Technology is at its best when it is invisible

And that my friends is a quote from Nassim Taleb’s thought provoking book “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”. Good technology he maintains allows the job to be done without drawing attention to itself.

Take the Nike hyperfeel shoe for instance – it prides on making the runner feel the ground he is running on better/ get attuned to it as it were. This is the latest in a long evolution of footwear – and while hyperfeel’s ancestors prided on insulating the runner from the environment (Nike air with all that padding for instance!), the new generation prides itself on inclusiveness with the environment. This shoe is meant to allow the runner become one with his environment – its success is in making itself invisible!

Or take this quote from a fastcodesign.com article on google’s newly found design ethos “Google’s aesthetic aim is clear: to disappear. The most beautiful Google experience is the one you never notice”. An ethos that has found its way into many of google’s new products delighting its customers.

The living root bridges at chirapunjee where bridges are “grown over a decade or so” from live roots are great examples too. The bridges work, the trees continue to live and people use them to get across – the design is invisible. There are bridges that are reputed to be over 500 years old – talk about innovation, sustainability and invisible design all at one go!

And finally, this idea seems to not just propel technology and design, but also leadership – here’s a wonderful quote from the great Chinese sage Lao Tzu on leadership:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”

That’s that then. Time to ask ourselves if our designs and our work (or for that matter, our very selves) are invisible and very handy or “in your face – more attention seeking than solving a purpose”.

Is wisdom a function of doing?

Just as I predicted, the week zoomed past. Meetings, travels, emails, the odd television show – and I am a week older. The question I thought I’d ask this week – am I wiser though?

Thinking about it, it appears to me that wisdom comes knocking when you are smart about “what to leave alone” – even more than what you have done. Take this last week – if I were to list my progress – I’d probably list these:

– facilitated a workshop – and to good response
– a couple of customer meets – again good feedback
– reviewed a few responses which sat well with the customer
– Successfully got a leader to join us
– and so on…

and on the flip side

– attended a couple of meets I wasn’t really prepared enough for/ was more ritualistic
– missed a couple of deadlines – and resolved to be more timely in the future (not that there was any catastrophe)
– just couldn’t keep my working hours to the slim ones I had planned to adhere to, they were all long days!

Now on the whole, its been a very busy week and in terms of progress a good one too. The question though is whether progress has resulted in wisdom – am I likely to bring in a whole new set of perspectives this week that I couldn’t have last week?

On reflection, the answer seems to be mostly in the negative (though some experience has been gained over the week of course..)

So, lets take the other view – what could I have left alone?

1. The customer meets and the workshop – maybe I could have given them a miss. There are several folks who can do as good a job (if not better!) saving at least 6 hours
2. Getting a leader to join in – thats important – the meet helped discuss shared values and such – will be invaluable over time
3. The travel – I could have left alone, why not work from home for a few? A back of the napkin calculation indicates I spend 1.5 to 2 working days equivalent travelling every week!
4.The reviews are in the “teaching fishing” as opposed to “gifting fishes” approach. So very worthwhile I’d think. On the other hand, getting some others interested in doing the review would be even more better – its “teaching fishing” at a whole new level!

and so on………. A quick math tells me that at the least 30-50% of stuff could have been left alone. As for the “stuff that didn’t go too well” – again many of those needn’t have been on the list in the first place. And suddenly you find there’s time for stuff you wanted to do always but never had time for – a hobby, exercising, meditation, spending time with family…

So thats the takeaway for the week. “Your time is a function of what you can leave alone and the saved time and effort can be used to help us get wiser – where wisdom can be considered as anything that enhances “you” (read body, mind, soul). You agree?

A new begining!

Ever so often, I get into a kind of “satisfied inertia” state when I could go for days, weeks – indeed months together without doing a thing and yet looking very comfortably smug. As I look at my wordpress post dates, I realise this exactly is what has transpired over the last few weeks – I have been away from the blog ever since I put together a quick note on the Independence Day last month.

The bard (among many others) seems to look at this act of decided procrastination with a jaundiced eye – you only have to think of his words “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly” to roll up your sleeves and get going.

And while you have had the push, you still need an inspiration – and I find one in Bill Bryson who has found it possible to put out a set of delightful essays week-after-week (and now condensed into book form in the very entertaining “I am a stranger here myself”). While we cannot be as entertaining as Bill, not for that manner as well-informed – we still can undertake to do a weekly post. And this is starting post of what should be a weekly thing, lets see how long I can keep up with it!

And finally…

Today happens to be a big festival over in India. A day when India’s millions pay homage to an adorable, pot bellied, elephant-faced, immensely approachable, intellectual god Ganesha – dressing him up, dancing on the streets and finally immersing him in the ocean with a fond wish to meet up with him again the next year.

And to close out this post, here are a few treats in keeping up with the spirit of this wonderful god:

Poem of the day: Madhavan Narayanan’s post carries an interesting poem.

and Some tweets of the day:

Ramesh Srivats ‏@rameshsrivats
And a Happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all of you.
Pray nicely, okay. He’s the God who can help you get ahead in the rat race.

Chitra Narayanan ‏@ndcnn
Here’s to the most contemporary and relevant God of our times – Ganesha -who used a mouse before all of us!

and a link to a “gushing post” from me last year on the eve of this wonderful festival.