Category Archives: Inspiration

Thngs that inspire me and have made an impression upon me in some way

Rich Internet Applications

During the MAX 2009 conference, Duane Nickull was interviewed by DZone on the subject of RIA architectures. As an architect, I appreciated Duane’s comments about the responsibility of architects, versus developers, where RIAs are concerned (e.g. focusing on and valuing interaction design and user experience, distilling key business requirements by working closely with those the RIA will serve, being mindful of the framing process-oriented context, etc.).

In particular, don’t frustrate users resonates with me (e.g. it’s a non-technical answer to “what is an RIA?” (or “reeyah”). Duane’s Revenue Canada example (or not “getting” this) is a good one. It just so happens that I encountered my own today…

First, two exhibits off Twitter:

Don’t get me wrong, more vendors need to be reaching out and engaging with their communities in deep and meaningful ways. So, I’m not suggesting that creating a forum for community discussion is bad. However…

What if, instead, the forum was seeded (pre-launch) by a reasonable distillation of those who’ve already voiced their concerns, like Pie? The Web is there to be culled–“listened to” if you will–you just need to mine it.

As Duane and his co-authors talk about in Web 2.0 Architectures, more and more of us are living declaratively. Certainly this is true when it comes to providing candid feedback and standing behind things we believe in (e.g. vendors we want to succeed…and those we don’t).

So, an alternative forum post could have listed Pie’s identity management feedback alongside the feedback of others–fully annotated with community profiles, source links, etc. Of course, those supporting the forum could proactively reach out to folks like Pie to confirm that discovered feedback is appropriate for syndication and could enable contributors to easily follow the conversation moving forward–ideally in the medium of their choice (e.g. email, feed, etc.).

Update 12/29/2009: Of course, Pie, being the strong advocate he is, reached out again and updated the forum post himself. :-)

Adobe LiveCycle ES2

If you’re at the Adobe MAX conference this week, then you already know: Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite 2 has launched.

And judging by the attendance at the pre-conference session on LiveCycle, there’s significant interest in building user-centric applications in the enterprise–exactly what LiveCycle ES2 is designed to unleash!

As you will see on the main LiveCycle site, ES2 is all about:

Given my work on smart client architectures, I have to say that I’m particularly excited about the potential in LiveCycle Mosaic.

Mosaic provides a compelling framework that brings together aspects of business and collaboration to drive richer context pivoting. The task (goal) at hand is more richly represented at all times, allowing the user to pivot more effectively and efficiently and leading to better outcomes more rapidly.

Mosaic is not merely about aggregation as is portal technology. Rather, Mosaic is about intuitive, contextual composition that puts the focus back on the user’s task rather than all the supporting systems underneath. Users can access their mosaics either in their browser or on the desktop (via AIR support). Catalogs of mosaic application assets like tiles can be shared to encourage reuse and to simplify future composition.

LiveCycle Mosaic should be a boon for user-centric, content-enabled applications development.

By the way, if you’re not at MAX (like me), you can still participate online. For example, view the top three sessions from each day at MAX on demand. (Today’s keynote stream was five-by-five at my desk!) Check out the MAX Companion, too, while you’re there. October 11 will see all the MAX content posted online, too!

Cheers! :-)

Update 11/25/2009: Please read the “what’s new in ES2” document. I also recommend that newly revised LiveCycle Developer Center (aka DevNet site).

In Pursuit of Elegance

Last month I read In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing and am finally posting my thoughts on this book by Matthew May.

First of all, it’s a well-written book that applies its message to itself.

I’m glad that I found it after my previous read, since it covers similar ground in places as does Subject To Change but ends up exploring different vistas, too. As a matter of fact, I can relate the contents of this book to several previous reads, and In Pursuit of Elegance has refined my thinking drawn from past reading through deeper correlation and, well, elegance.

“To find elegance, you must appreciate, embrace, and then travel beyond complexity.” The pursuit of elegance is more like chess than checkers. Elegance is “far side,” not “near side,” simplicity; it is at once symmetrical, seductive, subtractive and sustainable.

Concerning this book’s refining effect, take the somewhat popular subject of kaizen–a principle and a practice of “change for the better.” A student of kaizen creates a standard, follows it, and finds a better way. A student of kaizen understands that there are two types of work: value-adding and non-value-adding. In the pursuit of value-adding work, one must be wary of muri (overload), mura (inconsistency), and muda (waste).

Up to this point, I focused more on muda (waste) as a concern, drawing from lessons learned in The Machine That Changed the World while contemplating software factories. However, May writes: “Muda is the easiest to target because it is generally more visible. But muri and mura are often the more evil of the sins, as they can be the actual cause of all muda.” Yes, of course!

Taiichi Ohno, Toyota engineering pioneer and the man behind kaizen, taught his colleagues that new thoughts and better ideas do not come out of the blue, they come from a true understanding of the process. [Aside: Developing and applying empathy is an important theme in Subject To Change.] Writes May: “By requiring keen observation before action, by demanding that one look beyond the obvious surface symptoms to better see the deeper causes, by never giving answers and only asking questions, Ohno taught people to stop and think.”

Make decisions that are based on observation, not assumption (or necessarily inference alone). Therefore, actively form your mental model through firsthand observation (empathy) to ask “What is possible?;” don’t passively succumb to the “ladder of inference” and prematurely ask “What should be done?”


Since reading Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, I’ve been looking forward to Malcolm Gladwell‘s next book. Outliers: The Story of Success didn’t disappoint, and I recommend reading it yourself.

As the book’s title suggests, Gladwell’s text is about success and outliers; however, he engages the reader from the get-go by starting with a definition of outlier expressly to follow-up by quickly suggesting a concrete redefinition of what is truly an outlier and what determines success. Gladwell challenges the reader to think in less-conventional terms (e.g. thinking about health in terms of community–beyond just the individual): “…there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.”

Outliers has two parts, focused on opportunity and legacy, respectively. Part one emphasizes “from-ness” (i.e. from where (e.g. birthplace), from when (e.g. time, era, norms), from how (e.g. culture, legacy), etc.). In doing so, part one indicates by one example after another why merely personal explanations of success don’t work.

     Where are you from?

Do you see the consequences of the way we have chosen to think about success? Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of the those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. And, most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play–and by ‘we’ I mean society–in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

Gladwell states, “Achievement is talent plus preparation.” He then goes on to uncover patterns of achievement and underachievement as well as patterns of encouragement and discouragement. He focuses on the work ethic of those who are purposeful, single-minded, intentional–who achieve success by working much, much harder.

  • Adversity presenting itself as opportunity
  • Developing skills amidst obscurity
  • Meaningful – complexity, autonomy and a relationship between effort and reward in doing creative work
  • “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”

For example, the “10,000 hour rule” is discussed (i.e. its typically takes 10K hours of deliberate practice to develop true expertise and world-class mastery). The point of the discussion is not to admire those who earn such mastery as much as it is to understand the kinds of obstacles most of us encounter in the pursuit of such commitment. Furthermore, it concerns the creation of (more) equal opportunities for practicing in order to reach greater common potential: “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

     Are you regularly practicing what your core profession requires
     (e.g. modeling, design, coding, testing, writing)?

“Success arises out of a steady accumulation of advantages.”
“Extraordinary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportunity.”
     Talent: intellect, “general intelligence,” innate ability
     Opportunity: imagination, savvy, “practical intelligence,” surrounding
     community, family background, demographics, virtues and values
     (e.g. frugality, initiative, sacrifice)

“General intelligence” and “practical intelligence” are orthogonal (i.e. presence of one doesn’t imply the presence of the other); therefore, keep clear and separate (i.e. don’t confuse one for the other).

Part two, moves from opportunity to legacy and starts by focusing on cultural legacies (e.g. a culture of honor, where reputation is of foremost concern). The focus becomes about teamwork and communication (e.g. “mitigated speech”). For example, understanding cultural legacy as a way to effectively combat mitigation (i.e. developing clearer and more assertive communication where both transmitter and receiver are not a afraid to speak up or to speak straight).

To bring cultural legacy into better focus, Gladwell leverages the Cultural Dimensions work of Geert Hofstede (e.g. IDV – Individualism (i.e. what Gladwell refers to as the individualism-collectivism scale), UAI – Uncertainty Avoidance Index, PDI – Power Distance Index). For example, the United States has the highest IDV score and the fifth-lowest PDI score.

Mitigated speech and high PDI influence communication, especially when the person speaking (transmitter) and the person listening (receiver) have different orientation. In Western cultures, communication tends to be transmitter-oriented (i.e. speaker is responsible to communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously). However, in Asian cultures, communication tends to be receiver-oriented (i.e. listener is responsible to make sense of what is being said). For this reason, I believe that communication is both my responsibility and also a two-way discipline (i.e. if you don’t understand something speak up–I’m trying my best to be clear). It’s why I prefer more interactive sessions at conferences, etc.

As a mathematician by training, I was fascinated to learn that, as human beings, we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds. When you compare the fairly transparent Asian number system with the highly irregular number system in English, it starts to become clearer how English-speaking (English-thinking) student accumulate a disadvantage. Stowe Boyd goes into more detail of Gladwell’s treatment of this cultural legacy. (I need to start thinking si instead of four, qi instead of seven, etc. :-) )

Cultural legacy suggests to me that it would be naive to apply an American timeline to the future development of, for example, China. Rice paddies aren’t fields of corn or wheat (i.e. skill-oriented versus mechanically-oriented farming tradition). So why should it take the Chinese the same amount of time to “modernize” as it did take Americans?

You’ve likely heard or seen the business cliché “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Well, Outliers posits that success is not much about ability as it is about attitude. That is, success is a function of persistence, doggedness and willingness to work hard. Success is more about out-learning than it is about being smarter. School works, but there just isn’t enough of it (e.g. 180 days versus 243 days–American versus Japanese school year). Or said another way, school isn’t the problem as much as summer vacation may be.

In closing:

  • “Outliers are those who have been given opportunities–and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
  • Success is a gift.
  • “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success–the fortunate birth date and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.”

P.S. I recently began a major revision of my Books page. You can now more easily see other book reviews I’ve posted herein. Soon you’ll be able to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein). Why? Well, if you’re nearby and you see something of interest, please ask to borrow books of interest. If you’re not (i.e. regardless of your location to me), I’m hoping that opening up my library will help to solicit feedback as to what the especially good reads are (and why). I typically have multiple books queued up to read; so, knowing what should be top-of-list from my readers would be welcome feedback. Cheers…

Update 12/26/2008: Today I was able to get to watching the second part of Charlie Rose’s show on performance where, after interviewing Malcolm Gladwell in the first half, he interviewed the author of Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin. Mr. Colvin referenced the little known body of scientific work concerning deliberate practice, much like Mr. Gladwell drew upon it in Outliers. I appreciated Mr. Colvin’s belief, based on conversation with this scientific community, that the research frontier here is parenting.