • MacBook Pro
  • iPhone
  • Costco
  • Harry Potter
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Crate & Barrel
  • WordPress
  • ifttt
  • pbwiki

Lesson 9: Reinvent the wheel

It’s not something one must do. It’s something one must not be afraid of doing, if need arises. Often we get so mired in doing things the same way that we stop imagining that there may be a better way of doing it. Everything (and I mean everything) can be improved. Here are some interesting examples that really surprised me when I first heard of them:

  • RevoPower: Practically re-inventing the wheel. I heard of them in 2007 through a Popular Science article. Basically, they incorporated a 25cc two-stroke gas-powered engine and gears within the front wheel of a bicycle. It claimed to be installable on any bicycle within 15 minutes, and get over 200 miles per gallon at a top speed of 20 mph. Fact that they went out of business in 2009 has nothing to do with my point here. I remember them as an example of rethinking something very basic and taken-for-granted.
  • Knork: Saw it on ‘Big Idea Show‘ hosted by Danny Deutsch (link to episode on youtube). Simple idea about combining a knife and a fork. My first reaction was “..hasnt that been done already?”. Well, now it has been. And with a patent.
  • Dyson Air Multiplier: That’s a fancy name for a fan. Deserving too, because this one doesn’t have any blades or grille.

Stay Hungy. Stay Foolish.

If you have heard Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, there is not much to add here. I love the end message he gives “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”. That, i think, is the key to a fulfilling life.

Lesson 8: Don’t die wondering

This caught my eye as I was making my way through the maze of cubicles at work- someone had a bright orange sticker with these three words on their cubicle wall. What a profound phrase. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford Steve Jobs notes death as ‘life’s change agent’ and goes on to advise “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”.

Listen to Steve. There is a lot to see and do in life, so start doing more of the things that you really enjoy doing, and stop caring about things you don’t enjoy. This includes your job.

PS: another great related quote: “Someday” is happening today…

Lesson 7: No such thing as overplanning

“Chance favors the prepared mind”, I’ve read somewhere as a famous quotation. Planning for all practical possibilities pays off every time. The best example is interview preparation. Once you’ve gone over a long list of possible questions and your answers to them, almost nothing remains as surprise. A nice side-effect is that the effort commits responses to memory in a way that they sound spontaneous, yet have the core value intact. For interview, I suggest even preparing responses to questions that you don’t have a response for; like ” that’s an excellent question, I want to make sure I understand it correctly. Can you phrase it another way?” That gives you time to think of an answer.

Note: If you absolutely have to go unplanned (say for a road trip), plan for being unplanned. E.g. take a GPS, phone charger, etc.

Strategic concepts to remember

I’ve been trying to single out good strategies that have created new markets for emerging concepts/technologies, and now some patterns have started emerging. The following is a living list of what seems to make good sense:

  • Always think platform– A foundational approach to new products is perhaps key in breaching new markets. This is more about abstracting your value proposition so that others can build on top of it. Makes for a more sustainable market. Examples- iPhone (app store), Facebook (fb connect), Linkedin (apps), Microsoft Healthvault (peripheral medical devices), Google Health (personal health data), Ooyala (video syndication), WordPress/Typepad (blogging).
  • Foster an Ecosystem– This strategy is about growing the whole pie, rather than getting a bigger piece for yourself. Get partners and 3rd party providers to add value to your offering, and share revenue with them. Microsoft does it the best. Overlaps with the ‘platform’ approach somewhat because having an enabling foundation is key for ecosystem to develop. Examples- Healthvault (lining up numerous medical device vendors), Apple App Store.
  • Offer Service, not products– Consumers want risk-sharing and dependability. These are more amenable to a service model. SaaS, SOA are the central approaches here. Everything can be a service. Examples- RollsRoyce offering jet engines as a service, Salesforce (the SaaS pioneer, of course). Some people like to call this way of doing business as ‘solution-centric’ offerings, not services… but i think the core idea is the same.
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