There was a good post on hackernews this morning about choosing who you collaborate with in order to help you get faster at something. Working with people who are waaaaay better than you at something is completely inspirational and exciting. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why that is.. and I think I finally got it. Having an interest net and other people who are as excited/motivated about learning stuff as you are is the fastest way to get into a “flow” state, which we know is essential to optimal learning.
While I “knew” this idea academically, I didn’t start realizing this so much personally until I pair programmed (more like started watching people code that were way better than I am). Interest networking is all about connecting with people who have a different perspective and set of abilities than you do.
At BettrAt, We’re excited about taking the very best of the graduate school experience– Finding an amazing peer interest network and working through challenging problems on a continuous basis, and extending the experience to schools, member organizations, and companies.
“Why?”, you ask.. Surely, graduate school isn’t for everyone… It’s only for highly motivated, curious people.
I don’t buy it. Getting better at self-selected interests is a universal human trait. Facebook has proved that socializing and connecting is a universal human need, but barely scratches the surface of what’s possible in the world of interest networking and learning.
Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.
- Bill Gates
iPad apps that have amazing user experiences are able to deliver a bar course at a premium over books, but a huge discount over in-place learning. We’ll continue this trajectory. The argument over scaling hybrid learning will ebb and flow. Now more than ever, we’re able to create mechanisms that improve hybrid learning environments and encompass digital media. This was all possible before, but now learners are becoming more attuned to the social layer that is the web today, and using a variety of tools to consume and create information (mobile, tablet, web). Facebooking, Tweeting, BetterAting will all be part of an ecosystem of socializing, publishing, and learning on the web.
Recently, I visited a school near the south side of Seattle, WA. I immediately recognized the capacity for transformation that the learning tools we’re building could bring to a segment of the population that’s not particularly digitally accessible. While the school didn’t have wifi access, some students actually bought Clear 4G wifi cards from home just so they could connect to the internet to learn. The appetite and demand is certainly there… but importantly, the needs are coming from the individuals.
I thought about those kids and I wondered where they would go after they graduated high school. Many of them didn’t have access to post K-12 education. In many schools across the US, the problem is much greater. There’s no inherent desire to continue going to school because students are jaded and apathetic about learning.
If someone came to me this second and asked me what the two most important books to read are in creating new software services, I would easily and emphatically state two books by Fred Brooks.
Our professor in undergraduate senior design class, Elliot Soloway, made us read “The Mythical Man Month,” and the “Cathedral and the Bazaar” despite the fact that the MMM was already over a decade old at the time… yet still hyper relevant (and still is today).
Now, Fred Brooks gives us another super practical book in The Design of Design. This is one of the most useful books for developer/designers to read… I have no idea why I waited so long to check it out. I admit I didn’t read cover to cover, but did skim its entirety and read certain chapters which intrigued me and thought would help me the most. As many virtual sticky notes as another favorite of mine, “Founders at Work“.
Channeling my Jon Stewart, here are the “zen” moments:
The typical dynamics of two-person design collaboration seem different from those of multi-person design and solo design. Two people will interchange ideas rapidly and informally, with neither a protocol as to who has the floor nor domination by one partner. Each holds the floor for short bursts. The process switches rapidly among micro-sessions of proposal, review and critique, counterproposal, synthesis, and resolution. There is typically a single thread of idea development, without the maintenance of separate individual threads of thought as in multi-person discussions.
Two pencils may move over the same paper with neither collision nor contradiction. “As iron sharpens iron,” each stimulates the other to more active thought than might occur in solo design. Perhaps the very need to articulate one’s thinking—to state why as well as what— causes quicker perception of one’s own fallacies and quicker recognition of other viable design alternatives
…In retrospect, many of the case studies have a striking common attribute: the boldest design decisions, whoever made them, have accounted for a high fraction of the goodness of the outcome. These bold decisions were made due sometimes to vision, sometimes to desperation. They were always gambles, requiring extra investment in hopes of getting a much better result.
This one is particularly appropriate to people working on startups in the software world:
Even if the goal were fixed and known, all the desiderata enumerated, the design tree known precisely, and the goodness function precisely defined, design would still be iterative, because the constraints keep changing.
Moreover, clean interfaces enhance the joy of the work. Designing is fun; ironing out misunderstandings with peers is usually not. When designing, one feels progress happening; when resolving interface misunderstandings, one feels slippage. Clean interfaces give multiple designers each the joy of ownership, of the privilege of signing a piece of work. They also facilitate sequential ownership, as small components flow together into recognizable larger subsystems.
I enjoy how the book seems to resolve Descartes’ view of the world (Rationalist) vs Locke’s (Empiricist) — There’s a lot here that’s being established in the canons of “lean startup” methodology over the past 2 years that could benefit from an understanding between the two schools of thought.
I realize the value in what Turner Whitted calls “progressive truthfulness”.
One of the things that I love the most about this book is the quotes at the beginning of every chapter. There are some really well curated ones in here. This one is my favorite… for obvious reasons:
Every man who rises above the common level has received two educations: the first, from his teachers; the second, more personal and important, from himself.
EDWARD GIBBON , MEMOIRS OF MY LIFE AND WRITINGS
In December, I visited Japan. Japan is an wondrous country if you’re interested in the roots of zen, Buddhism, and the roots of modernist design. You can’t really walk around Kyoto without coming across temples or shrines filled with peaceful rock gardens. Perfect spots to sit down and think for a while. As much as we were tourists fitting a busy schedule with nine days (including visiting an old friend in Iwakuni), it was incredibly nice to sit down for 10 minutes at the Daitoku-ji (大徳寺) temple in Kyoto to admire its construction, flawless geometric arrangements of the rock garden and attention to detail.
Rock garden along Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto
I can’t think of many other places that I’ve been to in the past where I could feel the our surroundings enveloping us with tranquil abandon. I’ve been to places that are naturally beautiful before, but what’s distinctive about Japan is a certain ability to blend nature and manmade objects into a natural rhythm and harmony that is very challenging to execute well. A rock garden is mostly manmade but uses elements of nature (rocks, ferns, bushes, small trees) to tell a story in a way that words clearly can’t.
While I was on my trip, I read the Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Murakami and was immediately transformed into a dreamlike other-world, which inspired this little video of Kyoto rock garden above. Sorry about the shakiness, I didn’t travel with a tripod.
Japan is a peace loving country. We went to Hiroshima (one of the sites of the atomic bombing), which I thought would be a depressing experience. And while it wasn’t the “happiest” part of our trip, I actually became really interested in the Japanese ethos of peace that seems to pervade the country. I mostly wondered if the peace movement in Japan started before or after WWII.
One of my favorite stores in Japan, Muji
Upon leaving Japan, I realized that there’s a reason why it’s a country known for pushing the boundaries in architecture, product design and cultivating a clean and modern aesthetic in information design. Despite the fact that many of the signs were in Japanese, I could almost understand what a few of them were trying to say because of the other visual and contextual clues that they offered. Whenever I saw signs with only Japanese and numbers on it at a train station or bus stop, I could easily intuit what it was trying to convey. And when the signs had English on them, they provided lots of information with little clutter or extraneous forms.
Signage on the Tokyo Subway
Japan is a place that seems to blend ancient traditions while progressing forward technologically with amazing speed. Mobile penetration (and usage) is higher than I’ve ever witnessed anywhere else, seemingly even more than Shanghai. There are places in Tokyo like Ginza that are the superlatives of consumer meccas, while at the same time the palaces and gardens in Kyoto seem to be the entire opposite. These paradoxes are hard to find elsewhere.
Water ladle used for purification before entering Itsukushima ShrineOmikuji on a tree in a Shinto temple next to Tsukiji fish market
I took away some important design lessons from Japan, not all of which can be stated in words, unfortunately. Professionally, I’m now more convinced than ever of the importance of information and interaction design to solve problems like information overload, curing reflection deficit disorder and helping people live better, more productive lives.