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The innovation paradox

bulb_onThink about your work and ask yourself this simple question: “What would I improve if their were no constraints?”. Next ask yourself the questions: “How sure am I that the constraints really exist? Did I try? Is there really no workaround?”.

“What would I improve if their were no constraints?”

The paradox

Businesses tend to steer for compliance, cost reduction and security to achieve financial stability. They also wonder why they fail to innovate. I learned that this is called the “innovation paradox” as organizations tend to pursuit two seemingly opposite goals. So if you are caught in that struggle, then I suggest that you read Jeffrey Phillips on his blog “innovate on purpose”.

Quotes

These 10 quotes may inspire you on your search for innovation:

  1. “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” – William Pollard
  2. “When all think alike, then no one is thinking.” – Walter Lippman
  3. “Managers maintain the present while leaders create the future.” – Orrin Woodward
  4. “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” – John Maynard Keynes
  5. “Dreaming is largely lost among adults drowning in self-imposed realities.” – Ryan Lilly
  6. “A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules.” – Vivek Wadhwa
  7. “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it.” – A. Einstein.
  8. “Innovators are inevitably controversial.” – Eva Le Gallienne
  9. “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” – Theodore Levitt
  10. “No obstacle is so big that one person with determination can’t make a difference.” – Jay Samit

Parallel thinking

Even in a team of people that are creative and have the guts to innovate, there is one thing that can ruin everything: ego play. All creative ideas and innovation plans should be team owned and not be associated with a single team member. Tools like De Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” can help you to create a parallel mind that dreams up team owned ideas during a brainstorm session.

“Beware of programmers carrying screwdrivers.”

programmers_screwdrivers

Every now and then I run into the programmer proverb “Beware of programmers carrying screwdrivers.” I’m intrigued by it and I want to know: Who said that and what does it mean? Two names showed up on my Google searches to the origin of the quote: Leonard Brandwein and Chip Salzenberg. I’ve got absolutely no evidence to claim that either one of them said it, let alone said it first. Maybe they’ve both said it independently.

What does it mean?

Despite my searching, I am not sure what the quote means. I feel the most obvious meaning is that, since programming normally does not involve screwdrivers, you should stick to your specialism. Sort of the same meaning as: “Jack of all trades, master of none”. It could also mean that programmers with screwdrivers are the ones building computers. They might be hardware enthusiasts that are overly obsessed with getting every last Mhz of performance out of the machine and are likely to be guilty of “premature optimization“. Or it could mean that people that have screwdrivers might be the ones that will be replacing parts, when things don’t work. They may be the “blame the hardware” or overly pragmatic type. Last explanation I could come up with is that it is about programmers in the 70’s that were building their own computers like the Apple I DIY kit. You probably need to be aware that their level of experience and reputation is unparalleled and arguing with their ideas is pointless. But let’s assume it is about specialism vs. generalism as that seems most likely.

Specialists vs. generalists

Nobody argues in favor of being a generalist like Tim Ferriss on his fourhourworkweek blog:

“Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest.”

So was Steve Jobs a programmer carrying a screwdriver? And what about specialists?

“The specialist who imprisons himself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.”

I tend to agree, but I guess I just overly romanticize the idea of being a Renaissance man. :-)

Finding bad RAM with memtest86

Lately Firefox started to crash randomly without an apparent reason. Also other software on my computer started acting weird. It took me a while to found the cause of the problems. It turned out one of my memory modules has gone bad. Finding that out was not exactly easy. Normally I would run memtest86+ from an Ubuntu live CD. That was not possible as I have an UEFI BIOS (without legacy support) and memtest86+ is lacking UEFI support.

memtest_splashscreen

I was able to create a virtual machine (with KVM or VirtualBox) with reserved RAM and run memtest86+ in there. That actually showed the problem. Another trick to detect the problem is to run memtest86 (without the plus) as it has support for booting using UEFI since version 5. It can be downloaded from memtest86.com (choose CD image) and put it on an USB stick using UNetbootin (install using apt-get).

ram_modules

When I found the problem there was no other way than to try to add and remove memory modules and run the test again to find out which one was broken. It took some time, but eventually I succeeded. It wasn’t a pretty process and it took way too long. Somebody should write a memory testing program in user-space that also reports the slot of the broken RAM module. In the end the broken module turned out to be the one closest to the CPU (see picture), maybe it got too hot.

Suggested tools:

  1. MemTest86 from: memtest86.com
  2. Memtest86+ from: memtest.org
  3. Windows Memory Diagnostic from: microsoft.com

I hope it will help you.

About Frank, our fantastic handyman

johnny-automatic-electric-drillAt home, we have a handyman. His name is Frank. He is very experienced and all-round and was able to take on every construction or repair job we gave him in the past years. Frank is easy going, never stressed out and often takes a break to smoke a cigarette and enjoy the weather. Although we pay him by the hour, we do not complain about his smoking as he asks a reasonable fee and works quite efficiently. Also, my wife really likes the guy, as she feels he can be trusted and always understands her really well.

For instance, last year he redid our kitchen, which turned out really nice. And although we wanted to go for a four ring gas hob he convinced us to take a five-ring hob with a central wok burner. He argued this would hardly take any extra space and would be very convenient in case we needed to use a bigger pan. Every time we have visitors over, my wife refers to Frank and how happy she is about the choice we made.

This year we were getting the bathroom done, but since we only have one shower in our apartment I asked Frank: “When will the bathroom be done?”. He answered “that depends”, “why are you asking?”. I told him about my concern of using the shower and he smiled. “I can make sure the shower can be used every time I leave as long as you don’t mind the mess.” he replied. Well… that solved one of my worries, but I was not completely satisfied, so I kept asking.

“But, when will the bathroom be done? I mean.. how much money is it going to cost?”. “Those are two different questions” Frank answered, “The first one depends on how often and how long I will be here and the second thing depends on what the bathroom should look like and what other more important jobs you have around the house”. “Hmmm… I understand”, I mumbled, but had the unpleasant feeling that he was dodging the question.

My wife has a very busy and responsible job, but she is also the one that decides on the interior related things in our house. Not that I do not care, but we both know that she has “feeling” for these things and I (an IT guy) do not. I told my wife that I could let Frank in and pour him his coffee, but that I did not see how we would organize this bathroom rebuild. She had an easy solution: She asked Frank to promise to work 3 days a week for at least 2 months. He worked on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, since he had another job going on Wednesday and Friday. Every Thursday evening he would leave late, so he could meet my wife to show what he did and discuss with her what he was going to work on next week.

I would not have taken that route and would have probably asked an interior designer to draw the bathroom in 3D. Then I would have asked several building contractors to quote me with a price and a delivery date. I’m sure my wife would not have been as pleased as she is now with our new bathroom. The bathroom turned out exactly as we wanted, she even feels she has built it herself. Another good thing is that we only paid Frank for the work he actually did and the materials he needed. Of course not everything went flawlessly: Frank had to reroute a sewer pipe because we wanted the toilet in a different position. That was a lot of hassle, but my wife really wanted it like that, so it was our own choice in the end.

I’m glad I’m in IT doing agile projects, because construction work is not my cup-of-tea. ;-)

Simple video calling from Firefox using “Hello”

firefox_hello

https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/firefox-hello-video-and-voice-conversations-online

Today my Firefox was updated and it contained some great new functionality: video calling! There is not much to say about it.. click the above link, read how to do it and go and try it!

firefox_hello_video

It is beta, but it works great.. :-)