Eye for details?

They say that if you get too much into the details, you will miss the bigger picture. Perhaps, that is right. But that doesnt mean that you cannot be creative. If you have an eye for the details, or you are a keen observer of the facts, then wouldnt you naturally see the missing facts as well? Isnt that one of the key of solving a problem (ever read Sherlock Holmes)? Will that also be an inventive, or innovative way to see what’s missing on the planet? Isnt that what we call creative?

Who was that said, “God is in the details”? I would add to that: “God is in the non-details as well”. (Aw, did I just prove that God is everywhere? I hate relational algebra, but I love indexed)

Baltimore vs Bangalore vs Beijing

Obama called the kids in the US to raise the bar to compete against those from Bangalore and Beijing, if they care about a better future. As usual with his talks, this got some applause from the domestic folks. But the truth is, it is not just difficult, it is impossible.

Because, foundation of education is built on social culture. And it is known that America is a low context culture while India, or China are high context culture (read more here). In the latter, a lot is unsaid, and need to be derived from the context of usage which makes its people very good at analytics. A low context culture calls for everything to be explicit and said. There are no hidden meanings. This reduces the need for analytical thinking to figure out day to day life. But that gives people room for out of the box or creative thinking, and question stated facts openly. Over a period, low context cultures become less analytical and more creative. (At the same time, high context culture excels in areas that thrive on hidden or layered communication, films for example)

Given these, asking an education system to move from creative to analytical planes, ie., to a new direction is a huge task, and if attempted will take at least 4-5 generations to reach anywhere near. And then the culture itself will prevent that from happening since they will openly question the need itself. So it is safe to assume that Baltimore and Bangalore will stay as is for sometime to come. If Obama is hoping otherwise, it’s habitual. That is all what he has been giving the Americans all along – hope!

Advice

I am not trying to tell you what you didnt/ must do. I am just pointing out a perspective that you *may* have missed. It may not be the proven fact but a possibility.

Leading the Mainstream

Many of us often customize a product to suite our special needs. There are always people who keep pushing the envelope, to extract more juice from what’s available. Such people are called lead users. (Eric Hippel from MIT coined the term in 1986. Read more about it here and here

People, or companies watch lead users. Many a times, observing lead users is a way to improve your product, or even come up with new products. It may appear to be a rare usage by small group, but the potential of an unexplored market is huge. All one needs to do is convert such use cases to accommodate normal users. Usually, mainstream users do not know how to demand something that is not there.

Some of the lead usage can directly translate to mainstream, while some may require core changes. Take for example ABS, anti-lock braking system. Guess who was the lead user for ABS? Airplanes! Of course, what else one needs to stop without skidding, than the 200′ long, 200′ wide, 400 tonne flying giant? ABS quickly made its way into other fast moving objects like race cars, and eventually became a standard safety feature in any automobile.

In the above case, adaptation into mainstream happened without any change. Which may not be the case with some other products, like say, energy bar – a high protein food devised by top athletes to infuse max energy in the shortest/fastest way. If companies had introduced it as is into mainstream, it would have flopped badly because protein bars tasted like shit. Athletes didn’t bother about the taste and probably swallowed it! It served a different purpose. So, companies reworked the formula to add cocoa and sugar into energy bars to make them best sellers in literally no time!

Every lead usage need not translate into a successful product. Some of the brilliant ideas may not even see the common light. But communities like open source software take a very Freudian approach to the concept of lead users – allow anyone to lead the changes, and let the best survive. IMO, best of both worlds.

So, the next time you are customizing anything because it doesn’t serve your need as is, do a bit more – think how useful it would be if everyone knew about it.

Applied Art vs Design

How different is applied art from design? Art fundamentally is a form of expression while a design has to communicate. But applied art has many characteristics that are similar to design – one of them is the context of application. Medium where the art is applied holds the same amount of constraints and makes it contextual, just like in design. How does one explain this?

Let’s take a cell phone. The concept of a cell phone, simplified, is a device for communication. Now try mapping the levels of cell phone concepts to that of art.

How a cell phone works and what it contains – its fundamentals, is equivalent to fine art. The core concepts of art, such as materials, usage, medium, is applicable to cell phone as well.

Similarly, the different models and features of a cell phone, that abstracts the fundamentals can be mapped to abstract art?

And, when a cell phone is applied to a context – usage by elderly, say – it becomes equivalent to applied art. Some call it design for context, or emotion. I just call it user centered design.

I have not studied art to really stand by these definitions, I am just looking at this from an eye of a designer. But this surely does explain why designers often can sustain a conversation in applied arts, and to certain extent on abstract art, they fail to stay on board when it comes to fine arts. I do not want to say that designers lack fundamentals, but the most important aspect of design and usability is the context and usage, which matches quite well with applied arts.

The secret

Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old – Franz Kafka

Pakistan and Freedom

Times carried another article on how new-age, modern, successful women of Pakistan interpret freedom:

  • Being free is about making bold choice – personal and professional (Nabila, celebrity image maker)
  • Freedom is about making the right decision (Umera Ahmed, writer)
  • True independence is not brought about by diminishing each other, it is found by celebrating each other (Sonya Battla, fashion designer)
  • The challenge is to translate reality – that’s freedom (Mehreen Jabbar, film director)

God, Religion, Faith or Whatever

This is perhaps the first time I found something interesting to read in the Sunday Times Life edition. As usual the story pinned on celebrities to sell the idea, but the idea itself was nice. It was about finding one’s faith in life. Some good lines/ quotes: “The focus of praying has now shifted from being religious to coping with life situations successfully.” Or, “Seekers are no longer happy with blind faith; They need practices that help them understand life”. And ending with one of my favorite adverb: “What you give is what you get”. Some points to ponder.

Gender Equality

According to CP Surendran, gender equality exists in the higher societies, as in, the dog and the bitch gets the same biscuits! All this while.

I was browsing through the latest Femina at the dentist and paused on CP’s name. What’s he doing in Femina? Anyways, if one thought that the issue is with the lower societies, it apparently is not. Scientists have discovered that this faster growth of humans as compared to other animals is due to the fact that we chose to split the workload between genders — men to hunt and get food, women to grunt and feed the family.

I am sure we are not the only species to settle into this arrangement. On cosmetic difference, I think lions are better example than men. But having started writing for Femina now, I think CP definitely is trying seed some thoughts into the women of substance.

Standing Emptiness

Or Why I made a category called POEMS:

You really dont need a category
to write something serious, but
there can always be value
to silly things you write as well.

But the fact is just this,
I write here, right now
only to fill in the space.

I cant stand emptiness,
no matter how many advices
that I get say, "son,
be tactful and considerate"

(2007)