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Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup


Solving Problems for Real World, Using Design -

While the projects had wildly different end products, they both had a similar starting point: focusing on how to ease people's lives. And that is a central lesson at the school, which is pushing students to rethink the boundaries for many industries.

A fascinating article about the "Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford" also known as the D.School.

Everyone knows that Design Thinking is great and the new hotness. I love great design, and am in awe of it when I see it or have it pointed out to me. Furthermore, I am blown away by Ideo, which is the famous industrial design company founded by David Kelly (what a mustache!), who is one of the founders of the D.School.

"The school challenges students to create, tinker and relentlessly test possible solutions on their users -- and to repeat that cycle as many times as it takes -- until they come up with solutions that people will actually use."

… "That is how Mr. Kothari, a mechanical engineering graduate student, started his ramen project. He spent hours at local ramen shops watching and talking to patrons as they inevitably spilled broth and noodles. Together with a group of other students, he built a prototype for a fat straw that would let patrons have their ramen and drink it, too"

(from the same article)

This is the same philosophy taught at Olin College where I teach. At Olin we call it UOCD or User Oriented Collaborative Design. In fact at Olin there are numerous interesting courses that come at Design from many different perspectives.


Now the courses that I myself have taught have been based on so-called Lean Startup and I use the excellent book by Eric Ries called The Lean Startup. The Lean Startup process receommends:

"The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup-how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development." (from The Lean Startup)

As I was reading the New York Times column about the D.School, I wondered if the two approaches are different or the same, in conflict, or just two ways of saying the same thing.And as I am writing this long post, I still am not sure. The easy answer is they are two sides of the same coin. The provocative answer is that two highly acclaimed approaches are 180% opposite to each other.

[Pro-Tip] When writing a delicate email, enter the To: last

So, if you are writing one of those emails that you have to get right, and you plan to check and proof and think about, then don't start by typing the To:. As long as you don't type the To: you can't accidentally send it out before you finish writing it. Once you write the To:, and accidental or careless send will possibly cause collateral damage if you're not done word smithing your message.

Getting an “A” at Harvard is e-z!

Unfortunately students can be quite focused on their grades, and as a result I end up paying more attention to grading than I would like. By the way let me point out that 'grading' is more than assigning a grade to a bit of homework. Without going into detail, you have to decide and communicate:

  1. What all the gradable items of work are (e.g. a programming assignment, a reading assignment, a test, a presentation, a mockup or prototype, etc. etc.)
  2. Your logical scheme for assigning a grade to a work item. That is, what is an "A" for a programming assignment? For a particular presentation, etc.)
  3. What the relative weighting is of each grade is
  4. What formula you use to convert all the individual work item grades to a final grade

And then when you are teaching you have to stick to what you decided and communicated because you can be sure someone will ask for an explanation.

I just had a converation about this today with some students. So in this mindset I was amused / intereste to read this article:

The most commonly awarded grade at Harvard is an A - Quartz:

"The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-," the school's dean of education said today, according to the student newspaper. Even more stunning: "The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A."

Now. Harvard will probably say, and maybe reasonably, that it's so hard to get into Harvard that all the students deserve the grades they get because that's just how good they are!

Dear Consumer Reports

From an email I sent, just because:

"Dear CU:

I bet you won't print this one! But maybe you can respond to me personally.

Check this out

CU itself is a bad actor when it comes to magazine subscription renewals.

I get misleading requests that my subscription is about to run out when it actually has months, as many as six months to go! And if I am not on my toes I could easily be fooled into a premature renewal and extension of my subscription.

This is a very misleading practice.

You say everyone does it, which is true. You say that it's part of your business model and it really works to maximize renewals, which is also true.

But it still very misleading bordering on deceitful and I bet you would call out another company for something similar or even less evil - for example, a simple typo in an advertisement which is a clearly sloppiness but not purposely deceitful.

What say you?

Pito Salas, longtime subscriber."

How well does higher ed prepare you as a ‘software engineer’?

This article is a bit harsh/one-sided, but I still thought it was interesting to see an attempt at comparing programming as practiced in two very different contexts.

What's the difference between college-level and corporate programming? | Ars Technica:

Programming in school and programming in the real world are so inherently different to the point where there's actually very little overlap. CS will prepare you for "real world" software development like athletics training would prepare an army for battle.

In a vaguely related article, think about this: In the modern economy/society, is learning to 'code' a fundamental piece of a good education? This article makes a good case that it is not:

Why Pushing People to Code Will Widen the Gap Between Rich and Poor

"So it's no surprise that we have so many people from Barack Obama (it "makes sense" for coding to be written into high school curricula) to NBA superstar Chris Bosh (it's "simply about understanding how the world functions") arguing everyone should learn to code -- and that coding ought to be a required part of a complete education. Starting really young, "because it is code, not Mandarin, that will be the true lingua franca of the future"

This post might have changed my mind

Scott Adams is the guy behind the famous Dilbert comics. I've not worked in a big corporation for a while and I've not been reading Dilbert for quite a while too. But Scott Adams remains a brilliant humourist. This post however, is not meant as humour:

Scott Adams Blog: I Hope My Father Dies Soon 11/23/2013:

I don't want anyone to misconstrue this post as satire or exaggeration. So I'll reiterate. If you have acted, or plan to act, in a way that keeps doctor-assisted suicide illegal, I see you as an accomplice in torturing my father, and perhaps me as well someday. I want you to die a painful death, and soon. And I'd be happy to tell you the same thing to your face.

Postscript: His Dad passed away a few hours after he wrote this

Intellectual Property on Wall Street?

A fascinating although quite long article by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair. Michael Lewis is an amazing non-fiction writer, best known to me for Moneyball (about baseball) and Liars Poker (about Wall Street.)

Michael Lewis: Did Goldman Sachs Overstep in Criminally Charging Its Ex-Programmer? | Vanity Fair:

A month after ace programmer Sergey Aleynikov left Goldman Sachs, he was arrested. Exactly what he'd done neither the F.B.I., which interrogated him, nor the jury, which convicted him a year later, seemed to understand. But Goldman had accused him of stealing computer code, and the 41-year-old father of three was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Investigating Aleynikov's case, Michael Lewis holds a second trial.

Customer Service Ceremonies

Nowadays, when I am done talking to telephone suport of any company, they seem to be trained to go through a long ceremony before letting me go:

me: "Thanks, I am all set"

They: "Did I solve all your problems"?

me: "Yes, thanks"

They: "Ok then thanks for calling XXXX"

me: "You're welcome"

They: "Thanks and have a good day"

me: "Thanks"

Question: is it impolite for me to hang up before this whole ceremony is complete? Say "Yes, Thanks" and then hang up? Or am I being a rude, impatient, always in a hurry northeasterner?