An Idea is a Stumbling Block

the road more travelled

Creative Commons License photo credit: simonsterg

Ideas are dime a dozen. Anyone with imagination, and an ounce of logic, can spin a ton of them. Turning these ideas into reality is always a challenge.

I came across this neat article on MSDN magazine on pushing your ideas to reality. The quote that struck a distinct chord in me was –

It is not the idea that gets people’s attention; it’s your credentials. So if you don’t already have an established track record as an innovator, you will have a harder time getting people to listen to you.

That is exactly what stops many of us from revealing our ideas. Perhaps we were ignored earlier or shot down with disdain or even received a response as to how ridiculous the proposition was.

An Idea is a Fork in the Road

Let us get this straight. Every new idea is a stumbling block. It is like a fork in the road where we expected a straight line. Every fork demands new decisions. New decisions carry a cognitive cost and cause disruption to original cherished goals.

No wonder people do not take ideas seriously. Because it takes effort to recognize the worth of an idea and stand behind it. Note that it is not just a question of what it would cost in resources, namely time and money, but the cognitive cost of evaluating the new possibility and correcting the course that was set much earlier.

Old Goals and Familiar Friends

People grow fond of their goals. Anything that has aged with them tends to have familiarity and they understand it in a lot of detail. Ask anyone who has spent time programming in a particular language for 10years to change their primary language for another. You will find them fighting tooth and nail against that possibility, their mind goes blank. The fluid expertise and productivity will be replaced by an erring and unsure hand.

Structuring, Positioning and Presentation

This is worth bearing in mind the next time you wish to communicate your new idea. Consciously seek to structure your idea, the positioning of it and the presentation of it to reduce the threshold for acceptance as much as possible.

Think like the listener..

..of the idea. Understand their priorities and adapt your message. If you are speaking to senior management you could emphasize how your idea reduces cost, or increases profit margins, or positions a product for market leadership. When speaking to an architect you could emphasize the standard APIs, clean extensibility, open data formats and so on. The MSDN article speaks about this aspect much better than here. Go ahead and read it.

I have merely highlighted the aspect of selling the idea out here. The problem of building enough credibility to get an initial hearing still remains. And that would be the topic of another post!

What do you think? What other impediments exist for idea acceptance?

To Name an Idea

to name an idea, essence, cognition, word, bartimaeus
Creative Commons License photo credit: broxtronix

A quote from Thomas L Friedman about naming an idea.

In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue.

In the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Djinn called Bartimaeus gains power over a magician, and his master, called Nathaniel when he learns of his true name. The true name had enough power that it could control the owner of the name! The novel itself is brilliant, the sarcastic wit of Bartimaeus has to be savoured. I shall write a detailed review later but suffice to say more than handful of wonderful possibilities occur in the novel. 

On another note, forget what it means to an idea, with that we come very very close to the mystic sense of what a name aught to be!

A name is said to stand in for the actual thing it represents in the world of thought.

To understand what I mean by that, let us do a simple exercise. i)Think of nothing, imagine a white sheet, blank space whatever..but nothing and next ii) Think of a white elephant.

Now if you had played along with me, from nothing we could concoct a picture of a elephant in your mind, with just the suggestion of a word.

If we were to talk this up, we could say a word could create stuff in your mind, or the word could materialize things. Perhaps not in the tangible world of flesh and form, but still could create in the mind.

Perhaps this process we followed in my little game applied with some alchemy, could lead to the actual creation of things? Say you utter a word and the thing manifests in flesh and form! I shall pursue this line of thought in another post 🙂

Names were originally the phonetic equivalents of the essence of thing or action or idea.

Follow for instance the evolution of early Sanskrit in an essay by Sri Aurobindo, called Origins of Aryan Speech. In it you would see that root words were inextricably woven close to the actual sense of the act, not the act itself or the thing itself but some untraceable essence of the thought or thing.

Guess that is enough rambling for now! What do you think? What connections could you make?

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Time to extend the idea of bookmarks?

What is Bookmarking – , the simple act of storing a URL, whether in a personal store or on a cloud, revolutionizes our online participation. From being passive consumers of information, the act of bookmarking turns us into collaborators in extending this information. Those that we liked, that evoked a reaction in us, something that we could identify ourselves with, something that we would like to keep track of are all transformed by the expression of our interest in it. Especially when the bookmarks are centrally stored on a server somewhere.

Current Services – Online bookmarking services are dime a dozen. I use del.icio.us for all my(user name maheshcr) bookmarking needs. StumbleUpon is another popular service.

What is wrong now – However most of these services allow bookmarking of URLs and nothing more. Of course the URLs themselves could point to literally anything that could served on the Internet. These include text, images, audio, video etc.  But the URL that points to rich media, say audio or video files cannot pin point a location beyond the start. Let me elaborate.

What would be ideal– How about a particular riff within a song that I want to highlight? Or a quote within a video? Currently the best that we can do is to mention the time when the point of interest starts, and optionally ends. So we say, ‘watch at 1:10mins’ or ‘hear at 2:29’. As much as these are useful the fact is that user attention is not a decently engineered mechanism, accuracy and consistency is seldom guaranteed. If we could delegate this task of highlighting something in a larger body of work, to a machine, we should be better off.

Some compromises that exist today – To be clear some of this is done in latest video players where specific time points are highlighted on the timeline. This though is done by the producer of the content and does not allow the user to participate by marking areas as they see it fit.

Google’s ‘answer’ to this problem – Google seems to have attacked this problem with its Google Elections Search Video Gadget. Where a certain video is mined for text by recognizing audio and the resulting content attached as metadata. This comes very close to the problem I have discussed but feel it does not go the full distance. More could be done.

Wrap up – Has this problem been solved already? If not, would solving this add value to how we consume, discover and remember online information? What do you think?

[Update: The very next day I posted this entry a new service gets profiled on LifeHacker called Splicd. It lets one mark a specific portion of the video within YouTube. Interesting service. Have not played in detail yet, will keep you posted on how it turns out.]