Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Poem by James Clerk Maxwell

We all know James Clerk Maxwell as a great scientist, but he was also a lover of poetry and on occasion used to write a few himself. At a meeting of the British Association in 1874, while listening to the lecture he composed the poem given below (no texting or email then I guess:))

In the very beginnings of science, the parsons, who managed things then,
Being handy with hammer and chisel, made gods in the likeness of men;
Till Commerce arose, and at length some men of exceptional power
Supplanted both demons and gods by the atoms, which last to this hour.
Yet they did not abolish the gods, but they sent them well out of the way,
With the rarest of nectar to drink, and blue fields of nothing to sway.
From nothing comes nothing, they told us, nought happens by chance, but by fate;
There is nothing but atoms and void, all else is mere whims out of date!
Then why should a man curry favour with beings who cannot exist,
To compass some petty promotion in nebulous kingdoms of mist?
But not by the rays of the sun, nor the glittering shafts of the day,
Must the fear of the gods be dispelled, but by words, and their wonderful play.
So treading a path all untrod, the poet-philosopher sings
Of the seeds of the mighty world—the first-beginnings of things;
How freely he scatters his atoms before the beginning of years;
How he clothes them with force as a garment, those small incompressible spheres!
Nor yet does he leave them hard-hearted—he dowers them with love and with hate,
Like spherical small British Asses in infinitesimal state;
Till just as that living Plato, whom foreigners nickname Plateau,
Drops oil in his whisky-and-water (for foreigners sweeten it so),
Each drop keeps apart from the other, enclosed in a flexible skin,
Till touched by the gentle emotion evolved by the prick of a pin:
Thus in atoms a simple collision excites a sensational thrill,
Evolved through all sorts of emotion, as sense, understanding, and will;
(For by laying their heads all together, the atoms, as councillors do,
May combine to express an opinion to every one of them new).
There is nobody here, I should say, has felt true indignation at all,
Till an indignation meeting is held in the Ulster Hall;
Then gathers the wave of emotion, then noble feelings arise,
Till you all pass a resolution which takes every man by surprise.
Thus the pure elementary atom, the unit of mass and of thought,
By force of mere juxtaposition to life and sensation is brought;
So, down through untold generations, transmission of structureless germs
Enables our race to inherit the thoughts of beasts, fishes, and worms.
We honour our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grand-mothers too;
But how shall we honour the vista of ancestors now in our view?
First, then, let us honour the atom, so lively, so wise, and so small;
The atomists next let us praise, Epicurus, Lucretius, and all;
Let us damn with faint praise Bishop Butler, in whom many atoms combined
To form that remarkable structure, it pleased him to call—his mind.
Last, praise we the noble body to which, for the time, we belong,
Ere yet the swift whirl of the atoms has hurried us, ruth-less, along,
The British Association—like Leviathan worshipped by Hobbes,
The incarnation of wisdom, built up of our witless nobs,
Which will carry on endless discussions, when I, and probably you,
Have melted in infinite azure—in English, till all is blue.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Predictable Magic by Deepa Prahalad & Ravi Sawhney

Physcho-Aesthetics: Aligning Product design to Business Strategy

Product Design is mostly considered as an art form. However in ‘Predictable Magic’, Deepa Prahlad and Ravi Sawhney introduces a framework that they call Phsycho-Aesthetics, through which the design process can be aligned to corporate strategy enabling business to come up with successful product designs. Companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have shown how critical it is to build deep emotional connections between their consumers and product brands. But how do we map this process? How doe we get business managers, engineering professionals and designers on the same page? Read this book to understand how the Phsycho-Aesthetics approach will help a company achieve this.

In the first part of the ebook, the authors show you how their framework can help in developing user-centric designs through consumer ‘personas’, mapping business goals to product features, targeting specific segments with unmet needs, and develop market winning strategies. In the second part they take you through the implementation of the design strategy and how to continuously engage the customers. With many real life case studies understanding of the framework becomes very easy.

I am not sure if entirely new designs or concepts can be created using the Pyshco-Aesthetics approach, but it will definitely help any entrepreneur, business manager or designer in validating their product design approach.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Your Brain and Business by Srinivasan S. Pillay

A case of Pseudoscience!

This book is supposedly meant for coaches of business leaders. Explaining the brain functions and structure, Mr.Pillay attempts to show how leaders can perform better in managing their organizations and getting the best out of their employees. The book is organized into four sections - (a) the Introduction covering the broad principles of how brain science applies to coaching and communicating (b) Relationship section explaining how positive psychology helps in coaching (c) Intervention section on how to effectively convert ideas into actions (d) the Conclusion, where the different brain regions and how the interventions affect them, are explained.

Each chapter lists a number of concepts, their application in business contexts and their connection to 'brain science' which according to the author is a division of neuroscience. Considerable technical jargon is used for explaining the various parts of the brain and how it relates to business activities. Most of it are quite unnecessary, repetitive and irrelevant. Over 35 to 60 references are provided for each chapter making the whole effort look a very impressive and scientific endeavor. However the book drifts from science to pseudoscience by morphing raw scientific facts and hypothesis into seemingly sophisticated tools for solving business management problems without using the rigor needed for good science. Many of the issues raised are real but simple psychology would be sufficient to provide answers to them. Recent discoveries like mirror neuron systems are twisted out of context to make them look very relevant for business leaders. Innovation, Creativity etc are very much dependent on the brain and hence understanding how the brain functions is definitely useful, but for that I would suggest much better books like 'The Tell-tale Brain' by V.S Ramachandran or 'In Search of Memory' by Eric Kandel.

' Your Brain and Business' does not have a single real life case study and it is very difficult to believe that the author has successfully used this approach in enhancing the functioning of business organizations. I would not recommend this book to any business leader or coach.