metacool LinkedIn influencing

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I am pleased to announce that I’m now writing the occasional essay for LinkedIn as part of its Influencers group. Here’s my debut effort.

What will I be writing about, you ask? Since my personality and brain haven’t been changed out for something better, I’ll be writing there about the things I’m passionate about, which all in some way roll up to pursuing the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life. Basically metacool stuff. Sometimes I’ll write something specific for LinkedIn, other times I’ll post my thoughts both here and there. Please give me a follow there if you’re interested to see what comes up.

I would also appreciate any feedback and guidance you might have on future topics to cover there and here.

Thank you!

Designing for Difference with Chris Bangle

Chris Bangle Stanford Revs Program Diego Rodriguez

I'm very happy to be interviewing Chris Bangle onstage next week as part of an Open Garage series event at the Stanford Revs Program.  Our discussion will focus on the topic of "Designing for Difference in a World of Sameness".  I have nothing but respect for what Chris did at Fiat, BMW, Mini and beyond.  He knows what it means to believe passionately in a set of ideas, and to bring forth change to create something new in the world as an embodiment of those ideas.

The car I drive is a sculpture created by Chris and team, so you can imagine how stoked (and honored) I am to be having this discussion with him. 

I'd love to hear what kinds of questions you'd like me to ask Chris — please leave a comment below with your ideas, and I'll use them as input and inspiration for our talk.  Thank you!

Embracing Risk in the Pursuit of Victory

Embracing Risk in the Pursuit of Victory Stefan Bradl Lucio Cecchinello Diego Rodriguez Reilly Brennan Stanford Revs Program MotoGP LCR Honda

Earlier this week I moderated a discussion with Stefan Bradl and Lucio Cecchinello titled Embracing Risk in the Pursuit of Victory.  Bradl and Lucio were appearing as part of the Open Garage series hosted by Reilly Brennan, Executive Director of the innovative Revs Program at Stanford.  Bradl is a rookie phenomenon in the MotoGP motorcycle racing series.  Cecchinello, also a successful motorcycle racing champion, is an entrepreneur who is CEO of LCR Honda MotoGP, the racing team that enters a motorcycle for Bradl in MotoGP.

Live discussions are always an exercise in improvisation and serendipity.  As a moderator, you can frame up a discussion, but you've got to go where the ideas take you, and weave a narrative from there.  Panel discussions are jazz where as a moderator your job is to lay out the chord changes and roll with whatever comes along.  Most "sage on stage" presentations are something more akin to a piano recital, less sponteaneous but beautiful in a linear way.

The point of view I brought to the discussion was that — for racers and innovators both — risk is not something to be avoided at all costs, but is instead a source of great opportunity.  Whether you're probing the limit of adhesion on a MotoGP bike through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, or figuring out how to design a technology to a place where it is both delightful and business viable, you're pushing for something remarkable.  You can't be remarkable without taking a risk, whether that risk is financial, technological, emotional, or personal (or all of the above).  Healthy opportunity, in many ways, is proportional to smart risk-taking.

Metacool Stanford Revs Rodriguez Bradl Cecchinello
I had a great time speaking with Stefan and Lucio.  My impression was that the audience enjoyed the discussion with the racers on stage.  You can see an unedited video of the evening here:

I'd like express my deep thanks to Reilly for asking me to moderate this discussion, which was a big honor for me. And many thanks to all the team at LCR, who are an extremely friendly, fun, good-hearted bunch of hard-core racers.

Metacool Stanford Revs Brennan Bradl Cecchinello Rodriguez

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Big Bang Theory

The essay I wrote for RACER magazine is now available online.

You can find it here on pp. 34-35.  The topic is Game Changers.  At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think it's one of the better things I've written on the subject of innovating.  Here's an excerpt:

How to spot one?  Beware of self-proclaimed game changers; most are just marketing hype.  Real game changers trigger resistance from competitors and rule makers.  Or, like Jim Hall's fan car, they violate unspoken taboos…

I hope you like it!  Thanks.

RACER 3.0

RACER 3.0 Delta Wing May 2012 cover metacool

In 1992 I received a direct mailing talking about a new magazine called RACER.  The mission of RACER, to provide a window into the world of racing, was tremendously exciting to me.  As a mechanical engineering student who wanted to become an engineer with Penske Racing or McLaren,  it was very difficult to find reputable sources of information about what was going in the world of racing and racecars.  I didn’t own a TV, the internet at that time was about very bare text message boards, and the few European racing magazines were too expensive for me to contemplate subscribing to. I would read as much as I could for free when I had the time to hang out at a local café and bookstand (which was not very often), so as a result I barely knew anything.  Case in point, when I applied for a job at Rahal Racing, tracking down their address in Ohio required an entire afternoon of card catalog searching at Stanford’s Green Library.  I kid you not.  Things have changed in the past 20 years.

I became a charter subscriber.  RACER went on to blow my mind as it expanded my horizons.  To feed my design engineering curiosity, it featured achingly gorgeous monthly photographic profiles of important race cars.  It helped me understand the complex strategies – sporting, business and organizational – which drive successful racing teams.  From a people perspective, RACER gave me insights into the thought and behavioral patterns of legendary design innovators such as Dan Gurney, Adrian Newey, Gordon Murray, and many more. 

Above all, RACER’s crisp editorial point of view helped me crystallize a deep belief in the power of acting over just talking, the value of making decisions, and the stark reality that in order to win a race, you have to first show up and start.  It made a big impact on this impressionable college kid.  For those of you who don’t know much about racing (or perhaps don’t care – which is fine, just keep reading metacool!), being a racer is a lot like being an entrepreneur (and most racers are entrepreneurs): it means making the most of what you’ve got, and putting everything you’ve got into what you’re doing.  It’s about being remarkable.  It’s a world where, in the words of racer Roger Penske, effort does indeed equal results.

RACER celebrated its 20th anniversary this past weekend with a big party (it was a good one, I must say!) at the Long Beach Grand Prix.  And as part of this big milestone, it is being relaunched as RACER 3.0, with a new aesthetic approach and a big new attitude – with a bunch of future innovations in the works.  The extremely gnarly relaunch cover of the May 2012 issue is pictured above, and it features my favorite new race car, the Delta Wing.  Does that look killer, or what?  The theme of the issue is “Game Changers”, and I’m deeply honored to have written its introductory essay.  Thank you, RACER.

If you happen to already subscribe to RACER, I hope you like what I wrote.  If you don't subscribe, please do!  Here's a link to an online version of the article.

For now, let’s all get back to making a dent in the universe!  WFO, people, WFO.  Be a racer!

A love letter to Hewlett-Packard

About 18 years ago I dropped out of graduate school at Stanford and took a job as an R&D engineer at Hewlett-Packard Company.  Actually, "dropped out" is a bit too strong of a phrase; it was late June, I had just just won my Stanford undergraduate degrees a few weeks before, I was about to start my summer internship at NASA, it was hot out, and my new dorm room (Rains housing, for those of you in the know) was even hotter, and I was already sick of hearing cars downshifting for the stop sign just outside of my window.  Classes for my masters program in mechanical engineering wouldn't start for a few more months, but the prospect of yet another math class didn't feel like a Big Idea to me.  I forget the the exact chain of events, but I believe I first called Ford to ask (beg) for the job I had turned down a few months earlier, and then coincidentally someone from Hewlett-Packard called me to see if I would be interested in a position with them up in Vancouver, Washington, having passed their grueling phone interview screen a few months earlier.

So. 

I flew up to Portland, Oregon to interview with Hewlett-Packard, partly because I was desperate to get out of my room at Stanford and partly because I had never been to a CART race, and there was one happening the coming weekend, which was June 27 (what — you think I've changed?  This one-track mind has taken years to develop).  The job interviews went well, and the race was pretty cool (the good folks at Hewlett-Packard allowed me to keep the rental car for the weekend), if I must say so:

The visit went well, I took the job, and in doing so became a very proud member of the Hewlett-Packard family, starting as a R&D Engineer working on ink-jet printing systems.  I enjoyed what in retrospect was an amazing two years, though I probably didn't fully appreciate everything at the time because I was relatively impatient from a career standpoint.  All things being equal, over my two years there, I was able to do foundational R&D work on what became HP's "off-axis" ink system (which you can stilll find in any large-format printer today), got to help take a new printer up the manufacturing ramp, was allowed to redesign a bunch of parts for another new printer, and was also asked to do some cool user research in the field, including one home visit in Wisconsin where I ended up helping some kids with their homework. 

The best thing about working at Hewlett-Packard was its culture, which was very "adult" in the sense that it was built on a sense of deep trust and respect between individuals and groups within the company.  One day I was using spray-mount glue in my cubicle (bad idea) and my manager stopped by, poked his head in, and said something to the effect of "You can pretty much do anything you want here unless you're endangering yourself or others, and right now you're endangering yourself or others," and then he walked away.  Lesson learned.  Working at Hewlett-Packard meant that I had the good fortune of working for some truly spectacular managers and mentors, such as Eric Ahlvin, Alan Shibata, David Gast, and Rick Berriman.  Looking back on my time there, I realize now the degree to which I imprinted on these people and on Hewett-Packard's culture.  In my approach to work and working with people, I think I've tried hard to live up to the examples they set for me, as well as the ethos that informed the culture of Hewlett-Packard. 

The best summary of the culture I experienced at Hewlett-Packard is summed up in the 11 Simple Rules drawn up by David Packard himself.  These are:

1. Think first of the other fellow. This is THE foundation — the first requisite — for getting along with others. And it is the one truly difficult accomplishment you must make. Gaining this, the rest will be "a breeze."

2. Build up the other person's sense of importance. When we make the other person seem less important, we frustrate one of his deepest urges. Allow him to feel equality or superiority, and we can easily get along with him.

3. Respect the other man's personality rights. Respect as something sacred the other fellow's right to be different from you. No two personalities are ever molded by precisely the same forces.

4. Give sincere appreciation. If we think someone has done a thing well, we should never hesitate to let him know it. WARNING: This does not mean promiscuous use of obvious flattery. Flattery with most intelligent people gets exactly the reaction it deserves — contempt for the egotistical "phony" who stoops to it.

5. Eliminate the negative. Criticism seldom does what its user intends, for it invariably causes resentment. The tiniest bit of disapproval can sometimes cause a resentment which will rankle — to your disadvantage — for years.

6. Avoid openly trying to reform people. Every man knows he is imperfect, but he doesn't want someone else trying to correct his faults. If you want to improve a person, help him to embrace a higher working goal — a standard, an ideal — and he will do his own "making over" far more effectively than you can do it for him.

7. Try to understand the other person. How would you react to similar circumstances? When you begin to see the "whys" of him you can't help but get along better with him.

8. Check first impressions. We are especially prone to dislike some people on first sight because of some vague resemblance (of which we are usually unaware) to someone else whom we have had reason to dislike. Follow Abraham Lincoln's famous self-instruction: "I do not like that man; therefore I shall get to know him better."

9. Take care with the little details. Watch your smile, your tone of voice, how you use your eyes, the way you greet people, the use of nicknames and remembering faces, names and dates. Little things add polish to your skill in dealing with people. Constantly, deliberately think of them until they become a natural part of your personality.

10. Develop genuine interest in people. You cannot successfully apply the foregoing suggestions unless you have a sincere desire to like, respect and be helpful to others. Conversely, you cannot build genuine interest in people until you have experienced the pleasure of working with them in an atmosphere characterized by mutual liking and respect.

11. Keep it up. That's all — just keep it up!

Wow.  These 11 principles are simultaneously super inspirational and super humbling.  Truth be told, on my bad days I fail to live up to all of these.  But I try, and I keep trying to improve myself vis a vis this list, and I think that was the magic of Hewlett-Packard's culture, which allowed you — even encouraged you — to improve yourself just as you were always trying to improve the stuff sitting on your test bench.  And it encouraged you to help the folks around you, too.  What I find interesting about Packard's points is that, starting with No.1, they're all focused on the people around you, not on your inner dialog or whatever.  If you're seeking to establish and maintain a collaborative, innovative culture, you could do a lot worse than to follow these 11 points.

I wrote this post this evening because earlier today I learned that David Kelley modeled much of IDEO's culture on that of Hewlett-Packard.  I left Hewlett-Packard to join IDEO, and in many ways I regard IDEO as a logical extension of Packard's cultural vision.  Trust and respect for your fellow colleagues are indeed the pillars of cultures which routinely create high-impact innovations.

Many thanks to my friend Bob Sutton for telling me about David Packard's Simple Rules.

Stanford Magazine on the Stanford d.school

Stanford's alumni magazine, titled — you guessed it! — Stanford Magazine, ran a great story on the d.school a few weeks ago.  The article speaks with my teacher/mentor/colleague/friend/hero David Kelley and others about not only the d.school, but on living your life well, and on the notion of achieving creative confidence (here's a secret: those last two items are deeply related).

It's definitely worth your time to read through the article.  I really liked this quote from Stanford President John Hennessy:

Creativity represents an important characteristic that we would seek to inculcate in our students, and obviously one that's harder to put a firm framework around.  It's unlike teaching some analytical method. Will a bridge stay up? Well, we know what to teach. You teach physics, you teach some mathematics and you can do the analysis.

It's much harder to teach creativity. [It involves] multiple routes, multiple approaches and, obviously, it's virtually impossible to test whether or not you've succeeded. The measure of success is likely to come long after, not unlike many of the other things we try to teach: To prepare students to be educated citizens, to prepare them for dealing with people from diverse and different walks of life. Those are things that play out over a long time, whether or not we've done a good job.

During my time as an undergraduate at Stanford, I was very fortunate to be able to pursue two degrees, obtaining both a bachelor of science in engineering and a bachelor of arts in a multidisciplinary program called Values, Technology, Science and Society [VTSS] (it is now called STS and is one of the biggest programs on campus, though when I was there it was quite small).  I spent a lot of time in the library.  Though VTSS sounds like something very technical in nature, it was actually an incredibly rich humanities experience, with a focus on topics which, if you've spent any time around this blog, you know that I love.  For example, my honors thesis was on the origins and development of the Ferrari aesthetic, looking at how meaning was created in Maranello via the mechanisms of storytelling, racing, and panel beating.  My VTSS teachers were an incredible group of people, really inspirational, and they helped me build up my creative confidence in myriad ways.  VTSS also gave me a way to take all of the product design classes with David Kelley which I otherwise would not have been able to do had I just pursued my engineering degree alone. 

I bring all of this up because I do feel that Professor Kelley helped, in Hennessy's words, to prepare me to be an educated citizen, to prepare me for dealing with people from diverse and different walk of life.  If the d.school had been around while I was there, I wouldn't have had to get the two degrees (though I would have anyway, as I'm always "doing both").  For me, as someone who was part of the founding team at the d.school, and who remains extremely passionate and optimistic about its mission and potential in the world — it is an experiment still in its very early days — it's very gratifying to see that mission be couched in these terms.  Ultimately, we are not teaching folks to be designers, we are helping them realize their potential as citizens and as happy, productive human beings.  Awesome.

I'll leave you with this recent d.school video which has students telling it all in their own words:

d.school bootcamp: the student experience from Stanford d.school

John on TED

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I returned this morning from the TED conference in Long Beach.  This year I found it exceptionally inspiring.  And also draining: the content on stage, the people you meet, the people you don't meet,the locale, all of the activites — it's a jam-packed five days that leaves you feeling simultaneously energized yet also a bit like a spent tube of toothpaste.  Wow. 

I logged on this evening to write a summary of the week, but in the course of seeing what my friends wrote about their experience there, I came across John's amazing story of his experience in Long Beach, and decided that all I'm going to do is quote him here.  What he wrote is just beautiful, and it captures the essence of what happens there:

… Every time I go, there are at least a couple of experiences that I have that change the way that I look at the world, the way that I want to be when I go home. TED makes you want to be better, smarter, more present, more thoughtful, more impactful, more human. To be a better citizen and a better professional and a better dad and a better husband and a better friend. That type of inspiration doesn’t happen all that much, and it’s worth the price of admission every time.

And that’s why June Cohen and Tom Rielly, on the TED team are two of my true heroes. They both have chosen to spend their lives working on building up TED outside of just the week of the conference every year. Tom has built the TED Fellows program, which started out pretty damn great and at this point is starting to move into basically ass-kicking-terrifyingly-awesome territory. And June, who put TED Talks online for everyone to see, including subtitling into 80+ languages.

That, my friends, is how you change the world.

That’s how you take this beautiful, wonderful experience for a few people in California each year and turn it into something that anyone — anyone! — can use to make themselves, their community, their world better themselves.

Well said, John.  I can't wait to post some of my favorite speaker videos.  I had tears streaming down my face in just about every session of the conference. 

TED is something different from what it was half a decade ago.  If you can ever go in person to one of their events, or to a TEDx event, I heartily recommend you do so, but I do agree with John that the essence of the TED brand experience is by no means limited to those who hear it in person.  If you can take the time to watch and absorb the videos which appeal to you — and many of those which won't at first glance — you can have the same kind of transformational experience.  Perhaps even better. 

Tears optional, but highly recommended.