How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

A engrossing account of how glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light have shaped our modern world.

How We Got to Now is both a book and a PBS mini-series about six innovations- glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light- that have shaped the world that we live in today. Each of these innovations are so commonplace that we take them for granted and their innovators and inventors are often forgotten. But just as he did with The Ghost Map (see related article, The Ghost Map), author Steven Johnson reveals the human story behind the innovations, particularly the events and smaller innovations that had to come first, as well as the unexpected innovations that continue to occur afterward. For example, Frederick Tudor’s shipments of frozen lake ice from New England to the southern United States is connected to Clarence Birdseye flash freezing vegetables, which is connected to the technology we now use to freeze embryos. Steven Johnson debunks the conventional wisdom that innovation comes from isolated “a-ha moments” or exclusively from well-known solo innovators like Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. But instead, innovation occurs from a series of smaller innovations, often developed over time and often by multiple people unaware that others are working on similar breakthroughs.

Good Mythical Morning hosts Rhett and Link discuss the book How We Got to Now.

The book also provides the foundation for an engaging six-part miniseries where Steven Johnson and PBS travel the globe uncovering the stories behind these six key innovations.

View the trailer for the PBS mini-series How We Got to Now, now available on Blu Ray and DVD.

I was able to borrow both the book and the mini-series DVD from my local library. It’s thought-provoking material and I can’t wait to hear what Steven Johnson will say in his keynote at next week’s ASUG SAP Analytics and BusinessObjects User Conference (follow #SABOUC on social media). If you’re headed to the conference, it’s not too late the pick up the Kindle edition of How We Got to Now to read on the flight to the event.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation

Iconic is a beautifully photographed record of Apple innovation

Iconic - a photographic tribute to apple innovation by Jonathan Zufi

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation is a photographic journey through the history of Apple and its groundbreaking products, from the Apple I through today’s latest laptops, desktops and iDevices. The book contains 350 pages of over 650 beautifully taken photos of Apple products. It comes in two editions, the “classic edition” hardcover that I purchased and a “special edition” that comes in an Apple II-esque enclosure. The book is the creation of Jonathan Zufi, who is director of SAP’s Mobility Innovation Center by day and an Apple fan by night. Over the years, he has accumulated a great deal of vintage Apple products in his Atlanta basement in support of the Shrine of Apple web site that has been beautifully photographed for the book.

My first Apple experience was with the Apple IIe in high school. During my college years, the engineering program was strictly PCs and Sun workstations. Only music and design majors got to use the Apple Macintosh. I didn’t own an Apple product of my own until I purchased an iPod in 2006 (see related LinkedIn article, The Butterfly that Started the Apple Tsunami). Since then, my wife and I have had various iPhone models (3G, 3GS, 4 and now we each have an iPhone 5). My home PC is a Late 2009 Mac Mini and my work PC is a MacBook Pro. All of these devices connect to the internet using an Apple Airport Extreme wireless router.

I ordered Iconic immediately after reading the October 3 review in the Wall Street Journal (see related WSJ article, New Book Erects Photographic Shrine to Apple). Sadly, I was on a customer visit when the book arrived at my home. But I promptly opened the box after returning home and hugging my wife and children. It’s been a lot of fun to flip through a beautiful record of computing history and remembering what stage of life I was in when a particular device was introduced to the world.

Iconic will raise the stature of any coffee table it’s placed on- even the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs

The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs reveals how to get rid of the “crappy stuff”.

Last year, my father-in-law gave me The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs as a great Christmas gift (see my book review). This year, he put a copy of The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs (McGraw-Hill, 2010, ISBN 978-0071748759) under the tree (My father-in-law and I share a love for business books). Although author Carmine Gallo focuses on Steve Jobs and Apple, he rounds out his analysis using leaders from other industries using similar innovation secrets. The book is organized into seven “secrets”:

  1. Do what you love
  2. Put a dent in the universe
  3. Kick-start your brain
  4. Sell dreams, not product
  5. Say no to 1,000 things
  6. Create insanely great experiences
  7. Master the message

People who create business intelligence solutions, whether data models, semantic layers, reports, or dashboards, will find a lot of thought-provoking material.  The “secret” that resonated with me most was “say no to 1,000 things”. Steve Jobs has said “I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” From non-existent products like an Apple PDA to non-existent physical keyboards on an iPhone, Apple’s fresh approaches to product design are frequently criticized for not having enough options. But clearly, Apple has created devices that change the way we live. Model T automobiles instead of faster horses.

Imagine for a moment that you designed a performance dashboard for Apple and had the final review with Steve Jobs (Personally, I find this thought terrifying). Would he say something like “[Your business intelligence team] makes some of the best [dashboards] in the world. [Dashboards] that you lust after. Absolutely beautiful, stunning [dashboards]. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff”?

My frustration about this book isn’t about the book at all. It’s about me. I can read a book like Presentation Secrets and measure over time if I’m becoming a better communicator. But “Innovation Secrets”? How does one measure and improve their own personal KPI for innovation? How do I get rid of the “crappy stuff”? It’s tremendously difficult, even though Mr. Gallo provides action items at the end of each chapter.

This week is certainly an interesting one to write a book review about Steve Jobs. With financial markets closed for Martin Luther King Day, we learned on Monday that 55-year-old Mr. Jobs will go on medical leave for a second time. Then on Tuesday we hear about record quarterly earnings for Apple, surpassing analysts’ estimates by $2 billion dollars. All of this is followed by the deluge of rhetorical articles about “whether Apple can survive without Steve Jobs.”  Although Steve Jobs has many gifts, he- like us- does not possess the gift of immortality (check out his 2005 Stanford University commencement address on YouTube). The universe has a way of moving ahead without us. But like Steve Jobs, we can all make a best effort at “putting a dent in the universe”.

Or at least a dent in the common semantic layer.

Have you read The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs?  Share your thoughts below.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Platforms for Business Innovation

Today I would like to write about the other BI – Business Innovation.

Much is being written today about Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event and the unleashing of the Lion, king of the jungle, aka Mac OS X 10.7. And much should be written. Because Mac OS X not only underpins the Macintosh, but a variant named iOS underpins the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and the recently released Apple TV. While much of the attention focuses on the visible part of mobile computing-  for example, two-fingered gestures controlling Angry Birds– none of it would be possible without the silent stability of the underlying operating system.

Business innovation simply isn’t possible when the foundation is shaky.  Several of Apple’s competitors have stumbled deploying their classic OS to new platforms. Microsoft offered several mobile permutations of its flagship Windows before throwing in the towel, building something from scratch, slapping the Windows 7 label on it and hoping nobody would notice. Palm‘s rocky journey from Palm OS to webOS is legendary. At least to me, the jilted Palm Treo 680 owner that switched to an Apple iPhone 3GS. And even Blackberry demoed its Playbook tablet at a distance and kept the prototypes under glass at their recent unveiling.  The Playbook uses the widely admired QNX OS which Blackberry purchased earlier this year, not its legacy Blackberry OS.  All three vendors are hoping that their brand strength will motivate developers to create sustainable ecosystems around their new and untested mobile platforms to gain market share (and mind share) from Apple and Google.

Just as Apple has a sturdy OS foundation in its Mac OS X, SAP has a sturdy business intelligence foundation with SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise – soon to be rebranded as SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.  When BusinessObjects announced its $820 million acquisition of Crystal Decisions in 2003, the obvious assumption was that the company needed the Crystal Reports product.  But it was Crystal Enterprise, Crystal Decisions’ server platform, that would quietly become the foundation of BusinessObjects XI and future BusinessObjects product strategy.  Embracing Crystal Enterprise was a radical and risky departure from previous versions of BusinessObjects.

But the new server platform was a catalyst for rapid innovation.  Although Crystal Reports was the only supported document type in Crystal Enterprise 10, Web Intelligence was added in version XI Release 1.  Desktop Intelligence shortly followed in version XI Release 2.  The Enterprise platform enabled new features such as multi-dimensional analysis (Voyager) and content search with the XI Release 2 Service Pack 2 Productivity Pack.  Then came Polestar, which was last year re-branded as Explorer.  Enterprise XI 3.0 ushered in LifeCycle Manager and enhanced publication support.  Enterprise XI 3.1 Service Pack 3 added specialized Xcelsius dashboard servers.

Each of these products is demonstrated with a flashy front end.  However, the products simply wouldn’t exist without the highly-scalable, multi-OS server architecture and its reusable security and storage features.  And while this week Apple is talking about the future of Mac OS X, FaceTime video chat, and new ultra-thin MacBook Air laptops, SAP is simultaneously talking about the future of business intelligence at SAP TechEd.  And we’ll be hearing more as we move toward GA (general availability) next year.

So where is the platform for business innovation in your business intelligence organization?  It may be neither glamorous nor customer-facing, but nonetheless, it must be in place for successful business innovation.

More to come…