Speaking at HIDC 2014

This week I had the honour to speak at HOW’s Interactive Design Conference 2014 in Chicago. It was great to have the opportunity to talk about how to design and experiment with the merging of hardware and software. I used the term Meta Products to describe the specific mashup of the physical object with sensors and network connectivity. I prefer the term to describe a more human-centred approach to the internet of things. I used a number of examples and centred the talk around my experience with Mineblock.

Here’s the slides from the talk:

How Not To Sell A Bike

I had the weirdest comical back-and-forth with someone trying to sell their bike to me, I thought it would be funny to share it. Here’s the quick backstory: I saw a posting for a bike for sale at the university that I teach. I tried a number of times to phone the number posted but there was no answer or voice message.

Then later I try texting:

Going from Good to Great

This year I read the bestseller book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Along with a fair share of buzzwords and hype are some great bits of advice for entrepreneurs. Here’s a summary of the book broken down by chapter.

Chapter 1: Good is the Enemy of Great

The profound point that Collins makes is that, paradoxically, “good” can be the enemy of “great”, insofar as if your goal is to simply be good at something, you will make decisions based on that and may miss some of the key opportunities or be afraid to take some of the crucial risks required to become great.

Chapter 2: Level 5 Leadership

Level 5 Leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.

Collins begins the process of identifying and explicating the unique factors and variables that differentiate good and great companies. One of the most significant differences, he asserts, is the quality and nature of leadership in the firm. Collins goes on to identify “Level 5 leadership” as a common characteristic of the great companies assessed in the study. This type of leadership forms the top level of a 5-level hierarchy that ranges from merely competent supervision to strategic executive decision-making.

Chapter 3: First Who, Then What

Get the right people on the bus

First one needs to get the ‘right’ people on the bus
Then figure out the best path to greatness.

Collins states that the process of securing high-quality, high-talent individuals with Level 5 leadership abilities must be undertaken before an overarching strategy can be developed. With the right people in the right positions, Collins contends that many of the management problems that plague companies and sap valuable resources will automatically dissipate.

Chapter 4: Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)

Another key element of some companies’ unique ability to make the transition from Good to Great is the willingness to identify and assess defining facts in the company and in the larger business environment. In today’s market, trends in consumer preferences are constantly changing, and the inability to keep pace with these changes often results in company failure.

Collins outlines a four-step process to promote awareness of emerging trends and potential problems:

  1. 1) Lead with questions, not answers;
  2. 2) Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion;
  3. 3) Conduct autopsies without blame;
  4. 4) Build red flag mechanisms that turn information into information that cannot be ignored.

Chapter 5: The Hedgehog Concept

In this chapter, Collins uses the metaphor of the hedgehog to illustrate the seemingly contradictory principle that simplicity can sometimes lead to greatness. When confronted by predators, the hedgehog’s simple but surprisingly effective response is to roll up into a ball. While other predators, such as the fox, may be impressively clever, few can devise a strategy that is effective enough to overcome the hedgehog’s simple, repetitive response.

In order to help expedite this process, Collins suggests using the following three criteria:

Chapter 6: A Culture of Discipline

Another defining characteristic of the companies that Collins defined as great in his study was an overarching organizational culture of discipline. He is quick to point out that a culture of discipline is not to be confused with a strict authoritarian environment; instead, Collins is referring to an organization in which each manager and staff member is driven by an unrelenting inner sense of determination. In this type of organization, each individual functions as an entrepreneur, with a deeply rooted personal investment in both their own work and the company’s success.

The author asserts, it is important that within this overarching culture of discipline, every team member is afforded the degree of personal empowerment and latitude that is necessary to ensure that they will be able to go to unheard-of extremes to bring the firm’s envisioned objectives into existence.

Chapter 7: Technology Accelerators

Collins contends that the good-to-great companies approach the prospect of new and emerging technologies with the same prudence and careful deliberation that characterizes all of their other business decisions. Further, these companies tend to apply technology in a manner that is reflective of their “hedgehog concepts” — typically by selecting and focusing solely upon the development of a few technologies that are fundamentally compatible with their established strengths and objectives. Collins characterizes the ideal approach to technology with the following cycle: “Pause — Think — Crawl — Walk — Run.”

Chapter 8: The Flywheel and the Doom Loop

In this chapter, Collins describes two cycles that demonstrate the way that business decisions tend to accumulate incrementally in either an advantageous or a disadvantageous manner. Despite the popular misconception that business success or failure often occurs suddenly, Collins asserts that it more typically occurs over the course of years, and that both only transpire after sufficient positive or negative momentum has been accrued.

Planning a business creatively

When you set out to create a business the first step should be inspiring, thoughtful and fun. Although most proper businesses have all started with the creation of a business plan they tends to be a slow and tedious process. But it can be done differently, a business plan can be exciting, emotional and filled with surprises if it’s done creatively.

When I formed LiFT Studios in 2007 I went through the process of writing a business plan as any diligent person would. I have to admit it wasn’t that much fun. You would think it would be a good time, after all if done correctly, it’s about your aspirations and dreams. I looked at many templates online and reviewed my notes from taking Canada’s government program for Entrepreneurs and Self Employment in 1997. It wasn’t painful but it certainly lacked excitement and I promised myself that I would revisit the business planning process each year to reassess the business.

It’s now that time in the year when I reevaluate the business and see if the company goals align with my own. This is also an opportunity to readdress the businesses objectives and make LiFT better. This time I’ve introduced a few new variables to the process – a few books have been add to the toolkit and a couple of smart people have been invited to participate.

I’ll be adding to this posting as more unravels. For now the first of the books is summarized here.

sorry for the absence

This is one sadly neglected blog. I’d like to apologize for not keeping up with this publication. Let’s just say I’ve been busy. I do have big plans for this site and I hope to roll them out soon. In the meantime sign up for the mailing list and I’ll let you know what I’ve up to with an announcement.

If you have any suggestions on what you’d like to see on this blog, comment below.

Documentary Movie List

Last year the International Documentary Association put out a list of the best 25 documentary films ever made. My interest in documentaries has been growing steadily compared to my disinterest in Hollywood flics. If you’re at all interested in docs then this list is a great place to start.

1. Hoop Dreams (1994), directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx
2. The Thin Blue Line (1988),directed by Errol Morris
3. Bowling for Columbine (2002), directed by Michael Moore
4. Spellbound (2002), directed by Jeffery Blitz
5. Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), directed by Barbara Kopple
6. An Inconvenient Truth (2006), directed by Davis Guggenheim
7. Crumb (1994), directed by Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb
8. Gimme Shelter (1970),directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
9. The Fog of War (2003), directed by Errol Morris
10. Roger and Me (1989), directed by Michael Moore
11. Super Size Me (2004), directed by Morgan Spurlock
12. Don’t Look Back (1967), directed by DA Pennebaker
13. Salesman (1968), directed by Albert and David Maysles
14. Koyaanisqatsi (1982), directed by Godfrey Reggio
15. Sherman’s March (1986), directed by Ross McElwee
16. Grey Gardens (1975), directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer
17. Capturing the Friedmans (2003), directed by Andrew Jarecki
18. Born into Brothels (2004), directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski
19. Titticut Follies (1967), directed by Frederick Wiseman
20. Buena Vista Social Club (1999), directed by Wim Wenders
21. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), directed by Michael Moore
22. Winged Migration (2001), directed by Jacques Perrin
23. Grizzly Man (2005), directed by Werner Herzog
24. Night and Fog (1955), directed by Alain Resnais
25. Woodstock (1970), directed by Michael Wadleigh

I’ve seen 20 of the films from this list. But my favourite doc wasn’t mentioned and that is Fast, Cheap & Out of Control by Errol Morris.



I’ll be presenting a talk on a new topic for me at this year’s Content Convergence and Integration Conference on March 14th. The subject I’ve chosen is Service Design – a new term for designing and integrating all the various touchpoints of a brand into a new networked service.
It’s a fairly new approach to interactive design but one that seems widely accepted in Europe and something I heard a lot of talk about at the London Design Festival I attended in the fall of 2007.
Come on by, the conference is at the Sheraton Wall Centre and has a lot of great speakers.


Tree in a Forest


I’m curious about genealogy. Maybe it has something to do with being Armenian and having your family tree cut off after only a few generations, but I’ve recently been looking into software to enable genealogy tracking. What I’ve found is the following software:
Family Tree Maker (PC)
Legacy Family Tree (PC)
RootsMagic (PC)
MacFamily Tree (Mac)

They all seemed somewhat amateur and small, if not completely dated. I realized that this is a perfect opportunity for an online application. After all, you need a community of people inputing data into it, to be effective. Wikipedia had a few open-source genealogy options.

As a trial, I’ve installed phpGedView at to give it a whirl. My first impression is that it seems fairly comprehensive but lacking in usability and aesthetics.

Clean Up Time

This is just a reminder for me to start doing some major cleaning up. It’s been a really busy year and in many aspects there has been a lot of loose ends left behind. The clean up starts now. The list starts here:

  1. My Dreamhost account: lots of stray orphans here. It’s time to round up the unused domains and testing sites, back them up and then throw them to the fire.
  2. Teaching Resources: consolidate all those lectures and online bits of blogs, wikis and such and throw them into a box.
  3. The Lab: a place on my computer for experimentation – Design patterns, colour palettes, sketches, ActionScript code. All will be gathered and organized and backed up.
  4. Goodbye Microsoft: I’ve tried doing this before but now the tools seem to be there to leave the Microsoft software behind.