Innovation Boom or Apocalypse?

The last 10 years has been pretty blah as far as innovation is concerned. Sure the web has evolved and we all love Facebook and Twitter and couldn’t imagine living without Amazon or Google (Bing anyone?) but these are all web properties and thus not very diversified.

Where are the medical breakthroughs, the truly revolutionary transportation inventions be they car or plane, even household tech doesn’t feel all that different other than flatter TVs. Clearly people haven’t been standing still but I don’t feel there have been many innovations or inventions that have impacted us in a how-did-we-survive-without-that kind of way.

As a consummate optimist I’m convinced that the next decade will see some pretty interesting breakthroughs that leave my son’s high school years looking very different from mine – and not just because he’s texting or listening to MP3s. My gut tells me that some of the biggest innovation will be around business models and service – the offline varieties (although I’m sure they’ll leverage the web).

What industries do you think are ripe for a leap forward?

P.S. I hate that people use innovation to describe any progress. Innovation is incremental, often a re-purposing of existing tech for new uses – often affecting the fat part of the bell curve. Invention is new in a that’s-never-been-done sort of way. Help me fight the good fight by replacing innovation with invention when appropriate.

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The difference between pursuing excellence and being a perfectionist

When we started B-School we had a getting-started week to prepare for the program and lay the foundation for the rest of the MBA education we were to receive over the following two years. We had a seminar with the Glaser’s, a husband and wife team that specialize in equipping people to better handle interpersonal relationships. My classmates embraced and, sometimes, made fun of the 80/20 rule that was introduced. No, it wasn’t the 80% of work is done by 20% of people or 80% of revenue come from 20% of products (although those are both legit).  In this case, the idea was that someone on our study teams (or work teams) could call 80/20 when we were reach a point of diminishing returns to signal that we should move on.

This 80/20 rule is particularly interesting when dealing with a group of Type-A’s because for some Type-A is synonymous with being a perfectionist, getting perfect grades and being at the top of the class. And, for some, Type-A manifests itself by getting involved in as many activities as possible. In some cases it means both but our generation seems to have a better drive for work/life balance.

The point of all this is that by working with 100 very smart people I’ve started be able to spot the difference between those that are pursuing excellence and those that are simply perfectionists. Let me be clear, you can pursue excellence and be a perfectionist but I don’t believe they go together often. The reason? Being a perfectionist is about proving yourself to others, proving your ability, perhaps even something done out of fear in attempt to avoid looking foolish. What does it take? Work ethic and a willingness to put in time, time to keep polishing until it can’t shine any brighter – pushing through despite diminishing returns. A noble effort indeed but not all that value adding… take math, you can run numbers by hand and go over your work until it’s ‘perfect’ or you could just let Excel do it for you.

Pursuing excellence on the otherhand is about doing something special, something different, something of unique value. In reality, excellence is rarely perfect but generally not something just anyone can do with enough time or effort – unless of course your special brand of excellence is being able to think on your feet and produce quality (not necessarily perfect) work quickly. Excellence is about not being perfect. It’s about choosing something you’re willing to let suffer so that something else can be special… it’s also about knowing when the returns of simply doing more work aren’t worth the effort.

There’s a place for perfection but true perfection is rarely what’s called for. The next time you’re pulling a late night or beating yourself up over something stop and ask yourself, “Am I pursuing excellence or am I merely being a perfectionist?”

I made it!

Yesterday was a good day, I got the news I had been waiting for. I opened the e-mail and there it was, “You’ve been selected.”

No, this wasn’t the TechStars acceptance e-mail (although I’m hopeful I’ll get one of those next week) this was an e-mail from John Cook of TechFlash fame inviting me to join the TechFlash foursome for the WTIA’s Annual Golf Scramble on July 26th. John wrote a blog post asking for submissions by people who were interested in filling out the foursome and I replied with 100-words that I’m sure could only be described as brilliant… I also gratuitously leveraged my cute toddler, I suspect the pic to the right is the real reason I was chosen.

Playing 18 with John Cook at a tech-related golf tournament is going to be a great way to spend a Monday in July (although, I hope the round is the sub-6-hour variety).

The importance of unplugging

I’m wearing out the keyboard on my laptop, literally. It’s just over a year old and I’m missing the F7 key (really? F7) with many other’s ready to jump. Thing is, I have a Dell with a good keyboard. Point is, I’m on my laptop a lot. Like many my age, when I’m unwinding in front of the TV at night – I have my laptop.

With the amazing improvement of productivity and access to information comes an increased dependence on, or rather addiction to, consuming it. There’s also an increased ability to become a work a holic because you can be productive from wherever you are.

But now, I’m back in my hometown for my wife’s sister’s wedding. Access to the Internet is limited despite being just two hours to the Bay Area (my mom just got access to DSL 3 months ago) and 3G is sparse. So while I’m home I’m finding myself disconnecting, going outside, spending time without a screen in front of my face and I’m finding something interesting – perspective.

My generation, and most of the people in cities like Seattle who embrace technology to the fullest, get very caught up in the web and the information available “out there” and we lose sight (not site) of what’s important “right here.” Each morning we’ve been staying at my in laws who have a garden and I’ve gone out and eaten about a pound of berries for breakfast, I get to watch my son pick berries and strawberries enjoying each bite and getting red juice on his face (and clothes). We are creatures who are made to spend time out in the world, often with nothing to occupy our thoughts so we can let them wander, not just consumed in our own little worlds.

Getting a chance to unwind and dealing with getting over my withdrawals (from the reduction of information consumption) is helping me to spend some much needed time thinking about priorities, where I want to go, and who I want to be. It’s easy to choose a course, get on the road and never stop to check your direction because you’re too busy making good time but when you take a break to take stock of things it sure feels like a good investment.

We’re TechStars Finalists!

I was excited to learn today that we (Hyper Local Media) have been selected as finalists for TechStars Seattle 2010. As you can see from Andy’s explanation of what it means to be a finalist, we haven’t been selected but we’ve made it through to the more detailed review round.

TechStars is a great program that has been proven in just a few years to give startups a leg up. HyLo is off to a good start but we’d definitely stand to benefit from the insights and introductions that comes from being a TechStars company plus there’s something special about being a part of the first class of startups to go through the program in Seattle – from the way the community has already started to rally to the friendly competition that the selected companies will have that pushes all of them forward.

Well, I better start working on the stuff they requested. Hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll have another positive update.

Don’t mistake curiosity for a lack for understanding

It’s funny the assumptions we make. The more we interact with people the faster we get at lumping someone new into a bucket. We use heuristics to keep us from taking an interminably long time to come to decisions or form assessments of situations but when we apply them to people, particularly people that don’t fit the molds we’ve formed in our minds, a funny things happens – we get it entirely wrong.

I’m been on both sides of this quick judgment and in most cases the same issue is at play, mistaking curiosity for a lack of understanding. In our culture, bravado and a sickening desire to impress have created an environment where a person who seeks to learn from other’s experiences is often viewed as having a lack of understanding (the inverse is this situation occurs when someone understands something about the subject and then spends far too long trying to prove it to the ‘mentor’). Ironically, I’ve found, that most people who truly seek to understand something don’t stop pursuing truth once they grasp the concept rather they continue to turn over every rock they can to find new nuggets that enhance their mastery of the subject. On the flip side, when I meet people who purport mastery the extent of their expertise is usually limited to the exact situation for which they experienced or else its dated expertise that stopped being relevant once they believed they knew all that could be known about a subject.

So, I guess my takeaway is, if someone approaches you for mentorship and seeks expertise and insight take a moment to understand whether they are seeking a preliminary understanding of something or if they’re well versed on the topic and looking to add depth or breadth to their mastery of the subject. Getting past the initial assumption will help both of you get the most out of the conversation.

TechStars Info Session Fun

Monday was a full day invite only info session for TechStars first Seattle program which starts at the end of the summer. What can I say, it was a lot of fun. You definitely feel yourself succumbing to the effects of the cool aid – or Long Island Iced Tea in this case. It was great to see the mentors there and already contributing thought-capital to all of us vying to get into the program.

It was also nice to meet many of the other entrepreneurs, despite the fact that we’re competing for spots everyone was friendly and interested in learning about everyone else. As a testament to the value of bringing energetic entrepreneurs together, I met a handful of folks that are doing things that are complimentary to what we’re doing at Hyper Local Media and we could very well be in a position to help each other over time.

You can see a video recap of the event on John Cook’s blog, don’t let Andy fool you – I didn’t see him in the jacket let alone a tie. If you’re thinking about applying there’s still time, the deadline is June 1.