Richard Feynman on the importance of study & curiosity.
Great piece on how most inventions are ignored at launch.
Take the Wright Brothers and flight...
Few took any interest in the matter or in the two brothers who were to become Dayton’s greatest heroes ever.
An exception was Luther Beard, managing editor of the Dayton Journal … “I used to chat with them in a friendly way and was always polite to them,” Beard would recall, “because I sort of felt sorry for them. They seemed like well-meaning, decent enough young men. Yet there they were, neglecting their business to waste their time day after day on that ridiculous flying machine.”
It wasn’t until 1908 — five years after the first flight and two years after the brothers patented their flying machine — that the press paid serious attention and the world realized how amazing the Wrights’ invention was. Not until World War II, three decades later, did the significance of the airplane become appreciated.
How about reaction to the car? Initially derided as a rich person's plaything.
In the year 1906 Woodrow Wilson, who was then president of Princeton University, said, “Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the automobile,” and added that it offered “a picture of the arrogance of wealth.”
How about this New York Times article on the laptop?
People don’t want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so …
Yes, there are a lot of people who would like to be able to work on a computer at home. But would they really want to carry one back from the office with them? It would be much simpler to take home a few floppy disks tucked into an attache case.
Or the Internet.
The truth [is] no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on a computer. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach.
Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet.
The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:
- I’ve never heard of it.
- I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
- I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
- I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
- I use it, but it’s just a toy.
- It’s becoming more useful for me.
- I use it all the time.
- I could not imagine life without it.
- Seriously, people lived without it?
The reality we often look in the wrong places, at big corporations when in fact it's more likely two brothers working in a garage and it might take the rest of us years to discover and accept it...
Richard Feynman's approach to the collection of knowledge is one of the most inspiring things I've ever encountered (thanks Nick Howes). If you haven't read "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" then do it now. Take nothing as gospel. Be curious. Don't respect authority. Don't fear uncertainty. Embrace it. The people who are sure of their answers are the ones who scare me the most. Doubt is often seen as a weakness in business but it's in no way a bad thing. Doubt combined with optimism brings out the explorer in all of us. Exploring & experimenting is how we learn.
1. Digital technology, especially computers and cell phones, can dramatically increase productivity.
2. More and more users of digital technology are small firms or individuals.
3. The vast majority of users of digital technology are totally lame in getting the most out of the investment of their time and money.
We spend so much time talking to businesses about improving their digital output but so much of it comes down to smarter working practises based on better collaboration. This post on getting more out of meetings fits that really well.
1. Don’t do any prep work – at all
Come unprepared, with no set agenda, and you’ll guarantee that nobody knows what you need to discuss.
2. Don’t stress about punctuality
Turning up late and having no end point in sight is a great way to ensure a long, badly organised meeting.
3. Invite as many people as possible
Fill the meeting with as many people as possible to guarantee too many opinions and lots of wasted time.
4. Attend every meeting you can
Going to every meeting you’re invited to, even if you can’t contribute anything useful, will make sure those meetings are a waste of time.
5. Host your meeting in a terrible venue
Holding your meeting in a noisy, overcrowded coffee shop will guarantee a terrible meeting, where nobody can hear what’s being said.
6. Don’t take notes
Don’t write anything down – just assume people will remember what was said, and what they have to do next, and your meeting will be pointless.
It’s Apple’s single-company mindset that lets it give away industry-leading software and cannibalize its own products, which in turn has led to its unprecedented success.
For a coherent strategy to work, then, the organization executing it must be measured as a whole, rather than as parts. In other words, if a company is to have a single strategy, it must be driven by a single P&L.This may sound like an extreme position. Yet some of the world’s most successful companies operate this way. Apple famously has only one P&L, for which its CFO, Peter Oppenheimer, has direct responsibility. And while each of its major hardware product lines is priced to make a significant profit, it bundles in all its key software upgrades, products, services, and platforms for free. […]It’s Apple’s single-company mindset that lets it give away industry-leading software and cannibalize its own products, which in turn has led to its unprecedented success."
So the myth goes, when a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that's slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. In many ways it is a perfect metaphor for how businesses (music, books, newspapers, TV etc) deal with potential disruption.
Clay Shirky says it best
The people in the music industry weren't stupid… they just couldn't imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail… the industry's insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.
Once you see this pattern – with the incumbents the last to know – you see it everywhere.
First, the people running the old system don't notice the change.
When they do, they assume it's minor.
Then that it's a fad.
And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they've squandered most of the time they had to adapt.
Disruption is often hard to spot. Your competitor comes in, works for ridiculously small profits, you laugh at them and their measly profits, and then you realise your business has croaked…
A friend sent me this and I just love it (way more than his slightly underwhelming exhibition at the Hayward Gallery). Chimes well for most things but particularly people working in and around digital marketing.
"I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery. Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in:
Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.
More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children.
Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web.
Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’
What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.
From the brilliant Douglas Adams.
How small companies will always challenge big (the main idea behind The Innovators Dilemma).
How difficult starting a business is (success or failure being mostly down to perseverance).
How San Francisco became such a hotbed of invention (his answer: music, hippies, LSD and exceptional colleges).
I've been reading Jobs' biography which is long but pretty good. What really struck me was his complete respect for artists. He understood the hard work behind great art and creativity ("Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent persperation" as Edison and Michaelangelo are both meant to have said).
He often talked about Apple existing at the intersection of art and technology. As Andy Hertzfeld (who was on the original Mac team but is now at Google) says 'Jobs thought of himself as an artist, and he encouraged the design team to think of ourselves that way too. The goal was never to beat the competition, or to make lots of money. It was to do the greatest thing possible, or even a little greater.'
He was a terrible manager, awful to work for in traditional ways (rare praise, inability to delegate, used lies and manipulation excessively) but he knew all of this. The reason he was such 'an asshole' (his words) was because he honestly believed he was facilitating people to create the best work of their lives (they almost universally agree with this).
"He would shout at a meeting, 'You asshole, you never do anything right," Debi Coleman recalled. "It was like an hourly occurrence. Yet I consider myself the absolute luckiest person in the world to have worked with him."