‘Optimizing versus Innovative’ Excellence by Design

The words ‘Optimization’ and ‘Innovation’ can spark an interesting debate.  They are related of course, optimization sometimes requiring an innovative idea or approach, and innovation often including optimizing elements.

But if we widen the gap between the two to see what ramifications to design it may have, I would offer the following:

In the IT world today there is a growing difference between what one might call ‘optimization’ and ‘innovation’.

Herein I define the following:

  • Optimization as being focused on doing the same things better but in the end, providing the same type of service.
  • Innovation on the other end is primarily focused on (or most obviously innovative) when it results in a new type of service, even if it (almost always) includes some existing capabilities.

Another words, while inventions occur in both, one is improving an existing service/capability, while the other is delivering a (very) different, new service/capability.

What does this mean from an Excellence by Design point of view?


Continuous process improvement, technology refreshes, and adding/upgrading capabilities in infrastructure are good examples of optimizing. Other examples are adding servers, or server virtualization, or developing a new portal, or launching a new, more functional ERP solution. The list could go on…

A more valuable optimizing example occurred during my experience at Ford. We made major progress by emphasizing that the design of new infrastructure include a holistic view on the technology, the integration, deployment tasks, maintenance/upgrades, and even the planning process for next revisions. We called this particular activity the ‘pattern engineering process’ and it was and still is an effective, holistic approach to Excellence by Design when optimizing IT infrastructure services. This work laid the groundwork for what we called ‘utility computing’ back in 2002.  We were visionaries apparently because this is what Nicholas Carr wrote implied in 2004 when he asked Does IT Matter and in 2008 in his book The Big Switch.

I say optimizing because while there were lots of new things about the Pattern Engineering Process approach, we still were generally, providing similar services at the end of the day, not a radically new and different (e.g. what I refer here to as innovative) type of service. We were just trying to optimize it to a utility as reliable as the electric utility is today.

It’s interesting to note the type of consideration that rise to the Designers attention when in this more ‘optimizing’ mode: Improving quality, repeatability, consistency, and continuous improvement as measured by metrics of focus such as cost, time to deploy, availability, etc. usually through use of existing technology, and reuse of best practices. In essence, the designer is trying to integratively pull together the best of the best of what is known and possible, to achieve an optimized end result.

==> My point here is that 1) Excellence in Optimizing is a large opportunity and thus a very important, very valuable capability for a business to have, and 2)  it has its own particular design aspects to be considered and 3) it can have transformational effects, as the shift from building IT infrastructure has transformed from one-in-a-row, to repeatable process, and now to ‘cloud’ computing.

The moral of the story here is that an excellent organization understands this near term value and potential long term transformational effects, and ensures it has some focus on and competence in this.  My personal experience is that most companies really don’t apply rigor and expertise to optimizing opportunities.  They prefer to ‘ask’ for the results (less cost, faster cycle time, better quality, etc.) but do not invest formally in the design skills/capabilities to excel in optimization.  There are many exceptions but they are generally in the manufacturing (and sometimes the engineering) function.  It is much rare to see any real focus on optimization in HR, or Marketing, or Finance.  IT is usually somewhere between this spectrum, with most of the optimization being either assumed to come from new technology, or more rigorous project management.


While the word ‘innovation’ can include all sorts of improvements, large and small, lets consider that innovation which intends on producing a new (the more radical, the more innovative) type of service.  To a greater extreme, lets consider strategic innovation, that is intended to produce a transformational effect.  A nice book to use to get thinking about things this way is Pull, by David Seigel.  The book has really only two points, one relatively boring, one that can drive quite innovative thinking (and design). The first is his discussion of the so called ‘Semantic Web’ (which basically implies that if everything was just organized (namespace, categorization, even meaning), then computing power can be applied to deliver radically improved results/insights/efficiency.  Frankly this is not real news to anyone who has spent much time in IT, but if you have not, than that element of the book could be very enlightening to you.  the second point is the more radical from an innovative design perspective.  David projects (and I completely agree) that the technology world (web powered) is moving away from designing (whether optimizing or innovating) solutions that pull data and keep it in corporate databases.  The future is the ‘pull’ model where individuals and their data is the focal point, and business solutions are designed to pull this data (or data from other businesses) on demand.  This is not the only type of inovation, but its an interesting one to use for the example below.

The perfect example?

The health care industry is a perfect foil for projecting this.  They have generally been way behind in IT (in almost all dimensions).  Everybody knows it.  Now they face multiple forces fom cost pressures to new regulation to insurance carriers pressure to any aging population, etc.

So what is one big challenge you hear about today from an IT perspective? ERM: electronic medical records.  Is this innovation…uh, No. It is the industry catching up with the kind of data capture/retention that the manufacturing industry and the finance industry has had for more than 20 years.  It is optimization in the sense that this has all been done before, the service (capture the data, store it a database, so we can relate it and report it) is old hat.

But let’s turn it around.  Who is working on the idea of creating a health management system FOR THE PATIENT!  Now that would be innovative.  In fact I have been speaking with a large number of people about this…here is the vision and it’s innovations:

  1. In the future, a person will have a place to consolidate all their health information.  Not provided by a hospital or insurance carrier. More like a facebook app than a database, this service will allow information to be ‘connected with’ the person (just like you can link to a friend on facebook).  this information will include
  2. It will include data from your body.  Rather than the myriad of proprietary devices used today to measure heart rate, oxygen levels, etc., biomedical engineering and IT standards will come together to allow you (or your Dr.) to apply ‘bandaid-like’ monitors to your body, which will transmit data wirelessly to a standard device (probably an iphone) you carry.  This web of data, transmitted over standard protocols, will be a leap forward compared to the ridiculously custom and proprietary (and kludgy) ways of collecting data form a patient today.  It will be so easy it can be used whether you are a hyper athlete or a bed ridden critical care patient in the ER.  Standards do that, connectivity enables it.
  3. It will enable secure sharing with your trust network over the web.  Your Doctor can see some of your vitals.  Your caregiver can see if you have take your medicines. Your family (children who may live many miles away but want to keep tabs on their elderly parent) can see how you are doing, when your next dr. appointment is, last remarks/recommendations for the caregiver, etc.)
  4. Video conversations replace physical visits.   father spent 2 hours just yesterday waiting for what turned out to be a 7 minutes conversation with his Dr. about next steps in his cancer care.  This happens ALL THE TIME. This will be replaced with a video cam conversation, in which the Dr. can view online all your vitals, and occurs when the parties are free…fewer waiting room visits.  It will not replace situations where the Dr. must perform a physical inspection, but it can replace many calls, at far less cost, much higher convenience, and with the real time (and historical) data available, with more information of value to the Dr.
  5. Not a PC…a tablet.  yes this will all be accessed by the patient using a simple tablet, most probably the iPad or some competitive version of it.  Simple, highly functional and capable, it will become the ‘Crackberry’ of health management.  Just as business users felt isolated with their Blackberry, so will people feel without their ‘healthpad’ that has all their information from pills to take, appointments to make, and trusted partners available to call (video or voice) in an emergency.
  6. There is MUCH more.  I have only scratched the surface of what a designer must consider and could provide.  Discharge instructions, rehab assistance, performance training recommendations (for athletes), food intake management, high school athlete training programs…the list goes on.

So compare the ‘ERM frenzy’ with the vision above.  Both are important, both should be done with excellence, but the designers challenge is quite different.  The first (ERM) is a classic optimizing problem, using largely existing capabilities (even if they come from other industries) to produce a service that is largely understood (records mgt), has been done before (in many industries), for a typical audience (the hospital’s administration), in a typical way (I hate to say it but probably an almost mainframe like query and report UI, ugh).

The second is much different and highly innovative.  It requires designing from a very different perspective (the patient), developing new ways of gathering information and managing it securely, integrating a wide variety of function into a package (the ipad and the software experience) for the user that is more like a game, than a data entry/reporting application, and whose event model is based on ‘pulling’ data rather than pushing it.


When thinking about ‘Excellence by Design’ another important perspective is to consider whether your focus is primarily to optimize or innovate.  It may help you consider the options and best approaches in a better light.

P.S. If you are wondering what the Ironman image is doing in this post, it is because it is the  internal code name for a project I have been working on described above as the health management system for the patient, and as an Ironman series itself its a great example of optimization and innovation.

Science, Society, and Excellence by Design

Michael Specter does a nice job reminding us of the importance and value of science based understanding and decision making.  I highly agree with his concern that while the world has become more connected and more capable, and science has contributed so many advances, there are many people who are still willing to believe falsehoods or unsubstantiated theories, and confuse issues of facts and science, with policy and politics.

This is important to understand for the Designer, because while good design should be rooted in facts, science, and engineering, it must also face the reality of populism and politics.  Take health care information technology, or genetically modified foods as two good examples.  Both are subjects for which there is a rich and broad potential for designing solutions and improvements that can benefit mankind, yet both are subjected to highly charged debate, filled with both prejudice and confusion.

One must be careful to understand and differentiate between the science/engineering/fact based aspects of the design, and those aspects that are not so grounded.  This does not mean the political/emotional/prejudicial is unimportant.  It simply means be careful to distinguish the two and address each appropriately.

I have found this in many types of design challenges.  When doing process reengineering for example it is easy for an organization to act with fear at the idea of simplifying operations.  The facts/science/engineering may show a far better method of organizing work execution, yet the designer must be cognizant of the potential for the organization to resist the changes for reasons that are factually groundless even if personally very real.  This is a trivial example.

The examples Michael discusses are real and much larger, and as a human race we must become more skilled at dealing with this challenge because, as science capabilities accelerate (and they are/will due in great degree to the advancements in computer technology) the opportunities for improvement…and debate, will increase.

Several hundred years ago the world debated the science that said the world was round. This one argument was one of the few, and went on for many decades.  Today such scientific discoveries happen all the time, and have much greater consequences.  As a society we must become skilled at the process of  learning about, absorbing, accepting, and reacting to, this increasing pace of scientific advancements.

So Excellence by Design should not only include design based on the underlying principles of science/engineering,  must also take into account the very possible and in some cases likely resistance to the design.

Using Excellence by Design to manage Complexity

Nature does it Better.  Something to really consider is how immature we are compared to nature.  Nature supports infinite complexity, yet does so by design.  Biology and Chemistry form the design basis for  nature to support broad complexity.  Every leaf, tree, and flower is different, yet they are all formed based on the same design principles.  Man has a long ways to go to form design principles as robust as nature has, but what the heck, we have only been at this for a blink of the eye compared to the age of the earth.

Business in general, and IT in particular, that has become much more complex.  There are several ways to think about this subject.  One is simply how business (and life in general!) has become more complex.  This is due to wider variety of options (in products and services), greater breadth of customer base and relationships in general, and more rules/regulations/considerations in these, due to government, social, economic, environmental, and legal aspects.  Yes the world in general is getting more complex.

Another way to look at complexity is from an IT perspective.  Certainly technology has gotten more complex for the same reasons noted above, plus the advancements in technology itself, which provides an ever increasing set of alternatives in hardware/software/networking technology and perhaps the most influential, the rise of independent offerings that must be ‘integrated’ into a solution.  It is not unusual today to find an IT solution that mixes cell phones, web servers, third party hosted applications, remote storage, and enterprise databases.

In fact, the combination of these two trends is growing, and influencing each other.  McKinsey recently issued a report on Tackling IT Complexity in Product Design. Should we be concerned and if so, what can be done about it?

Actually this is a subject I have spent some great amount of effort on over my career.  Since college, where I studied systems science (BS, MSU, ’80), I have been involved in understanding complex systems and forming models and solutions to explain and address this complexity in ways that are sustainable (i.e. not by spaghetti code that implements every complex feature!).

Some great examples of solutions that support complex behavior, but do so in simple, consistent, excellent designs are operating systems (who are able to run an infinite variety of applications), networking (able to transport infinite data payloads over an incredible variety of communication types including data, voice, video), and perhaps most understandable to many, the spreadsheet (which after all is probably the most widely used IT tool in business and is able to manage an infinite variety of calculations and structures for reporting).

So complexity of need is inevitable (people want to run all kids of applications, send all kinds or data, execute all kinds of calculations), but designing solutions to address this complexity in simple, well structured, sustainable ways is still possible. It is another example of Excellence by Design.

Not too surprisingly, there are more example of solutions to complex challenges via poor, complex designs, then there are examples of elegant, excellent design.  And the problem is growing.  Creating a great design for a minimally complex world is not too hard, creating one for a highly complex world is much tougher.

McKinsey provides a nice summary of some of considerations that can tend to result in poor design, and overly complex products.  While not complete (call me if you want a full discussion 😉 ), it hits some good highlights including: Growth in technology inside the product itself, poor architecture for the product, weak or myopic understanding of the business needs (creating a product for a fixed set of requirements is inflexible and shows not only poor architecture but a poor understanding of the long term business needs) , poor collaboration/teaming among the parties who influence product design (mktg, engineering, manufacturing, etc.), and weak competency in the overall product design and development process.

In the Excellence by Design framework I use as the basis for this blog, I hit these points and a few others.  Here are some highlight how they help address complexity and help guide an organization to Excellence by Design:

Chaos vs Control: The world is complex and not all requirements are the same.  Deeply understanding and in fact embracing what aspects of a product must thrive in a chaotic environment, vs what aspects must ensure very disciplined control, is a key part of designing for complexity.  The internet protocols are very controlled and precise in order to ensure interoperability, yet they are designed to enable a wildly chaotic set of data to be transported.  Very few companies or teams i have worked with really try and differentiate requirements in this way.

Systems as Strategy: Creating ‘systems of execution’ that reliably operate, yet support broad usage types is very useful.  As a simple example, it is surprising how many companies have financial processes that are still not systemized in any robust way, and still rely on a (often constantly changing) variety of custom spreadsheets, personnel, and submission timing, for budgeting, forecasting, and final reporting of costs.  Same is true for HR in most companies.  I could go on but the point is you can address complexity in part by excellent design of the operational aspects of the organization.

Craftsmanship to Community: Enabling and organization to leverage both wise/competent experts, and the broad community of participants inside and outside the organization, can help address complexity by making the subject more of a priority, and seeking best ideas for how to design more holistically, yet few organizations utilize this potential.

Architecture Advantage, Design for Change, Product as Platform: These three Excellence by Design principles are core to addressing complexity in product design.  Combined together, they can make a huge difference in how products are designed and result in better products (higher quality, greater customer satisfaction), that are more resilient to change (lowering costs and improving competitive advantage), and have a higher value proposition (a product that is able to be easily extended and/or combined with other capabilities generally has a much greater value in the marketplace).

Service Excellence: Not an obvious principle to help reduce complexity, but an increasingly important one.  As the world becomes more dynamic and changing and complex, the ability of a product to promise ‘service excellence’ over time becomes more important AND a key differentiator to competitors.  Again though this is a subject for which few organizations have developed a core strategy and strength in.

Yes, in a world that is inevitably and increasingly complex, developing enhanced organizational capabilities that help manage complexity is a key success factor for business and IT organizations.  Using the Excellence by Design principles is a start.

Excellence by Design of next generation User Interfaces

One trend that is abundantly clear is the dramatic change taking place in user interfaces (UIs) on the web.  This change is driven of course by new technology but even more by a new found comfort with new methods of presenting information and content…and this ‘comfort’ applies not only to designers, and the businesses they work for, but most importantly, to the consumer.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate new trends in Excellence by Design of user interfaces.

  • The first is shown above.  Its a screen shot from www.lonnymag.com.  There are several aspects to this site I think are spectacular examples of Excellence by Design.  First I should state that the Editor in Chief Michelle Adams, is rapidly rising in stature and I can see why.  Her eye, as represented by the content of her newly launched magazine, is impressive.  More to the point of this column, the magazine layout itself is one of the best I have seen and represents a much improved way to engage yourself in a magazine, online.  The UI, the ability to click adds and get more info, and the ability to change your navigation are all outstanding.  Note that this magazine is done using the tools provided by the site issuu.com so the capability demonstrated by Lonnymag is just an example of what is coming from many other self publishers.
  • Another great example is the new New York Times – Times Skimmer. This new UI for reading my favorite newspaper is another great example of what is coming and how it changes the game of designing for, and engaging in, content for the web.
  • Perhaps the most impressive forward looking example however, is now available on YouTube, where Sports Illustrated has posted a video explaining what is to come with their new publishing approach.  It is startling, incredibly exciting, and demonstrates that the future design of user interfaces will be radically different than what is seen today.  Catch it here.
  • Of course I must mention the new Apple iPad, which I believe is the tip of the iceberg in showing how the device side of user interfaces will be changing.  These tablet like, high fidelity devices are certainly the wave of the future and will have seamless communications so you can connect with others, or perhaps move a piece of content (like a picture) over to your HDTV set with a simple swipe.  The end of the Sports Illustrated video shows another great example, where you use the iPad like device to interact with a show you are watching simultaneously on your HDTV.Update: here is another great iPad UI demo from Penguin books.
  • And lastly, I must mention Ford Motor’s new MyTouch upgrade to its Sync platform. It’s a great system that I admit I have a bit of special pride in, given my role at Ford during the time the Sync strategy was being debated.  Sync, soon with the MyTouch extension, is a great example of modern UI Excellence by Design.

Ford MyTouch with Sync

Yes, we are certainly poised for a great leap forward due to technology (sw and devices) and the comfort of users in  accepting these new UI paradigms.  As with other advances, there will be many implementation that are poorly done, but those that really standout and are successful will be Excellent by Design.

Excellence from IWB

I recently took the time to catch up on the blog of Irving WladawskyBerger. IWB used to be a favorite of mine near the end of my IBM career because he seemed to well understand both technology itself, and the changing nature of the business (and social) environment that affects its use.  I pulled a couple interesting quotes from some of his recent postings:

  • On the Services economy he writes on Feb 3, 2010 “key differences between research and innovation in the industrial and service economies… I simplified them down to three.  1) Focus: Physical Systems versus People-based, Organizational Systems 2) Design Objectives: Product Quality and Competitive Costs versus Positive Customer Experiences, 3) Organization and Culture:  Hierarchic and Siloed versus Multi-disciplinary and Collaborative”
  • On Dec 23, 2009 on Collaborative Innovation he wrote: “IBM’s 2006 Global CEO Study was the link between external collaboration and innovation.  Over 75% of the 765 CEOs interviewed in the study ranked business partners and customer collaborations as top sources for new ideas.  This is very different from previous organizational models that assumed that innovation was too critical to involve outsiders.”
  • On Jan 28, 2010 he writes about the challenges to successfully capitalizing on Disruptive Innovation: “Many companies fail to adequately embrace a disruptive innovation …because the strategy was essentially rejected by the organization…the institution was not able to stretch enough to be able to implement the needed changes.  This happens even when the very survival of the organization is at stake”.

Across these points is an underpinning truth related to Excellence by Design.  Excellence used to be achievable by a much more narrow focus.  A specific person or existing organization executes on a specific idea and product.  If THEY are capable and THE PRODUCT is great…excellence is achieved.  This is hard enough task and frankly one I think few organizations are strong in anyway.  Often there is more concern about the myriad of other issues at hand from budgets to performance reviews to project deadlines and of course politics, to distract people from the core task of building and delivering a great product.

But in today’s world this has become much more complex for several reasons:

  • Achieving Excellence is a broader challenge.  It is not just related to the product, it is related to services as well.  It is also based on excellence in customer experience.  It must be global and also meet local  expectations.  Excellence simply covers a wider range of factors now than just the core product.  Great ‘design’ for excellence must include this.
  • The participants who contribute to Excellence are much broader as well.  They include partners much more often, and many times customers as well.  Proctor and Gamble made a major and highly successful shift from  internally developed innovation, to an innovation strategy much more engaged with partners and customers.  Monsanto, which is a leader in agricultural biotechnology, has a very robust community they draw from to develop new product ideas as a core part of their pipeline’ process. Your design for excellence must include robust means for cross-functional, cross-company, cross-customer collaboration.
  • Building a culture adept at effectively embracing disruptive innovation is hard…and often seen as threatening, especially in today’s economy.  People are seeking stability and consistency in their jobs at exactly the time that the world is pressuring companies to become better at capitalizing on emergent, disruptive innovation.  Its a big cultural (aka management) challenge to enable a culture that can thrive in chaos, yet stay under control to deliver with consistency.  Designing and establishing organizational values, policies, enablers, and reward systems that reflect this is a critical success factors, yet too many companies ignore this aspect in the Excellence by Design efforts.

My point is the Excellence by Design must include these considerations in order to be effective.  Your ‘design’ for excellence must include ‘Service Excellence’  (principle #8 of the Excellence by Design principles. It must include a comprehensive approach to partnering and effective leverage of your customers (principle #3: Craftsmanship and Community) and it must help build a culture that is  comfortable working in an environment that embraces chaos, yet has effective controls to drive successfully to conclusion. (principle #1: Chaos vs Control).

Taking this broad approach to Excellence by Design will help you achieve success in today’s disruptive world that is more services oriented, collaborative, and innovative.

Mashups and Product as Platform

In a recent NYTimes blog post, Michael Zimbalist, vice president for research and development operations at the Times, discusses the potential for hardware to follow what has happened in software, in allowing unpredictable ‘mashups’.  While Mr. Zimbalist references the classic manufacturer driven integration, the more interesting aspect is the advent of consumer driven combination, as he states:

“The coupling or uncoupling of powerful hardware components is gradually shifting from the manufacturers to the consumer.”

From an Excellence by Design view this raises a few points of thought:

First, this is no surprise for two very basic reasons.  From a more recent history (i.e. information age) point of view, this is nothing more than the inevitable evolution of software recombination, (new hardware mashups are enabled in large part by the new software integration capability of that hardware) and is similar to  successful industry of ‘build your own PC’.  There is simply both past experience and better capability to do hardware mashups.

Second, to use my favorite analogy, is this any differ than the car industry, which has for years enjoyed a popular industry of ‘hot rods, ‘customs’, and ‘pimp my ride’ type mashups?  Americans in particular are extremely fond of modifying the factory product, whether for looks, performance, or simple uniqueness.  And it is not exclusive to autos and Americans. Motorcycles are another popular target for endless modification by the consumer, and the interest is worldwide.  So when ‘information technology mashups’ sounds new, remember its just a new version of a long held love.

Third, (and more to the point of Excellence by Design), what can we expect from this new application of user/owner ingenuity? Let’s take some lessons from what we have seen from the past in autos and motorcycles that I’ll refer to as:

Excellence by Design Rules for enabling Hardware Mashups

  • Hardware can be designed to well enable mashups, or not.  Think of tires, batteries, windshield wipers for your car, or seats, handlebars, and shocks for your motorcycle.  Pretty easy to change and customize.  In the case of tires it is because there are well accepted standards for size, attachment, and performance of the replacements parts, and ease of change by the consumer.
  • These ‘mashup enabling’ properties can be manufacturer driven, or industry driven.  Some manufactures will actually go to great lengths to enable external (business or consumer) modification for their products.  You can argue that the Apple iPhone Apps platform is a great example for software (though Apple has historically been very closed to hardware modification) as Windows was for the PC.  Speaking of the PC, the IBM compatible PC market is one that has, almost by accident, become the classic case of extreme hardware mashup/modification.
  • There can be great variation in the performance of mashups, due to interface issues, quality of the replacement parts, and the willingness of the original manufacturer to facilitate such mashups.  Think of the IBM S/370.  It spawned the first real market for computer hardware mashups, as ‘plug compatible’ replacements proliferated.  But IBM was not exactly supportive and sometimes changes in microcode (the first example of software that facilitated hardware mashups!) could negatively affect the performance of using a third party hardware product.  (note this became such a hot issue it was the core of many lawsuits…something that has and likely will again occur as hardware technology mashups proliferate)
  • In the end, success is very much about design.  Good design can facilitate mashups, ensure/preserve interface compatibility and performance, and enable extensions in compatible ways.  Poor design can significantly reduce performance, lead to unstable operation, or worse.  Its true in cars, motorcycles, mainframes, PC…and the new crop of iPhones, Nexus Ones, USB devices, etc.
  • Custom is interesting,  Factory is almost always more reliable, Industry evolution is best. Just like the examples in other industries, there is real advantage to the planning, design, and inherent focus that the manufacturer puts on theire product.  Mashups that leverage this and do so in approved ways are much more likely to be stable, those that are custom fabricated and integrated poorly are just asking for trouble.  But the efforts do lead to evolution, and the ‘industry’ as a whole can often mature to better and better means to enable stable and valuable mashups.  Such has happened in the auto industry, which enjoys a healthy, safe, and valuable after market parts industry.  Very true also of Harley Davidson, who, thru a combination of corporate desire, and relentless demand from its customers, spawned a huge market for hardware adds that range from super simple bolt-ons, to complex and sophisticated changes.
  • Success is reliant on designing your Product as Platform. This Excellence by Design principle supports the idea of thinking holistically about your product not as a standalone offering, but as a base for future extensibility, whether by tight integration, loose integration, or unanticipated mashups.  It enables more flexible and reliable mashups, and better enables your community to help drive your product into new, innovative markets and uses.


-‘Mashups’ are becoming more commonplace everyday, and done so by a wider variety of people (large companies, small companies, backyward mechanics, and even average consumers).

-Beware of the GREAT difference between mashups that are done well and with products designed for it, and those ‘backyard’ inventions whose wheels may fall of just miles down the road.

-Best case is to think of the mashup potential for your product, and intelligently embrace the potential through good design and market/customer enablement that supports and nurtures innovation.  This is strongly reflected in the Excellence by Design principle  Product as Platform.

In summary, Excellence in hardware mashups can be accomplished…by Design of your Product as Platform.  Hey, don’t just take my word for it…it has proven successful in other industries and will work well again for information technology.

Climate Change – Map of the Future

There is a new, way cool interactive map of the future of our planet’s climate. Check out the Map of the Future below.  This new tool was developed as part of an NSF sponsored traveling museum exhibit. The interface is really great.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The reason I mention it is also because the science for the climate calculations is based on Climate Interactive’s simulation tool — C-ROADS.  I was lucky enough to be part of the original team who helped craft the vision for the tool, which was based on absolute adherence to scientific accuracy, speedy execution, and (my main contribution) to do so using an ‘open’ design approach to enable future community based enhancements and innovative uses…like the Map of the Future.

I would argue that ‘Excellence’ in regards to this effort used many of the principles I have espoused in this blog.  We wanted to enable chaotic (i.e. unplanned, unexpected, innovative) uses of the simulation.  So we designed it as a platform so that others could (appropriately) extend its capability, usability, and impact.  We also wanted to ensure appropriate control so the team that developed the model ensured it has a robust scientific process for validation.

We also wanted to move climate simulation from a specialized craft that only deep scientists could deal with, to something speedy and easy to use (yet accurate), to broaden the community of people who could use the tool, and extend it.  As a result we created versions focused on learning, and versions focused on negotiating scenarios among countries.  The former case was used for the Map of the Future tool you see above.  The latter version has been used by various countries and most importantly, in the recent climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

My hat is off to Drew Jones who has been the leader of this whole effort.  Drew is dedicated and passionate, smart and pragmatic, willing to start simple yet pursue excellence.  Due to his efforts we were able to get some very different perspectives into the project and I think, achieve some real Excellence…by Design.