Enjoying the Sifang Museum in China

Sifang Museum

Three things impress me about this piece in the Wall Street Journal:

The Sifang Museum itself, outside Nanjing, is a lovely inspiring creation

The interactive piece, full of photos, videos, and interactive 360 explorable places, is a perfect showpiece for the museum. The Wall Street Journal should be as proud of it as the New York Times is of 2012’s Snow Fall. Both are shining examples of what journalism on the web can be. Certainly a bit more expensive than a one-reporter-and-a-photographer for a day, but these pieces are both evergreen and immersive, and deserve long lives on their respective sites.

Lastly, the Wall Street Journal seems to miss no opportunity to knock China. Sure, there’s a lot to knock, but come on. To see this oasis of beauty in China on the WSJ site is refreshing.

 

Steve Jobs on branding, introducing the “Think Different” campaign in 1997

One key aspect of Steve Jobs’ product genius was his understanding that a product which had no users was a failure. And the way to get customers to buy, and keep buying, was brand loyalty. Jobs says, “we’re not going to get a chance to get them (customers) to remember much about us.” Hence the Apple focus on marketing, which the Fake Steve Jobs memorably lampooned again and again as the reality distortion field. There would be no lampoon if there weren’t a few million grains of truth behind it, and for anyone in the branding business, Jobs’ lessons are invaluable.

Some other rare Jobs videos, collected by Fast Company Labs.

Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present.

Bruce Kasanoff’s terrific ebook spells this out in a bit more detail, but the title says it all. In a world where our digital lives persist forever, and more and more of our existence is digital, transparency and honesty are among the greatest virtues. All of his advice resonates with me; indeed much of it is a modern echo of an old-but-still-very-relevant classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Take a few minutes to read Kasanoff’s book.

Why Maps Are So Lovely

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Tweeting, visualized by mobile platform

A good map seems to clarify a morass of confusing data, covering a bundle of indecipherable statistics in a simply, shiny wrap. They’re oh so addictive. In a glance, you are edified…

In the same way that a good TED talk teases you into the illusion of knowledge, but you don’t actually know much afterwards, well-crafted maps sparkle and beg for attention and retweeting (the best verb I know for “to spread something virally”). But oh how I adore them! The trick is to dig a bit deeper, so that you can actually converse and discuss.

Is There An Analogy Between Software Development And Family Dynamics?

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A provocative piece in the Wall Street Journal asks if the principles underlying the Agile software development method might be applied to family dynamics. It’s an interesting notion. Agile development came about as a reaction against a top-down, unresponsive method sometimes known as “waterfall.” In the waterfall approach to software development, the presumption is that everything is known up front (at the top of the falls), including all the customer requirements, technical challenges, and user experience design. Software then gets written in the no-going-back, unidirectional quality that waterfalls have, and you get what you get at the bottom of the falls.

Some of the smart folks that write software noticed that this method frequently failed for any number of reasons: when those initial customer requirements proved to be incomplete or changed along the way, when unforeseen technical challenges arose, and when actual users provided feedback on the software (“Uh, this feature is hard to figure out!”). The result was the Agile Manifesto, with four principles:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

So what’s the connection between writing code and family life? Just like software development teams (in which quick daily meetings are known as “scrums”), families sometimes fail to be smooth-running machines. The analogy is an imperfect one for many reasons, perhaps foremost because software teams general work together towards a single goal while individual family members usually have their own individual goals. That said, some of the tools in the Agile toolbox seem useful in any household:

The collaborative spirit   A key in agile software development is supporting other team members, rather than working in competition. Obvious benefits for a family, where siblings occasionally sport less-than-supportive attitudes towards one another.

The retrospective   Agile teams get together regularly to review the past weeks’ work, asking “What went well?” and “What went badly?” and how can we do more of the former and less of the latter. While this may well happen organically over the dinner table, it’s not a bad idea to regularly consider how things are going in a semiformal process.

Feedback   Software developers using the Agile method look frequently for feedback from stakeholders inside their organizations, as well as outside. Based on the feedback, they can make small course corrections and thus have a much higher chance of hitting their ultimate target. Similarly, family members of all ages benefit from feedback- learning to honestly listen and act on feedback is a skill unto itself.