Samsung Android and Daylight Bamboozlement

Apple sues Samsung on Android

 

Apple and Samsung have gone to the courts. Apple contends that Samsung Android ripped off iPhone’s design.

As a part of this process it was revealed how Apple took inspiration from Sony’s industrial design approach. Many online took this as an opportunity to paint Apple in a negative light, saying they too copied. I have always believed being inspired is one thing, outright theft quite another.

Today am happy to link to one example of what outright theft looks like. Please see below an internal Samsung document presented in court that goes through screen by screen where Samsung Android fails in terms of usability. See every screenshot in the document and determine for yourself if the UI of almost every app was copied or not. They obviously could not get every detail right so were doing some reviews.

Android-Samsung-Design-Review

I have written about Android before. But this level of blatant copying is ridiculous. No wonder Steve Jobs was pissed off.

Every creator goes through a soul-wrenching process to create anything. Companies like Samsung/Google with their Android are a blot upon the finest instincts of humanity and spirit of capitalism.

[Update: Removed Scribd embed, linking to Samsung Design Review file now.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How does it feel to run a startup?

Running a startup feels like mystery

Warning! If your heart and mind are immune to poetry, and its ability to communicate complex ideas and feeling, please stop reading and come back later!

Silence yourself, really..whatever it is you are doing now, just let it all go. Done? Okay, here is a little poem that gives a hint of how it feels to launch a startup and create a product. As I said, if you have never felt poetry hit your heart, this might not work. Anyway, pay attention and read it now.

How to build an Owl

Decide you must.

Develop deep respect

for feather, bone, claw.

Place your trembling thumb

where the heart will be:

for one hundred hours watch

so you will know

where to put the first feather.

Stay awake forever.

When the bird takes shape

gently pry open its beak

and whisper into it: mouse.

Let it go.

That gentlemen is how it is. There is indeed a science and reasoning behind everything but a large part of it feels like a mystery. You could have been an Oracle in a temple of Delphi trying to figure out what the spirits are trying to say!

If there is just one aspect I have to highlight as most terrifying, then it would be figuring out what to build. That single question is like every imaginary evil figure come together just to mess with you. You think that is easy? Ah, I thought the same too. Let me clarify. This is like the Mule, Zombies, Satan, Voldemort and..and Sauron coming together..they all shake hands just to mess with you..exclusively. That said, it is an amazing ride and sure beats playing politics and putting up with mediocrity.

Credits: Poem by Kathleen Lynch, discovered via Jack Cheng.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel via Compfight

How to become susceptible to creativity

My post on a Frost quote about ‘right reader of good poetry‘ helped me understand that ‘susceptibility’ to the ‘immortal wound’ of receiving poetry is key.

Can creativity be taught?

Thinking on the same lines, I asked myself, can creativity be taught? But what would one teach? Would it be the Kubrick-ian ability to conjure up and frame human dramas? Would we teach the mechanics of cognition and the roots of thinking itself? Or would we learn about human failure fueling study and reinterpretation of epics? Or should we do the in thing and do a Freud on Steve Jobs?

The methods seem to be many. The question remains – can one be made susceptible to creativity? My answer would be yes, creativity can be taught. But teaching is just one part of the equation, the learning side is often skewed with difficulties. There is a curious mixture of tenacity, focus and some unknown alchemy that goes into creating and creativity. I have attempted to capture some basic principles that should help get someone be more creative.

Disassemble

Learning from what has been done before is the quickest way to seed your head with basic ideas. It could be a piece of software code, a toy or a poem. Dissect it into its components and learn what role is played by every component, how it interacts with other components and how it all fits together to become a whole.

Better it

Once you are done dissecting and understanding now try to better it. What would you improve? Which aspect would you change? What consequences would it have on realizing the end goal? It does not matter if you don’t actually do it. Imagine you will and work out the details. This stage is all about possibilities. Capture these possibilities as UX mockups, design sketches or scribbles in a diary. It does not matter if you do not pursue it. What matters is that you churn out possibilities.

Seek feedback

After possibility generation is the crucial step of gathering feedback. Choose the right judge, do not ask a poet to critique your proposal to revolutionize fuel consumption in turbo engines. In this step you will realize the awesomeness of the human mind. What you mulled about for ages and thought it impossible to add or remove from, another mind will pick apart in seconds. This assumes you have a competent circle of acquaintances. While disappointment is inevitable, what should not be done is to self-critique yourself. The journey you took is essential for yourself.

Continue producing possibilities and getting feedback. At a certain point in time you will find the feedback being restricted to superficialities or turning into admiration. That is when you realize you need a bigger goal and/or a better judge.

Seek diversity

There comes a point in time when you can create but it does not have that something unique which makes people admire or want it. That is when you know you have been focussed too long. Diversity or variety of topics is essential for a healthy creative mind. If you are a programmer, wander around the philosophy aisle of your library. If a poet, stick around in a mechanic’s shop for a day. Walk around your neighborhood, observe everything. Think about why things are so and not otherwise.

Slowly you will see similarities between the most divergent of topics, patterns will emerge. Translating or extrapolating patterns from one domain into another always yields new insights. This way you could raise your game without being bored ever.

Allow conflict

Creativity is not just a function of the skills acquired. The worldview of the creator plays a very big role. A very popular example is that influence of Zen on Steve Jobs and his design aesthetic. But a firm worldview does not usually allow for other views to seep in. This must go. Allow conflict. You need not be steamrolled by every opinion that passes you way. Consider a conflicting view, assess it for its merits. Take what seems appropriate for your goals and leave the rest. Handling conflict is a key trait that will make you a better person and help grow character.

Nurture Angst

The one I don’t know how to explain! Angst to me is that inexplicable thorn that propels all creative individuals. This is a thorn that eggs them to create and change the world. To mould the world into something it is not. If you do not have this angst perhaps you have not thought enough. If you do have it, then good. Nurture this angst, foster it. From that fire will emerge all that you would spew out in this world.

That is a brief list. Now its up to you, what would you add to this list?

To Create Anew or Propagate the Old?

Humans beings instinctively avoid danger. It is an evolutionary safe-guard nature has perfected over many million years. The careless dozing ape would become meal to the predator waiting on the ground. The ape-man who did not hunt, or forage, for food would die of hunger. But every species has not come this far without taking a few risks along the way.

There are the few who venture a little further. This is not a uniquely human trait, rather it is something hard-wired within the evolutionary impulse. The ape that ate an unfamiliar fruit or berry, had a fair chance it would die. The ape-man who ventured near a forest fire for the warmth, dared to steal a ember in spite of the dangers involved.

Or as Satprem often says, and I paraphrase, “the first fish to peek out of water suffocated at the alien environment and the first amphibian to venture onto land would have suffered the hell of terra firma

But make no mistake, without these little reaching outs there would be no man or technology or social media or anything else. Evolution pays for its progress with the daring of a few experimenters.

So the question is, are we the early experimenters of our niches in evolution? Or are we merely the propagators of the old and the has been?

Of course, we could choose a narrower perspective for answering this question. Perhaps we consider society and our role in it. Or even just the work that we do and its impact. The spirit of the problem remains, even if we changed the context in which we ask it. What do you think?

Illusion of Authority

“Once you become a creative director, you realize that authority is an illusion. You’re a negotiator between the client’s taste, the designer’s ego, and the user’s need. You succeed when all three are satisfied.”

– Jeffrey Zeldman @ Cognition

So very true and applies just as well to every activity where there is a value-exchange. It is easy to imagine many freedoms when one does not actually play a new role. Almost always, the higher you go, more the constraints. No amount of reasoning can drive this point in sufficiently to one who does not face the situation directly. I really like the way the lead’s role and constraints are articulated.

A Vision is a Lonely Place

A vision is a curse. The thing not seen sits just behind the screen, coursing through your veins as a fire. Burning down reason and pragmatism in its urgency to be born, to become a material reality.

It is a madness, that excludes the mundane from its consideration. You wish to speak out – to cast in words what is clothed in the mists of possibilities, but no words consent to carry the fire. And you are left holding it in hollow of your breast. Will it burn down the form that bears it, or will the clay of mortality be transmuted by the fire?

Cassandra, The Archetype

Ajax_and_Cassandra

 

Perhaps the best archetype of a visionary comes from Greek mythology as Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy. She is given a boon by Apollo to see the future but, perhaps due to the vagaries of godly nature, also curses her that none would believe her words. The delicious irony of it all, to see and yet not have anyone believe! The helplessness of being unable to guide her kin away from their destined doom.

Of course this is an archetype, an idealized personification of the visionary type. Reality is far away, and diluted many times over, from this essence. But however miniscule the vision, it comes with a proportionate sting.

 

 

The Problem of Reality

The above thoughts will make perfect sense for those who have had an intense creative urge. Not just the artistic or the literary variety but even the more pragmatic and technological variety.

If your vision is sufficiently advanced, it is almost a given that reality will refuse to entertain it, to see the concrete lurking behind the possibility.

This is indeed a hard phase for any creator or visionary. The solutions offered by books on harnessing your creativity, being effective innovators etc. are rather simplistic and offer rational solutions to a state that is beyond reason.

Reality is a complex machinery, there seems to be a method but it eludes any formulation. Those who intuit a method, do so in hindsight but never when in the eye of the storm. The management gurus and their ilk study the cadavers of the past to figure out the elixir of the future.

The Magic Word for Creators

There is no single incantation that will purge the vision into reality. No single act that can be the bridge between possibility and reality.

What is required is a sustained aspiration to hold the vision within and a multitude of numberless acts that chip away at reality. The dream can be made real if fuelled by relentless pursuit. Not the mad rush of the intoxicated, expending a fiery passion on a single lunge. But the unyielding will of a desert nomad moving towards an oasis, or perhaps the will of Yogi seeking to quell thought.

Does Steve Jobs Do Yoga?

Usually the search terms that lead the handful of people to my site are fairly standard. But few days ago the title of this post led someone here. If that was you dear reader, then sorry I did not have a ready reply then and will address it now.

Before moving to the answer I will have to state some assumptions. By Yoga I take it to mean something more than the physical aspect of it. Not the smattering of breathing exercises done for physical well-being and balance in life. Yoga is a mystic yearning for the Divine, a perspective that acknowledges the superficiality of material forms and seeks to exceed it into the truth that sustains everything. Yoga is state that the Vedas and Upanishads describe and offer the roadmap for. Yoga is a world-view that sees the connectedness of things and more.

There are two parts to the answer, we move from the abstract to the precise.

All Life if Yoga…

..says Sri Aurobind0. So read that again. All life, not just the virtuous and the religious, all of life is Yoga. This statement, as with many of Sri Aurobindo’s statements, reveals both i) an immanent and essential truth and ii) an available end goal.

The former points to the fact that any life, literally anything, to exist would be impossible without the tacit support of the Divine. (This is a moral minefield when viewed from the stance of day to day life, let us not consider that aspect in this blog post. If you are interested we could return to it later.). The latter is the explicit affirmation of the possibility that all of life can be Yoga or an union with the Divine. Not just the supra-normal states of consciousness like various Samadhi states but even the mundane moments of our lives too can be in Yoga, can be experienced union with the Divine.

With this definition, not just Steve Jobs but even you and I are in Yoga!

Now that is sort of nice but it does not give a method to get to this state in the first place. And besides answers our original question with too abstract a framework. We can do better, so let’s continue.

Yoga is Skill in Works..

..says Sri Aurobindo. This is a more accessible definition and something we can work with. Like a Vedic or Upanishadic mahavakya this little thought’s illumination belies its size! Yoga is said to be skill in works. There is no mention of what works, it does not matter. I could be a serf serving the whims of a landlord  and following instructions to the dot or its modern day equivalent of sitting in a cubicle and following processes to the letter. And still could exceed the conditions of my birth, outgrow the mortal limitations placed upon me and grow into the consciousness of the Divine. All of this while performing the normal works of a human existence.

The divisions set up by society with the Chaturvarna or the Four Fold Caste System, that condemns me to a class of works determined by birth and heredity, though a sham and a corruption of the principle Manu had in mind, do not limit my potential to attain the highest states unavailable to the priest who chants litanies for years.

Skillful execution of work, like the pursuit of a moral living, has no end to its perfection. And beyond a certain threshold of skillful work one is invariably widened and soon see ourselves touching the borders of heaven. What began as work is transmuted into Yoga.

With this approach one would easily agree that Steve’s extraordinary skill for producing, or at least orchestrating the production of, beautiful things he most definitely is doing Yoga. Not in the sense of being seated in meditation and chanting a mantra but more like Arjuna who though in the thick of battle is in union with Sri Krishna due the skill of his craft and devotion to his dharma.

Relevance for India and Indians

The path of salvation through works is especially relevant for us Indians. To do this with all the rigor and perfection and devotion we can muster will yield both material and spiritual rewards. Long have we viewed yoga as something performed after we are old, the current material and moral poverty is a direct result of this world view. 1000 odd years of foreign rule and influence have destroyed our self-identity. It is time now to unshackle ourselves, not just with the mantra and deity but also with the skill that yields material abundance and strength.

Analogy as the Core of Cognition

Since writing the post on creativity I have been trying to make some connections of my own. Something that would explain the mechanics behind creativity and perhaps the nature of the thinker too. And then it struck me, the connections that Steve Jobs was referring to as the origin of creativity is very similar to the processes that Douglas Hofstadter talks about in a lecture called Analogy as the Core of Cognition.

Douglas takes an even more hardcore stand. He considers this ability to see patterns, this analogical mode of perception, as the very basis of cognition. That is to say the foundation of thinking.

If you are sort of missing the point here, let me illustrate.

Ability to see connections –> Creativity

Ability to see analogies –> Cognition

Do you see the parallels now? Good..So seen from that perspective, one could say that the very act of thinking, or just cognizing, is a creative act. And perhaps creativity is just an exalted mode of thinking, something that extends it in ways we are unable to nail properly but still built on the same foundation of thinking. Which is not bad at all and very egalitarian too.

I think, therefore I am, could very well have a corollary(or should I say analogy? Eeks this is getting recursive!) saying I analogize, therefore I think.

Damn, as I wrote the above lines I see possibilities that my feeble mind cannot comprehend fully. Am entering philosophical territory here. I shall come back to this another day!

On Creativity – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs on Creativity, via Autocatalyst / Wired.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

That just about nails it, as far as my understanding of creativity goes.

To be focused on a specific domain provides depth but starves the mind of raw material it needs to go beyond the algorithmic mode of thinking. Perceiving connections or parallels between multiple disparate topics leads to uncovering possibilities and opportunities to fuse attributes that would not be feasible if one had considered a topic in isolation. Am sure there is more to it but we could go with this definition.

If that did not make sense let us consider a few examples.

Timeless way of Building by Christopher Alexander, a book on design principles involved in architecture of buildings provided inspiration for the software Design Patterns, authored by the Gang of Four and has fundamentally changed our views on constructing software.

Star Wars was created by George Lucas after being inspired The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, who studied world mythology and the archetypes that influence them.

Steve Jobs aimed for perfect typography on the Mac after being exposed many years before to the beauty of calligraphy. Check the commencement speech here where he speaks about the incident and how it influenced his thinking.

Anyway, do you think these examples qualify? Would like to hear your views either way. Or even better share your examples below in the comments or drop me a line.

Ideation and Execution

Better to execute one idea than to continuously ideate. There is no better litmus test for an idea than bringing it to reality.