Trollope, Fitzgerald and Holmes for the Generalist’s Soul

I think I must be a generalist by default, because I am not stand-out good at anything in particular. Generalists cannot live forever on left-handed ‘renaissance man’ compliments, so we must become good at collecting pieces of validation about our attitude towards life (and our resistance towards specialization). Three quotes have anchored my views on being a generalist. I thought I’d share them.

[Read more…]

The UnAha! Experience

Imagine that there is a mystery closed curve about the origin. Allow two parallel lines to approach the origin from diametrically opposed directions, and have them stop where they first become tangent to the mystery curve. Suppose you do this from all pairs of directions from (0,π) to (π,0), and find that the lines stop the same distance apart everywhere. What is the mystery curve? (Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about mathematics!) [Read more…]

The Varieties of Innovation Experience

If you have accepted ‘innovator’ as some part of your identity, what sort of innovator are you? I offer here a dictionary of personality types I’ve encountered in the 10 years I’ve been in the business, and offer some of my favorite examples from history. But before I let you have fun trying to recognize yourself in my list, a word of explanation is in order. I have always been unhappy with the usual definition of innovation — as invention successfully taken to market. This definition is of the sort David Foster Wallace calls “deeply trivial” (he coins that phrase in Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity and provides an elegant example: “because it is illegal” as an answer to the question, “why is it wrong to kill?”). So here we go: a better definition of innovation, and a taxonomy of innovation styles, with apologies to William James.

[Read more…]

Ambient Presence and Virtual Social Capital

In previous articles in this series on virtual geography, I considered the 50-foot rule and its reconstruction for a digital world. Let’s return to the theme from another angle: ambient presence. Let’s say you and your spouse work in different cities. You both sign up for a VoIP service like Skype, but instead of dutifully talking every evening, you just turn up the speakers on your respective computers, and leave the Skype connection on. You occasionally say something to each other; you can hear each other’s TVs and kitchen noises. That’s ambient presence. Communication technology becoming so cheap that you can afford to leave it on to create a passive background connection. It is a pretty darn cool concept, so let’s take a serious look at it.

[Read more…]

The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr, famous for being among the first to publicly point out, in IT Doesn’t Matter, that investment in information technology had gone from being a differentiator to a cost of doing business, is back in the limelight with an ambitious new book, The Big Switch (website). It starts out with a fairly focused intent — to understand the potential shift to a service-oriented, utility-based model of computing. It accomplishes that intent rather hurriedly, but reasonably well, and then marches on to bigger things, with mixed results.

The overall recommendation: well worth a read, so long as you stay aware of a couple of critical blind spots in the book’s take.

[Read more…]

The Blue Tunnel

I have had this little picture-story in my mind for several months now. It is the sort of thing that gets less clear the more you say about it, so here it is, with no further explanation.

[Read more…]

Entrepreneurship, Intrapreneurship and Cross-preneurship

I’ve heard people describe themselves as serial entrepreneurs. I suppose I could say I am something of a cross-preneur: I like experimenting with *preneurial behaviors in different contexts. Serial *preneurship would bore me. I’ve been meaning to write something about entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship for the last few weeks, since it recently hit me that I have approximately a year of experience with each of these. My thoughts went, perhaps inevitably, from a list of differences, to a list of similarities, to an attempt at synthesis. I can’t claim to have achieved a synthesis — a definition of *preneurship say — but I’ve made some indirect progress by focusing on the concept of ‘cross-preneur’ (I’ll remove the hyphen if the term catches on). Here are some things I’ve learned about being a cross-preneur, defined as somebody capable of being *preneurial in multiple contexts.

[Read more…]

A Map of Communication

Communication is a somewhat-teachable subject. It isn’t as efficiently teachable as say, mathematics. But it is not as unteachable as say, “relationships.” Beyond the basics, there are things that you can say about it. They aren’t well-organized sorts of things, but there is some coherence. Here is a map of the parts of the territory that I’ve traversed (or at least viewed from a distance). [Read more…]

Book Review and Summary: Strategic Intuition

There are certain books that invite a certain mischievous kind of self-referential review. Strategic Intuition is about that key insight which organizes a mass of simmering raw information-input into an elegant decision about a course of action. So the moment I got the book’s theme, the first question that popped into my mind was: does this book contain the strategic intuition about strategic intuition? The answer is no, but this is still a pretty thought-provoking addition to the popular literature on decision-making, and a useful step towards the definitive treatment.

[Read more…]

Creative Destruction: Portrait of an Idea

The phrase creative destruction has resonated with me since I first heard it, and since then, it has been an organizing magnet in my mind for a variety of ideas. I was reminded of the concept again this weekend while reading William Duggan’s Strategic Intuition, which mentioned Joseph Schumpeter as a source of inspiration. Visually, I associate the phrase most with Escher’s etching, Liberation, which shows a triangular tessellation transforming into a flock of birds. As the eye travels up the etching, the beauty of the original pattern must be destroyed in order that the new pattern may emerge

Escher Liberation

(All M.C. Escher works (c) 2008 The M.C. Escher Company – the Netherlands. All rights reserved. Used by permission. ):

[Read more…]