On Going Fast Nowhere

I do feel like I’m deceiving myself. It feels such that the problems came and pulled me under even before they existed. Like time-traveller problems: come back from the future and they prevent their own birth, by making me put off entrepreneurship, and look for something else. Like open a coffee shop. Or go back being a post-doc…

It’s of course very harsh on those problems, since it’s me who created them, by becoming the not-at-all mythical “wantrepreneur”. I keep talking that much that I convinced a lot of people that I am up to more than I am actually accomplishing. It’s not for the lack of trying, mind you…. depending on the definition of “trying”.

If reading stacks of books about the subject of entrepreneurship counts as trying, then I’m pretty darn hard at work. If networking, or going to events, hearing other people’s experience, asking them for advice counts as trying, I’m still right there in the middle of the pack. If the only thing that counts is whether I made a sale of any kind – well, I got nothing. Let’s even be more generous, count learning as trying in the Lean Startup way – still got nothing. Have plans to have more than nothing, but those “urgent” plans are at the same stage as they were a month (maybe even two months?) ago.

Main conference room on the second day with speakers
APEC Startup Accelerator Leadership Summit 2013

This is all not because I’m stupid, I’d like to believe: my shoelaces are correctly tied  (just checked now), I regularly converse in languages other than my native tongue, and I can keep up a conversation pretty well, according to others. But still, sitting at Starbucks, just having put down the most recent book I’m reading of “this is how you do your business”, I have to ask myself – why am I doing this, and what’s “this”?

Maybe it’s all just fear, fear of the unknown future, where those time-traveller problems come from. Or maybe I don’t care enough. Or maybe I’m holding it wrong. Or maybe I’m just taking this all too serious? Premature optimization of things, before I haven’t tried anything? Waiting for others to show my path, and in the same time rejecting pretty much everyone else’s opinion as they cannot possibly understand and have the same amount of passion to my idea(s) as I have? That even if I yearn for the opposite, I’d rather spend an evening in with the sci-fi novel I’m reading (and which is brilliant so far), than push the limits by testing out the great ideas I convinced myself to have come up with?

My guess: all of the above, and then some. So many rhetorical questions, good grief…

That’s the current status, being full of aspiration and total helplessness. Seeing a lot of great examples, and thinking “I could do that!” and “I could never do that!” in the same time. What causes this? Can all this reading and preparation instead of helping, just piled up inside of me as intellectual pus? That might fit – something that tries to help me, and I have to get rid of to be okay.

Okay, boy. Let’s try something different: I’m calling in a learning ban, and get out to where the real action is, where the real fighting goes on with real bullets. What good is your runway, if you never spin up the propellers to take off?

(May I still finish the one I’m reading now? ….  Fine, but that’s the last one.)
(What if I could avoid some common mistake if I just have read X by Y? ….  Fuck it, use use your common sense instead)
(But, but ….  No but, can go back to your books when you have something exact to learn. You know enough. )
(H…..  Shut up.)

 

An entrepreneurial curriculum

The influence of the last few years kept pushing me more and more towards entrepreneurship, and learning more about startups, innovation, creativity, independence, creating value. Recently I found myself reading more and more about them, and ending up with an ever-increasing reading list as well. Never before I had so many non-fiction book waiting for me, and i want to make some notes of the ones I have read.

Books on my Taipei Hackerspace bookself
A very varied bookshelf I got

This post will be most likely a constantly updated book review collection, where I list what have I read and what have I learned from them, with special focus on research & innovation, since that’s the area where I’m most likely headed.

I know of course that reading is not substitute to action. I can still learn from other people’s successes and failures, though.

The books so far

♣ The Art of Innovation

It was an interesting collection of anecdotes. In retrospect, the title would suggest that it contain some guidelines that can be replicated to some extent by other teams and companies. The book however feels more like just storytelling how much fun people have at IDEO, with the breakthroughs and failures they had with particular projects.

Some ideas stand out nevertheless. The importance of prototyping: do things as soon as possible, try ideas out and make educated guesses based on actual experience, move fast and make things. The importance of inspiration: when there’s an ideation project, just go out and get a big bunch of items that are connected to it in any way (eg. figuring out a new bottle cap? Go out and get every possible way of closing containers, and more…). The importance of keeping discarded projects: today’s discarded project can be the main inspiration for tomorrow’s success, thus really worth keeping a log of everything. The importance of play: indirect exploration and team morale are awesome things to have on your side, and they are signs of a long term strategic thinking.

♣ Winning at Innovation: The A-to-F model

This one is much-much drier than the Art of Innovation, but also very thorough. So many intuitive things from the previous book was made completely clear because of this systematic approach. It’s good have a better understanding for the things that stick around in one’s mind.

This had some pretty good points too. Can’t innovate something while you are doing it: have to stop and look at things from the outside to see how to improve. That means it is really helpful to have some people doing the tasks, while others make it better. The importance of neighbouring industries: look at companies that serve the same target customers with different products, or serve different customers the same product as you. Mash up and create new combinations, learn from these neighbours.

♣ The Wide Lens

The premise of the book is worth an epiphany: it’s an age of ecosystems, have to think in broader terms than just your products. So often can miss critical ingredients of the the ecosystem and can fail really badly while doing the execution perfectly. Co-innovation and adoption chain risks are there quite often for quite simple teams, besides the execution risk which is the first thing that companies learn to conquer. It’s not enough to take care of the last one, have to manage the first two as well. Need to always be on top, who else is there to win besides you to make your stuff work.

Of course, the detailed look this needs can be much easier in hindsight. One of the final, big example of an enterprise that did things wiser than other was Better Place, an electric car company. I was thinking how the book’s models would apply to Tesla, while just this week I read about how Better Place just filed for bankruptcy.

♣ The Lean Startup

…coming soon

♣ Rework

…coming soon

On the reading list

There are always more books than I have time for, these are the ones that are shortlisted currently to be added to the reviews above.

If you have a suggestions what else I should include, please let me know!

Language of the Month: Prolog, part 2

If something, then this is a belated post. Prolog was the language of July and now it’s September. Anyway, before I completely fail, let’s just wrap it up and go on the next language with this one month hiatus in August.

I really enjoyed the language and one month is indeed barely enough to start doing something useful. So I have to come back to it again and maybe keep reading about it in the meantime. It’s actually quite interesting to try to figure out Prolog code on paper, without actually running something. I think one of the books I was reading had plenty of exercises like this: without running the code, can you guess what is it doing? Needless to say, there were plenty of tricky bits/

From the comments

During two months, some additional resources did show up. A dear commenter on the previous post recommended me the following book: Richard O’Keefe: The Craft of Prolog. I got about a third, maybe halfway through it and it’s interesting, written long time ago in a style that since gone out of fashion, unfortunately. It’s a programming book that is fun to read and one can see that the author is very knowledgeable. Some aspects of the book didn’t age very well, though. The author keeps comparing Prolog to other languages – many of them are not very widely available either. Also, some of the language features are specific to his version of Prolog, that wasn’t the same one I was using. Would recommend, though!

This last part, the different implementations of the same language, can be a real problem. Of the three compilers available for me, all of them had specific strengths and weaknesses. Guess they are converging, but not quite yet. So far I was mostly using SWI Prolog, but this might change in the future.

The said commenter also recommended a cross-compiler, doing Prolog-to-C magic, for portability and other goodness. Can grab it from here: http://ftp.shaw.ca/irvinsh/prolog.tar.gz I haven’t had time to try it yet, but once I have, I’ll do a comparison.

From the web

From a friend’s recommendation I was checking out a site with free textbooks. They are all advertisement-sponsored, which is an intriguing idea (for another post). The IT section had not one but two books on Prolog: Prolog Techniques and Applications of Prolog.

Two prolog book covers
Free textbooks on Prolog from Bookboon

This latter one has a Hungarian author so I’m even more intrigued, we used to have great computer scientists (John von Neumann / Neumann János, anyone?), so I hope we keep up that tradition. (Oh, yeah, and had great physicists as well, maybe I can do more on that front later).

I was only skimmed them a little bit, but looks like these will be good addition for my “programming for fun and efficiency” library.

Will update the original LotM:Prolog page with these links as well. Now onto September’s Language, fortunately I have idea what I want to learn for the next ~3.5 weeks. October will be something Artificial Intelligence related since I signed up for the AI-class.