Article: Moonshot

Horace Dediu has some good analysis about the process that leads to innovation:

What failed wasn’t the vision but the timing and the absence of a refinement process. Technologies which succeed commercially are not “moonshots.” They come from a grinding, laborious process of iteration and discovery long after the technology is invented.

The technology is one part of the problem to be solved, the other is how to get people to use it. And that problem is rooted in understanding the jobs people have to get done and how the technology can be used defensibly. That’s where the rub is. An unused technology is a tragic failure.

There's also some interesting insights in the comments, such as:

Companies that set up so-called "skunk works" operations tend to forget that the original Skunk Works had customers and worked closely with those customers. When it operated as a mere technology incubator it tended to produce duds. Its major successes were produced for the CIA and the Air Force.

Apple is really the moonshot idea turned on its head. It has the "skunk works" at the top and treats traditional operations as part of the product being created. [...] Product development should be "C-level", including prototyping, and the process of turning out millions of those products, marketing them and selling them, etc, should be assumed. It should also be headless and hence killable once the market for the product dries up, regardless of how long that takes.


Article: Making Decisions Under Uncertainty

Interesting and useful decision-making framework:

At McKinsey, we were taught three approaches to making decisions under uncertainty:
  1. Day One Hypothesis
  2. Directionally Right, Same Order of Magnitude
  3. What Do You Have to Believe?
These three tools have been immensely helpful to me in my own career, especially when I’m asked to make a decision about a future business opportunity where there are some key unknowns.

Article: Taking To Dos and Moving Up The Y Axis

Interesting piece from Fred Wilson:

If you think about what you are trying to accomplish in a meeting with someone you are managing and you plot the following:

    • On the x axis - whether you clearly communicated the issue to the person
    • On the y axis - whether they walk out of the meeting happy or mad at you

Dick's point is you want to optimize for the x axis, clear and crisp communication, and not worry too much about the y axis.

This is definitely something I've been struggling with as a manager and still need to improve on. It's more important to care (and communicate) about what's right for the organization than to try and make people happy. In the end, employees will derive more happiness from working at a well-run company than by well-intended (but misguided) managers.

Added to my list of good resolutions for 2014!

Article: The meaning of really cheap Android

Some interesting bits of analysis by Benedict Evans:

The important dynamic here is that a combination of very cheap off-the-shelf chips and free off-the-shelf software means that Android/ARM has become a new de facto platform for any piece of smart connected electronics. It might have a screen and it might connect to the internet, but it’s really a little computer doing something useful and specialised, and it probably has nothing to do with Google.

And also:

Now, stop thinking about it as a phone. How do the economics of product design and consumer electronics change when you can deliver a real computer running a real Unix operating system with an internet connection and a colour touch screen for $35? How about when that price falls further? Today, anyone who can make a pocket calculator can make something like this, and for not far off the same cost. The cost of putting a real computer with an internet connection into a product is collapsing. What does that set of economics enable? 


Back in 2010, I ordered an iPad the day they first became available on the French Apple store because I believed the tablet form factor offered us a glimpse of the future of computing. Current market trends tend to validate with that initial assessment.

Cheap Android pushes the boundary even more. What was once a costly, available-to-few technology is quickly becoming wide-ranging and far-reaching. The vision of the internet of things, with every device being connected, might become a reality sooner rather than later. The future is exciting.

Article: and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

Great article by Clay Shirky (as usual):

One of the great descriptions of what real testing looks like comes from Valve software, in a piece detailing the making of its game Half-Life. After designing a game that was only sort of good, the team at Valve revamped its process, including constant testing:

This [testing] was also a sure way to settle any design arguments. It became obvious that any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything, at least not until the next test. Just because you were sure something was going to be fun didn’t make it so; the testers could still show up and demonstrate just how wrong you really were.

“Any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything.” So it is in the government; an insistence that something must work is worthless if it actually doesn’t.

An effective test is an exercise in humility; it’s only useful in a culture where desirability is not confused with likelihood. For a test to change things, everyone has to understand that their opinion, and their boss’s opinion, matters less than what actually works and what doesn’t. (An organization that isn’t learning from its users decided it doesn’t want to learn from its users.)


This is true in all of software development. I see it on a regular basis on the dev lists: heated arguments about such or such features between committers and stakeholders, without much actual data to base our opinions on - and I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.

Given that this can be an issue even when all participants are of good faith, it's easy to understand why in the political / government realm things have the potential to go a lot wronger.