Humanity Cannot Progress Without Heaps


Bill Gates seems to be in the news a lot lately – just a few days ago he said that its OK if half of the startups which comes out of Silicon Valley are “silly”, and just yesterday he came out with a statement saying that its preposterous that there has been a “pause” in innovation – that innovation is slowing down.

Well, Mr. Gates, I beg to differ. If you ask me, not only has innovation slowed down, in some areas, its been completely immobilized. And its not the technology which has slowed us down – if you ask me, that rocks on even better than ever. No, what’s changed is our appetite for innovation. We’ve lost the fire in the belly.

By now you’re probably saying, Chris, what are you talking about? Things are moving faster than they have ever moved before – the power of electronic devices has doubled and quadrupled every year or so, and we could never have predicted that we now hold in our hands and pockets roughly the same amount of computing horsepower as supercomputers of old. Even something a piece of electronics as minute as the camera on a smartphone has virtually rendered actual cameras obsolete – even digital ones. When you can get better resolution from a $500 smartphone than a $1500 Nikon, why wouldn’t you?

But I digress. Sure, those things have progressed. But what are we doing with all that firepower in our hands? We’re playing flappy bird, and sending snapshots to our friends that disappear in a few seconds. Whoa, that’s innovation!

Back in the olden days, say around before the turn of the last century, can you believe that we didn’t know how to fly? That we couldn’t travel enormous distances around the globe in a few hours? That we depended on real horses – yep, a one or two horsepower carriage, to get around? Around that time there was such a huge spurt of innovation that within a few short decades, we invented the car and the airplane and the jet engine. That’s when innovation was truly ripping through the world. It all sort of petered out by the end of the sixties, though.

Since then, innovation in many things slowed to a crawl. It wasn’t because the technology didn’t get better and better.

It was because we stopped taking risks. We got cautious. We got careful. We went all “bubble wrap mommy” on innovation.

I think that, even though we had gone all cautious in most ways and many areas already, I think the big final defining moment was the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. It blew up 73 seconds into the flight and took with it seven souls, one of which was a teacher. In that moment, the space program was over, even though it had sort of lost its way after the moon landing anyways.

Prior to this time, humans took huge risks, hoping for huge rewards. Inventors were perfectly willing to die in order to discover some new thing. From the Renaissance to oh, around 1970, humankind was in this massive explosion of exploration and discovery, and damn the torpedoes. We grew and learnt so much as a species during that period that the mind is dazzled by all we did.

But since then, all we’ve ever done is been incremental. We’ve improved things, but have we really come out with anything new? Even the internet was born near the end of that period, maybe the last really massive innovation.

So what happened? Who knows. Maybe we got all fat and happy. Maybe we decided that it wasn’t worth being killed or maimed in the name of science.

But this is exactly why innovation has slowed, and in some ways stopped. We are holding ourselves back. We are being too careful, too cautious. and as a result, we even passed hundreds of laws to force others to also be careful and cautious. God forbid you take any risks which may injure someone, or the environment, even if it means curing cancer or discovering the secret to living to a 1000.

Some people might argue that this is better – that we should always look before we leap. But some of the most amazing discoveries of the human race were made by those who purposely didn’t look before they leapt, thus unknowingly discovered some incredible innovation we are still using today.

But I say, if we want to return to the days of incredibly rapid discovery, we need to loosen the apron strings a bit. We need to take more risks, we need to stop holding ourselves back – we need to say damn the torpedoes more often.

  • How do we know if we can clone replacement body parts if we don’t try?
  • How do we know if we can cure cancer or AIDS if we can’t genetically manipulate cells?
  • How many people die waiting for drugs due a decades long review process?

We need to stop ourselves from asking “should we”. We should just do.

One of my favorite quotes from Futurama was from Professor Farnsworth in the episode The Prisoner Of Benda. Here is the dialog between Amy and the Professor:

Amy: Good, I’m sick of cleaning up those heaps of dead monkeys. But why would you want your mind in a new body?
Farnsworth: Well, as a man enters his 18th decade, he thinks back on the mistakes he’s made in life.
Amy: Like the heaps of dead monkeys?
Farnsworth: Science cannot move forward without heaps! No, what I regret is the youth I wasted playing it safe.

“Science cannot move forward without heaps” – its a joke for sure, but it has the ring of truth. We are so worried about ending up on that heap, that we don’t even try – we don’t even take the risk.

True innovation requires risk. And almost everything that we do today attempts to iron the risk out of everything – from cars, to food, to education. We are all trying to play it as safe as possible – to not end up on the heap. But then nothing progresses. Nothing moves forward. No innovation occurs.

By now, we should have flying cars, tiny nuclear reactors powering that supercomputer in your pocket, a just-in-time education system which teaches humans exactly what they need to know, exactly when they need it, food enough for the population of the world many times over, and the end of tyranny through fully open communications between any human on the planet and every other human on the planet.

So here is my call to action: we need to take risks. We need to do new things. Even if they are uncomfortable. Even if people are hurt, figuratively or literally.

If you ask me – the human race cannot progress without heaps.

Gates also disagreed forcefully with economists and analysts who say the pace of technological innovation is slowing, and no longer driving productivity and economic growth. “I think the idea that innovation is slowing down is one of the stupidest things anybody ever said,” he said. “Innovation is moving at a scarily fast pace.””I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been.””Take the potential of how we generate energy, the potential of how we design materials, the potential of how we create medicines, the potential of how we educate people, the way we use virtual reality to make it so you don’t have to travel as much or you get fun experiences,” he noted. Innovation doesn’t always work the way we think it might, he pointed out. For example, when innovation is happening fast enough, it sometimes shrinks GDP by disrupting industries e.g. the damage the Internet has had on the newspaper industry or increasing costs e.g. the proliferation of medical technology.”I want to meet this guy who sees a pause in innovation and ask them where have they been,” he said.

via Bill Gates: ‘The Idea That Innovation Is Slowing Down Is … Stupid’ – Uri Friedman – The Atlantic.

Lightning Strikes: Why WhatsApp’s Success Isn’t Repeatable

lightning-strike-bolt-blackA long time ago, back before a time which we aren’t supposed to talk about (pre 2007), I used to have a podcast which talked about many different things, among them the future, innovation and politics, which I recorded on the road in the car on my way to work. I would rant and rave about all sorts of stuff, pointing out things that were happening, calling out stupid drivers on the road, and just talking generally about things that annoyed me.

At the time, there was this guy in the news who called himself a “reallionnaire” (found out recently that the guys name is Farrah Gray) – basically someone who, at a very young age, 14 I think, was able to go from rags to riches, and was now telling his story so that “you too can do the same!”. I made that the subject of one of my shows. Now I haven’t read his book, but I think I don’t really need to – its likely a pretty inspirational story, like all of these motivational books, now stop me if you’ve heard this one before – someone fights off many barriers to success, using a set of actions, which propels them into riches and success, And all you need to do is to the same thing – and you will pretty much achieve the same result. Kudos to him for being able to break out of what sounds like a terrible situation. And while his story sound pretty inspirational, what I’m trying to say is: Your Results May Vary. Greatly.

This kind of story is also pretty rampant here (without the extremely dirt-poor beginnings) in Silicon Valley – lower middle to upper middle class software engineer pulls a couple of his friends together, they work on a startup in their spare time, their startup launches, they get discovered, boom, the engineers are suddenly billionaires. Of course, the real story is that this happens so rarely that its news when it does happen. Like with WhatsApp.

Since the story broke that those not-quite-broke engineers who started WhatsApp years ago just sold it for $19b to Facebook, the tech media has been full of stories on – just like in the “reallionnaire” case, you too can be successful if you just, as they did, so the exact same thing.

Of course, when you look at the WhatsApp story, its completely different from the others where lightning struck. The WhatsApp folks build their user base over time, providing a quality product at a very reasonable price – they didn’t run ads, they charged for their product, they let people use it free for a year before charging a minuscule $1 a year to use.

Additionally, if you look at WhatsApp, IMHO, there is nothing really special about it – other than its huge user base. What really differentiates it from Kik, or Google Hangouts, or WeChat, or any number of instant messaging platforms out there – even going all the way back to ICQ (yes, I know I’m dating myself now) other than maybe the pricing model?

Also, there’s been another meme floating around about how your business should address a specific pain point – a need as opposed to a want. I blogged about this same thing myself when I talked about Haircuts, Pie and Cupcakes. Now I understand that people may have a need to communicate, but do they really have a need to communicate via WhatsApp? There is nothing really specifically interesting about it. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really address a specific need or want. I’ve eaten cupcakes, and WhatsApp is no cupcake.

So what my point? Simple. There is NO proven formula. There is NO single set of steps that you can take in order to go from point A to point B in order to be successful. You can become a billionaire by building a quality app and building a big user base over a long time, or you can become a billionaire by developing an app in a few months, attracting the right kind of attention and traction, then get snapped up in less than a year by some big tech firm.

There may be no specific set of steps – there is no specific criteria – on what is successful and what isn’t. It may not be pure luck, but its pretty damn close. There are, however, as few things that do make the difference – and its not about the app at all. Its about the people. Its about the connections. Its about being in the right place at the right time, talking to the right people at the right moment. That’s when the magic happens. It’s very, very close to pure, dumb, luck – you can’t engineer this stuff.

Ever read Black Swan? People read this stuff and and think – oh that’s interesting – then over time forget about it – but if you ask me its totally pertinent to many. many things in life, one of which is your startup being successful or failing miserably. Events like the WhatsApp deal may not be Black Swan like disasters, man made or natural, but they do come out of the blue. Just like lightning strikes, you can make yourself more susceptible to them by standing outside in a field in a thunderstorm, but that is still no guarantee that you will be hit. In fact, I’d argue that its much easier to be struck by lightning than to be struck as a billionaire by writing an app.

So how do you increase your chances of getting hit by lightning? You stand out in the rain. You stick out. It doesn’t matter if you’re startup cures cancer or provides and pleasant diversion. You just have to be standing in the right field in the middle of a thunderstorm with your metal helmet on – otherwise known as – building a network of people who can socialize your ideas as far and wide as possible. It’s all about who knows you – and who knows your product. You can’t make Black Swan’s happen, but you can increase the odds of getting struck by lightning.


Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.


Curation: Necessary Yet Broken


Not sure that these are the best filters for your content

Curation is necessary. But it’s also broken, very broken.

Please let me know if you don’t see this post on Facebook -oh wait – you couldn’t possibly tell me if you saw this because you didn’t see it. Facebook does its own curating of content from your friends and family – I could tell that this was going on over the course of time but now its gotten ridiculous – I now ordinarily miss things people who are important to me send, and my stream is full of junk – mostly ads. It takes time to scroll through the crap to get to the good stuff – and even when I see the good stuff I only seems to get a small taste of it. Makes me think of World Of Warcraft in some sense – the gamemakers purposely force you to wait periods of time before things happen in order to force you to use the product longer – I’d be very surprised if the same isn’t going on with Facebook, Twitter and most other firehoses of data.

I understand – curation is a necessary process in order to surface the most relevant information – there is no way people have the time to sift through everything coming at them in order to get at what they want. But like what’s happened with Google’s dominance and the loss of  the long tail, the same thing is happening with our social feeds.

While curation can be algorithm based, people based or a combination of both, what is happening to our social feeds is the same thing that happened to the long tail – since most people interface to the world via a small cluster of sites – and all of those sites use these algorithms – most of what we see is algorithm based. And its my supposition that these algorithms have been tweaked in order to produce the most revenue, as opposed to provide the most relevant results. In this way – curation is broken. We aren’t getting what’s relevant to us – we have to search and search to find the relevant stuff – and if this keeps going, eventually we will be back to the same hierarchical model, even for social feeds. The internet is in grave danger of shutting off all access to all of the creativity which made it an awesome place in the first place.

The other day, I was looking at a post I had made about my latest fiction novel. Beside the like button was a button I’d never seen before – “Promote” – I’d seen this for other things, but not near a post before. I clicked on it and a modal window came up. The wording was very interesting:

Promote an Important Post

Now you can promote this post to move it higher in friends’ news feeds and help them notice it. Any post that you pay to promote will be marked as Sponsored

Total: $6.99 USD

Yep – Facebook is extorting cash from me in order to post a post of mine on my friends timelines. I guess that unless I spend $7, my post will be relegated to the backwaters of Facebook, never to be seen by anyone. Is there an “Invite To Like” feature…?

Remember all of those people who exhort that you should be active on social media in order to build customers for your business? That social media is a free way to build and advertise your business? Forget it. Fairly soon, if not already, you’ll need to pay the cabal of internet fronting sites a fee just to allow people to see your personal message – not just marketing your site.

This is, of course, a nightmare to startups and other firms attempting to gain some kind of traction. The chances that someone will see your message are diminishing rapidly. There was a day, once, when you could set up a blog or a website, be reached via a search engine, and could build your audience. Nowadays, both algo based and human curation conspires to keep those companies out of the public eye.

And human curation, in some cases, is no better. There are plenty of places where startups and new businesses are featured, and in some cases, being listed on those sites is a make or break for those businesses. Alas, you can’t just apply for your startup to be listed on some of these sites – the curators of the sites sometimes don’t even accept submissions for possible inclusion – in their judgement, unless they personally stumble across a site, or a friend suggests it – it can never get into the inner circle for consideration. Your typical startup needs all of the promotion it can get in order to help gain users and traction – and once again these gatekeepers feel that their judgement is superior to others.

Being exclusive is great, unless you are the excluded. There is nothing more disheartening to a startup than being told that “due to the curators wanting to maintain the quality of the site, we’ll let you know if we let you in” – and then never hearing from them again. It’s like the internet has become high school again, with certain cliques letting only the cool kids in. Everyone else is left out in the cold.  Even if you have an awesome idea – if they decide that you don’t rate – you don’t rate.

So what is the answer? Well, I see a few things happening:

  1. People are going to start to get fed up with the results that they are getting – possibly enough to leave Facebook for something else – but what. Teens are already bailing in a big way – I’ll bet that relevance ending up in the reason list along with not wanting to hang with the parents.
  2. Facebook will need to improve relevance in order to keep people
  3. Third party interfaces to social platforms will gain more prominence as they pull together more relevant social feeds than the sites themselves
  4. New curation methodologies will start to show up – we can’t just go on the way we are now.

The important and interesting stuff used to be hard to find. For a while there, it was a lot easier to find. And now, its getting hard to find again – but this time – its our choice to do something about it – we have the people and the tech and the communications networks to properly surface the most relevant stuff – we just aren’t doing it yet.

Talk about another “next hot space”…


How to Create A New Logo For Your Company In 10 Minutes For $0

Just like to reveal our new corporate logo:



Yep – that’s right – our new corporate logo for our firm hellofuture. Pretty cool, eh?

So you wonder – how can I get as cool a logo as that? Well its very simple. It literally took me about 5 minutes to think it through and maybe another 5 minutes to develop. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Think about your company and what it does. hellofuture welcomes the future in a happy, positive way, with a hearty hello! – note the exclamation point.
  2. What do we welcome? Well, the future of course. We don’t shy away from change. In face, we EMBRACE change! – And where is this future? Well, its in front of us, or that > way…
  3. So, if you take the end of the “hello!” which is the exclamation mark and the > representing the future, you get !>
  4. Which looks OK, but not amazing. So I loaded up my trusty old standby graphics app, Paint Shop Pro 8, which I’ve used since, like forever. I also downloaded a snappy font from dafont.
  5. Also, I selected two colors (#C63E40  and #4863A0) which recur in most of my work, in order to tie it all together.
  6. Finally, in order to point the arrow up – I mean who wants an arrow to be pointed straight or down? – I turned the whole shebang counterclockwise 30 degrees.
  7. I stepped back and looked at my handiwork. Not bad at all

Of course the first thing my partner said was “well, now you will have to reprint all of your business cards” To which I said, “ah no, that’s ok” I like my business cards exactly the way they are. And if you’ve seen them you know they are pretty memorable…


Course, if you don’t think you can do it on your own, I highly recommend fiverr for work like this. You can get some pretty decent stuff for $5.

A Week Of Ultra Productivity


Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping Into The Future

Recently I’ve read a number of articles on productivity, success and tracking – probably triggered by my new years resolution to pack more into each day. To that end – I’m going to attempt an “experiment in ultraproductivity” – over the next week – starting now I will:

  1. track every waking moment – using Timesheet, a time tracking app on my Galaxy S4
  2. spend time at the end of each day assessing the day and tracking wasted time
  3. develop a plan to refine the next day’s activities
  4. continue to refine the process over the week

Kind of like applying an Agile process to my life. Instead of a daily standup at the start of the day, its more of a daily lie down at the end of the day…

Some of the things I’m going to try:

  1. Getting up early – I’m going to shoot for 5am, which is tough for me as I’m a real night owl
  2. Exercise first thing – I have a FitBit on the Ultivator, so I need to hit my step goals otherwise I’m going to get penalized, so I need to hit that
  3. Write some fiction for at least one hour – I’ve got Precog in the Kindle store and on its way in paperback, so I need to start on the 2nd book in the series, Telekin.
  4. Write a blog post – like this one
  5. Fill up my Buffer every day with new stuff
  6. Spend time connecting with people via social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn etc…

All before breakfast.

Part of this was inspired by Ramit Sethi, a guy who alternatively annoys me and gets me motivated. He is currently selling a package of “productivity hacks” for some dumb amount of money, supposedly collecting a number of these productivity tips into one package. More power to him, but I’m cheap and I figure I’ve got enough experience to come up with my own set of hacks. I’ve applied all of this in varying ways over time – but this time I’m going to apply them all at once – and with any luck, by the end of the week, have a finely honed and ultraproductive process in place. Then maybe I’ll sell it for big bucks too.

Oh, BTW, I noticed that all of those folks who get up early never tell you when they go to bed. Do you imagine that High Powered Executive Who Gets Up At 4am To Conquer The World is in his jammies and under the covers by 9pm in order to get a good nights sleep? What is he, a kid?

Let me know if you have any “productivity hacks” that you personally use to pack more into each day below – would love to hear from you…

To CES, Or Not To CES…

Soon To Be Common Practice, Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

Coming Soon: Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

That is the question – to suffer the slings and arrows of being involved in a overwhelming sea of new products with a zillion others, or to just say no and attempt to build your audience in other ways.

If you ask me – CES has really morphed into the “one tech show to rule them all” – in the absence of Comdex (which if you ask me, used to be the one show when it came to products like this) – if you can classify an “app” as “electronics”. Which apparently, you can.

Its funny – I was always under the impression that with things moving the way they are on the internet, that trade shows would just be a thing of the past. With the vast array of communications technologies that we have, do we really need to ever meet face to face? Ah, but there is nothing like real face to face contact – we have yet to figure that out – until of course we have life size android versions of ourselves which can mimic every aspect and nuance of our body language and are mostly pre-programmed to act like us and shun other androids of people we don’t like. But until then, there is nothing like the face to face contact.

I use business cards from, you know those little thin cards? I have a pic of my eyes on one side and on the other side my contact information. Every time I give out one of those cards I get a great reaction – like “Cool card!” and “I have to get me one of those too!”. The other day I was at a networking event and I gave out the cards and got the same reaction. but I also got one more. He said: “How are those working for you? Are they getting you any more business?”

Of course I’d never thought of that. Outside the “cool” factor – I’m guessing that they were memorable – I’m not sure they actually translate to more business in and of themselves. The more business just comes out of following up. You can make that initial contact with a plain old card – that’s not what brings you more business. The business comes out of that continuing contact. But if you make that contact in the first place, whether with a cool card or not, then it wont matter at all. So yes, CES if you can.

Mark it down for next year if you didn’t go this year. But, Chris, you say, what if I don’t have anything I can talk about there then? A year could be 3-4 startups from now! Trust me, you will.

As I said before, the road to success requires luck, the only thing you can do about it is to expose yourself and your ideas to as many people as you can. You never know who will pick it up or when your idea will take flight. 

It might be a depressing thought – but when it comes to success, and dating, and business – its a numbers game – you have to communicate your message to as many people as you can afford to – both time and money – and see who picks up. And always, ALWAYS, follow up. With everyone.

Latest Weekend Project: The Ultivator : No Pain, No Gain


Happy 2014 all!

Both my wife and I love our Fitbit trackers, but both of us find them a bit wanting in the motivational department.

A few weeks ago we were talking about the reasons most people don’t stick with an exercise program is usually due to the lack of real and proper, serious motivation. People just won’t make changes to their lives unless they receive a huge positive OR negative stimulus. For example, an obese person could visit the doctor yearly and be told that he needs to lose weight but never actually does it. Only if he survives a near fatal heart attack might he actually make the lifestyle changes in order to live longer.

Since a huge negative stimulus (having a heart attack) has been proven to get more people off their butts than a positive stimulus (wearing nicer clothes, being noticed by the opposite sex etc) we came up with the Ultimate Motivator – aka the Ultivator.

The idea is simple: You set a goal. If you meet that goal, you don’t get penalized. If you don’t meet that goal, then you do. I whipped it together in a weekend in Rails and Bootstrap. It might not look too good, but I think it suffices as a great example of MVP.

Right now it supports only Fitbit trackers, but I will be adding more trackers as well as more goals as I get feedback. The process is simple, you provide:

  1. The goal you wish to hit: we WERE going to make these extra hard, but we figured that people have all different levels that they’d like to reach and so we left this open. A step goal for the month.
  2. The charity you’d like your “penalty” to go to. We give the brunt of the charge to a charity of your choice, so even if you don’t make your goal, at least someone you like benefits
  3. The amount you’d like to contribute, pro-rated to how well you do: for example, let’s say you pledge $500 and make it half way to your goal, we only charge you $250. Make it all the way you pay a tiny admin fee.

The site sends an email with the users status daily so that they can keep abreast of their progress – it looks like this:


Let me know what you all think. Over the next little while, I’ll come back to the Ultivator and talk a bit about some of the other inspiration I had for this project – a little thing a few folks ripped out in 20 minutes called

This is pure MVP IMHO, there are a lot more things I’d like to add, such as the ability to track other things other than steps, but this is a good start.

Check it out here:

Applied vs Theoretical Innovation

Innovation (1)Recently, I got to thinking that there are really are two kinds of innovation, and these two types of innovation were very apparent in the kind of programs I would run for companies. Borrowing a term from physics, I like to call these two types of innovation “theoretical” and “applied” just like theoretical and applied physics.

Theoretical innovation is something you simply just cannot do today. There are factors which keep you from actually implementing the envisioned product or service right now. These can be something as simple as the right kind of technology, say size of storage space or wireless bandwidth or as complex as the right geo-political infrastructures. A good example of this is streaming HD virtual reality to wireless phones. Sure, it can be done: but the network is simply not up to the task of allowing it to happen.

Tech factors, strangely enough, are not usually the ones holding back the innovation: it’s more likely the human factor, factions within companies taking credit or laying blame, cultural and political reasons etc. However, the biggest indicator of something being “theoretical innovation” in my view is ability to monetize. If there is no way to make any money off it, even if all barriers were lowered, then it remains in that realm since most no one, save some independently wealthy, or governments, will step up to take it on. It’s this type of innovation which is ideally suited to go into a patent application process.

Applied Innovation, on the other hand, is leading edge work that not only pushes the envelope, it also has a clear path to monetization. If you ask me, this is pretty easy to come up with: is it a product or service that I would use and pay for? Applied innovation takes what is out there today, and rebuilds or mashes it up to create something new, useful and valuable. Applied innovation is the kind of thing that can be taken from idea to launch in days or weeks with a few guys in a garage. And its applied innovation which is probably what most people think about, at least in the business world, as innovation.

Thats not to say that theoretical innovation doesn’t have its place, and many ideas began in the theoretical innovation space, but as these ideas have much longer paths, or in some cases no path to monetization at all, now may not be the best time to pursue theoretical innovation. In boom times, with the wind at our backs, of course, but today, in this climate, a focus on applied innovation is essential.

Why So Flat?


Been doing some research on wearable devices (see Next Hot Space: Wearables) and I’ve come to the conclusion that we will have to see a radical shift in the way interfaces operate in this new world. When I look at wearables like the Meta space glasses, which project a 3D, nearly holographic image into your field of vision, then go back to the interfaces on your typical device today, I’m struck at how flat and similar everything looks.

Almost every app is just FLAT. Sure, its in 2D, but then everything is in 2D. Every know and then, you can see that the designers understand that they can do 3D, but its more of a nice design touch, and not integral to the design. For example, when you switch users in the iOS twitter app, it looks like a turning box. Nice, but no boundary pusher.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking 3D like the Nintendo 3DS or even 3D TV. In fact, I fully believe that we will soon, if not already, get a pushback on the use of that kind of 3D. What I’m talking about is making our interfaces live in a 3D world behind the screen.

Games have been doing it forever. Look at Infinity Blade, for example. It seems to me that sure, 3D is very cool in games, in rendering a new world for your users to experience and your characters to live in, but for some reason 3D hasn’t caught on in the app space outside of games.

If you ask me, there is a great opportunity here not only to create cool new 3D interfaces for mobile, but interfaces which can be seamlessly ported to the 3D wearable world, when projecting a 3D interface into a wearable device becomes more commonplace.

Despite what we see in Minority Report, I don’t think displays will remain floating 2D constructs which can be moved and swiped away, but 3D objects which can be rotated. We’re talking Tony Stark vs John Anderton, and Stark’s the winner.

How to prepare? Easy. Just look at your interfaces and see how they can be reworked for 3D. Consult with or bring on a designer with 3D modeling expertise. Have them generate menus and functions as 3D models in Maya, or if you can’t afford that, Blender. Use something like Unity 3D or some other game creation software to take those models and turn them into a fully functioning app.

If you do this, you’ll be ahead of the curve next year as wearables start hitting the mainstream in a big way, and you’ll already be working on an interface of the future.