Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are you in the flow?

A couple of weeks ago I went sailing in the SF Bay. I am total novice sailor so excuse my ignorance of the nautical lingo. During part of the trip I was in charge of guiding the boat, which was not very intuitive. Steer to the right, ahem! starboard, and the boat turns to the opposite side. Try to correct the trajectory and off it goes, too much of a swerve. You loose the sail's optimal angle with the wind and the boat slows down.

At some point instead of fighting with my brain I decided to let go and just "feel". Magically I started getting the boat "on track". Moreover I was able to led my fellow seamen in the complex maneuver of tacking(*). I felt a connection between my hand, the rudder, the boat and the sea. I was able to rationalize my moves and I had the theory in my mind when I performed them but my ability to guide the boat was not the direct result of a conscious rational effort. Time passed by without me noticing it.

This evoked Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly's concept of flow, which is "the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity". Here's a link to his presentation at TED. Wikipedia quotes the formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna regarding his qualification for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix:

"I was already on pole, [...] and I just kept going. Suddenly I was nearly two seconds faster than anybody else, including my team mate with the same car. And suddenly I realised that I was no longer driving the car consciously. I was driving it by a kind of instinct, only I was in a different dimension. It was like I was in a tunnel."

Music and Arts in general, Sports, Spirituality... seem to be fields prone to generate the flow. Apparently software developers call it the "Zone" or "Hackmode" and stock market operators say they are "in the pipe".

(*) Tacking consists on changing course by turning the boat's head into and through the wind and is relatively complicated, especially for a rookie mariner like me.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

MBA closure. A 10,000 feet recap

After the graduation ceremony and an bunch of farewells it looks like I have put a closure to my MBA at Haas, one of the most intense and satisfying periods of my life (till date). Nevertheless I would like to put in writing what I have learned, even if it is just a 10,000 feet picture. so this is a chronological stab at it, including travels:
  • Second semester (2008, Jan to May): more core curriculum. Put together a business plan for the Entrepreneurship course. Carried out an independent study on social networks
    > Spring break: Japan
  • Third semester (2008, Aug to Dec): a deep dive into design-thinking. Created Senior Web, an info gathering and communication solutions for senior citizens, as part of the New Product Development class.
    > Winter break: Spain, Israel and Jordan
A lot of learning in a bit less than two years. Some times I was gulping and some other times I could sip knowledge enjoying it calmly. You know what? I am still thirsty

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Business and Design: the discipline of Business Design

Graduation has put me out of circulation for a while, but here I am again.

In one of my previous posts I mentioned my struggles with how Business and Design can talk better to each other. IDEO's Ryan Jacoby has posted about the curriculum of a discipline that would be the perfect marriage between both worlds: Business Design. Quoting his reply to one of the comments in his post:

[..] "I’m not envisioning a "business for designers" curriculum or a "design for business-types" curriculum. It isn’t Design+Business or Business+Design, but instead the program would be focused on the new discipline of business design: a practical mix of entrepreneurship, commerce and art all with the "making" focus you mention.
" [..]

This brings together a lot of interesting things I have been in touch with lately: my Customer Development, New Product Development, Design as Competitive Advantage and Open Innovation classes, the clinics at the Berkeley Institute of Design ... Now that I am done with my MBA I am all fired up about putting it to practice in a start-up I will be collaborating with during the summer. Additional info to come in the next days.

Let me conclude by pointing at the Cult of Done Manifesto, a link I also got from Jacoby's blog. This is all about the importance of doing, failing fast and often and learning [and enjoying it] along the way.

Friday, May 8, 2009

My business and design portfolio

I am updating my portfolio with the latest projects, but here it goes the April version. Following the advice of my fellow Haassie Maiken I have structured my experiences according to the following framework: Challenge, Process, Solution, Learnings.
In order to visualize it properly you have to go to full screen mode. The formatting is not 100% consistent after the upload but it does suffice.
Feedback is greatly appreciated

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The gift of fermentation

Almost one month ago my classmate and friend Sergio introduced me to Adam, the founder of Linden Street Brewery. Adam's beer factory is located in a 1890's red brick building in the port of Oakland. Most of the space as you can imagine is reserved to tanks, pipes, fermenting tanks and other elements for the beer making. Close to that space there's another big room decorated with objects from all over the world, school desks and theater chairs, brewer's magazines and lots of books, especially travel guides.

Sergio and I met Adam again last night over tapas, beers from around the world and fascinating conversation. He is one of these unique individuals who is able to transmit the passion about what he does. He believes in cherishing the product: he brews using methods that originated in the Bay Area during the Gold Rush days. He told us "We play music to the yeast. If you love your yeast, the yeast is gonna give that love back to you". Revolutionary.

His dream was born in the community, for the community. Last week they became the first microbrewery to brew beer in Oakland after 50 years. Without planning it, and starting with a small get together, they have been sharing "the gift of fermentation" with whoever showed up at their parking lot on Fridays. Read the Yelp reviews to have an idea of the magnitude of this true grassroots movement.

From a business perspective Adam is into something big. He knows beer. He has practically had a job in every step involved in the making of beer. He knows the industry, from the hops to the beer tap, from world trends to the numbers of his business. Man, he knows his numbers. His passion and personality are a magnet for positive events to happen around him. Events are stories and stories are differentiation. No MBA-planned marketing campaign will ever match that.

When I talked to Adam I saw something that reminds me of an artist in the moment of creation. Some people call that "the flow"(*). People like Adam inspire you to find what you have been "programmed for" and realize your dreams.

(*) check out the following TED video by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Worn out. Play on

ReUSE A SHOE is Nike's initiative to recycle used shoes into surfaces to play. Old shoes are turned into grind that can be used in running tracks, playgrounds, soccer fields and basketball courts.

your old shoes...

...reincarnate as a basketball court

According to the site it takes 50,000-75,000 pairs to resurface a full field or soccer pitch but only 2,500 pairs for an outdoor basketball court.

Marketing strategy "Zildjian's Own Way"

This afternoon I bought tickets for Fleetwood Mac's concert at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. Then I surfed youtube and while watching "Go Your Own Way" I realized of something...look at the upper left corner of the following image:

Zildjian. I do not know how much you like music, whether you go to live concerts or you prefer to wacth videos on TV or the Internet but I am sure that logo sounds familiar. In fact it has always been there, as far back as I remember watching a drummer beating on the drums, Zildjian was there.

If you check out the video you will realize that the logo in the cymbals is strategically placed so it is always inside the frame of the camera that follows exclusively Mick Fleetwood, the drummer. Nice case of product placement, isn't it?

On the other hand, many cymbal manufacturers probably never thought of visually branding a product that (a) is valued for its acoustic properties, not for how it looks; and (b) only specialized demand care about. My bet is that in its early times Zildjian also signed up star drummers to win their prescribing influence over potential buyers. It smells like a great marketing strategy in a niche market.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A thought on innovation by Arun Sarin

On April 16th, Arun Sarin, ex-CEO of Vodafone delivered a keynote at Haas. He shared with the audience his views on the new state of the world, leadership and innovation.

Regarding the latter he noted how innovation this days can arise anywhere in the world and presented an interesting concept: boomerang innovation. Boomerang innovation consists on sending ideas and being prepared to receive them back.

Mr. Sarin illustrated the concept with an example regarding deployment of telecom infrastructure. Vodafone's HQ made a proposal to their subsidiary in India. The Indian team could not implement the recommendations due to lack of resources. Nevertheless, leveraging on the power of scarcity they came up with an improved solution that eventually became the company's benchmark for that particular process.

Constraints are a powerful way to come up with creative solutions. We tend to do our best when resources are scarce and we are forced to work around problems.

Friday, May 1, 2009

UC Berkeley Bplan Competition

Today I attended the finals of the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition. First price, a TB diagnosis device; second, a biotech venture that beefs-up bacteriophages to improve antibiotics effectiveness; third price, a HIV diagnosis device.

They were all great ideas, supported by brilliant technical teams and backed by impressive advisory impression is that all three winners focused too much on the solution and far too little on the business model or even the go-to-market strategy to make it commercially viable.

I know eight minutes is not that much time and that VC judges are probably right prioritizing certain factors such as how defensible is the IP. Nevertheless, as a business guy I cared less about PhD horsepower and more about how are the teams going to "make it happen" in the market. I didn't see a lot of innovation on that front. In fact I think that Steve Blank would have had the cold shivers contemplating a couple of slides that showed sales force ramping up early in the game. Smack! smack! Can't you hear the spooky music?

Apart from that, here it goes a big cheer for an awesome student-organized event. Great presenters, very professional teams and as I said, outstanding PhD and MBA horsepower, in all the cases directly connected to UC Berkeley. It made me proud of being part of this university and Haas in particular. And congratulations to the winners!!!