Thursday, December 29, 2016

Innovation, and failure

Last weekend my dad found an old book of mine from 1979: "A solid state of progress" from Fairchild. I am not sure how I got it, and I had not seen it since ~1985. Here is a picture out of it:
The book has about 50 "art" pictures of integrated circuits, and that's it. They are all carefully presented, each one with a little marketing blurb, as this is a marketing publications, and the book has a marvelous "old color ink" smell.

For those that do not know, Fairchild was "the" semiconductor company of the early sixties and from it many were born. Here is a figure that I have copied without permission from someone who redrew without permission a version of a graphic found on page 12 of the in October 2007 issue of The IEEE Spectrum magazine:

Finding this book after something like 30 years made my weekend, but the reason I wanted to mention it, is because this book brings together a few special themes:

  • Innovation: Wow, Fairchild had a crazy influential team of innovators .
  • Branding:  These pictures are like the Marlboro man. Fairchild semiconductor was part of Fairchild Camera and Instrument. The pictures resonate the camera sensor company, but also with the fact that in those days chips were still "something magical".
  • Failure to change: In many ways this is a story of Fairchild's failure! Branding around "static, beautiful and mysterious pictures" is great for the feelings, but not for the business.  The business of innovation is one of change, and that means that your internal process must stick to what stays even when everything else changes.  
  • Failure in business: How many times have we heard smart competent engineers say "that is not the way we do things", or "I do not know how to use that"? The tricky part of innovation is that unless you embrace it, you are pretty much rejecting it! Yet rejecting change is not going to make it go away. Not to mention that adopting too much change will drain you, and cause failure too.
So here is the thing, this beautiful book out of the past of the chip industry is both an emotional statement, as it is a historical archive of how not to manage innovation.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Learning to fall

A style of youtube skateboard videos, is to show someone attempting a trick, to fail over and over, often with repeated falling to the ground, until finally succeeding, and with that success come the end of the video. What a casual observer may not know, is that pavement hurts. And yet, here are these guys (really, mostly guys), that seem to be happy to torture themselves, over and over.
 A few years ago, one of my favorite expressions was “no pain, no gain”.  I would work around the clock, I would “take the crap”, and I would optimistically suffer.

 I still do that! But I do not say “no pain, no gain” anymore. Instead I have come to understand that certain forms of learning are mostly about managing failures while pursuing those potential gains. In some sense, learning is like a game of poker: you need to pay to stay in the game, and that hurts, yet you expect to make that back when you win. And so it is with certain areas of learning, like when learning skateboard tricks on hard pavement, or like when working hard over many years to learn a new area.

 There is an interesting aspect to this story: you can shield yourself from much sensation of pain by becoming “one” with your learning goals. Personal experience is much shaped by how we interpret our senses. And a key learning in life is that we can endure hardships and “move mountains” but we must be sufficiently fanatical enough in our approach that we do truly change our sense of perception. The good thing is that this makes life more interesting, as we we focus our mind into new areas, the bad thing is that if you are not careful, that “change of sense of perception” can alienate you, or cause harm to others

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My bookshelf

I am moving from on part of Zurich to another, and took the opportunity to take a picture of my books, which I share here with you.