Ideas And Their Six Degrees Of Separation

Quick Read: Ideas, like people, could be said to have their own “6 Degrees of Separation” i.e., any idea in the world can potentially be related to another idea in the world with a maximum of 6 connections. And if this hypothesis is right, it can have major implications on marketing. 

What are you thinking right now? This comic by Richard McGuire appeared in 1990.

Richard McGuire(What Are You Thinking Right Now, Richard McGuire. Source)

While it is a wonderful comic and a fun reflection on how we think, for me it is a brilliant work that manages to encapsulate within the confines of a comic panel – the interconnectedness of our thoughts and ideas.

Speaking of which, just as this theory that any two people in the world can be connected to each other with a maximum of 6 steps, my hypothesis is that:

Any two ideas in the world can be related to each other in less than or equal to 6 degrees of separation. 

In other words, if you think of each idea as a node, I contend that you could potentially connect any two nodes in the “idea universe” with a maximum of 6 connections.

(One way of proving this could be as a corollary of the 6 Degrees of People Separation and mixing it with the notion that ideas make a man. And voila! You can have even a far right capitalist ideology being related to a far left communist ideology within 6 degrees of separation.)

people-exchanging-ideas-26061929(Ideas and connections, stock image)

Why is this fascinating? If the hypothesis is proven right, it can potentially have two major implications on how ideas can be sold.

Implication #1: 

Let’s take Recommendation Engines, the intelligence behind “If you like this, you might also like these” kind of recommendations that you see on Amazon

A good recommendation engine – in search, videos, online shopping, travel etc.,  has far reaching implications in delivering more relevant content to users, thereby driving sales and growing retention within the platform. In fact, as per many accounts, some companies have even gone so far as to realign their business objectives in light of recommender-driven demand, such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney and Apple.

Now, what if we abstract this concept of “six degrees of ideas’ separation” into an iterative, machine learning algorithm that can build up, in real time, a user’s idea map – i.e., a construct that maps out the interconnectedness of user’s ideas?

We can then perhaps use it as the back bone of a more powerful recommendation engine.

So instead of dishing out nearly hard coded, precedent based recommendations – with imperfect results –  what if the smart logic embedded in the recommendation engine can rapidly learn, iterate and replicate my idea map resulting in recommendations that almost feel like – mind reading?

That’s when I might be able to see breathtakingly personalised assortment of search results, advertisements, content and retail options appear in front of me almost at the speed (and diversity) of my thought.

Implication #2: 

Given that any of my existing ideas can potentially be connected to other ideas – and thereby products – out there, having an insight about my idea map can potentially help you sell me a new product/service. How?

By carefully structuring your sales pitch in a way that takes me gently through the different related nodes from my existing ‘idea state’ to a new ‘idea state’ that could probably help me better relate to your product.

Easier said than done, I am sure. But the outcomes here could be as thrilling as they could be scary – a signpost of every major scientific advancement over the last few decades.

On a related note..

If you enjoy the creative process of discovering and connecting disparate ideas into an insightful whole, check out Seenapse.

Seenapse

A creative technology start-up, Seenapse is an ‘inspiration engine’ that assists in your creative process by exposing you to non-obvious idea associations between seemingly disparate concepts. It is currently in a closed beta but you can get an invite by using the code: strandsofgenius. (source)

(Featured image source. H/T Austin Kleon for the riff on Richard McGuire and Faris Yakob on Seenapse)

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PS: This is my 100th blog post on BrandedNoise which got its 2020th subscriber today! A big thank you to all the readers out there who have been the source of my strength, inspiration and support. Looking forward to many more blog posts to come and a journey fuelled by creativity, curiosity and fun. A big thank you once again!!

3D Printing, Value Chain and Lawyers

Quick Read: 3D Printing as a technology can can have revolutionary implications on all the 3 key stages of a value chain –  Manufacturing, Distribution and Retail. And not to forget lawyers!

Let’s Start With Manufacturing

Today Lego finds itself going to war with the 3D Printing technology. Why?

Because, what has happened over the last decade to music, newsprint, film and photography now seems to be threatining the world of shapes and objects. As this Washinton Post says..

Soon hobbyists…. will be able to craft their own (lego) bricks, thanks to 3D printers that make fabricating those plastic parts as convenient as going to Toys R Us. With such technology, entire structures can now be reverse-engineered, reduced into a pile of components and snapped together in minutes. 

Lego’s sophisticated molding process that currently enables it to produce 55 billion Lego pieces a year is probably not under an immediate threat from the 3D printers. But once the technical challenges like being able to meet the established tolerance levels for finish, texture and fit of various materials and being able to operate at scale are solved, which –  many experts believe is just a matter of time – Lego might be at a major  risk.

lego_ironman(Lego Ironman, Source)

So the recent remarks from Lego’s CFO John Goodwin who said “3-D printing is a fascinating development and certainly opens up a lot of new avenues” gain significance as a first ever major acknowledgment by Lego about the impending storm.

This has even led to some analysts predicting that the future for Lego could be as an Intellectual Property publisher of the digital models of their blocks, not unlike the modern record company which doesn’t actually create physical tracks anymore but just owns the IP rights of their music.

Moving Over To Distribution

Distribution (and inventory management) are known to be Amazon‘s expertise. But faster shipping can come at a price. For e.g, in Q1 2013, Amazon’s shipping costs were 4.7 percent of revenue (source). So it has reportedly been testing the grounds for newer, cheaper and faster delivery methods like drones.

But here is – what could potentially be – the billion dollar question. 

What if the whole value chain starting from maintaining inventories of raw materials, industrial scale manufacturing, packaging, palletising, shipping, bulk breaking, transporting, warehousing to distributing were to become redundant? What if we manufacture goods just in time near the final destination?  

As this article says, that’s where 3D printing comes in –  by producing goods in exactly the ordered configuration precisely when they’re needed, 3D printing is ideal for filling gaps in the supply chain (which reduces uncertainty), keeping inventory low more generally (which saves companies money on shelving) and reducing waste (which occurs when the goods aren’t sold).

Called as Just In Time manufacturing, UPS has already started to venture into this business model in a small but significant way. And the initial results are reported to be more than encouraging.

3D Printer UPS Store(3D Printer at a UPS Store, Source)

So when the largest shipment/logistics company in the world begins such seemingly ‘odd’ experiment around On demand 3D printing, it can only indicate one thing.

Even the distribution behemoths are swearing by the mantra – if you can’t beat them join them. 

And Finally Speaking Of Retail

This year’s SXSW – the annual music, film, and interactive festival being held in Austin as we speak now (from March 7 – 11) has been generating a good amount of buzz.

Oreo‘s Trending Vending Machine is an example.

Envisaged by Mondelez as a fun experiment with Twitter, the concept is a mash up between the vending machine experience and social media based real time marketing. Named, Trending Vending Machine, it has been offering the SXSW attendees Oreos with 3D printed flavours picked from trending tweets and delivered to the attendees in 2 minutes (source). This marketing effort includes the hashtag #eatthetweet.

While this certainly makes for a pretty good engagement driving initiative by Mondelez where the world of social media hashtags meets cookie cutter biscuits – literally, the underlying story here could be that of the emergent possibilities of 3D printing in the retail sector where:

  • Inventories for the retailer are non-existent and limitless at the same time!
  • Shopper engagement becomes the norm, in fact the key enabler for the whole set up
  • And finally personalisation becomes a category code, and not just a fancy differentiation strategy

In fact, going by this logic, 3 D printers could even upend the very concept of retail sector as we know it today!

After all, why would anyone even bother to walk down an aisle when all they need to do is perhaps just download a design, chose a nearest 3D printer and click PRINT?

Or shall we call it MAKE?

Some food for thought on a related note: Thanks to 3D Printing, professions like Intellectual Property and Law can be in good demand for a long long time to come!

(Featured Image: 3D Printed edible Lollies at CES 2014, Source)

Block By Block – A Consumption Focused Design Paradigm

It took more than a 100 years for inkjet printers to become commercially viable. The reason?

Severe interdependence of the components and underlying systems. 

For e.g., even with the slightest change in the chemistry of the ink, the composition of the resistors had to be changed, and this potentially impacted the physical layout of the circuits and so on.  The solution for this?  Modularity of design. 

Wikipedia defines modularity as ..

 the degree to which a system’s components may be separated and recombined.

Today most tools, gadgets, processes, systems, structures, designs that we interact with on a daily basis have modularity built from deep within. Right from the nuts and bolts of a system to the way it has possibly been put together on an assembly/production line, modularity is all pervasive.

In fact it is almost accepted wisdom now among designers and manufacturers that the speed at which an innovation can be commercialized is directly proportional to the speed at which the underlying design (of the system) and the process (of the assembly or integration) is standardized and modularized.

Now consider the above statement in conjunction with the following self explanatory paradigm of Design Thinking evangelized by IDEO, called the Desirability – Viability – Feasibility triad of innovation design. 

IDEO

Based on the above two, my hypothesis is the following:

While modularity in the context of production has almost proven itself to be a pre-requisite for establishing technical feasibility and – in many cases – for driving business viability of a given innovation , modularity in the context of consumption – if done right – can have far reaching implications in seeding the attributes of human desirability for the same.  

Three recent examples that seem to suggest the compelling potential for modularity in the context of consumption as a design paradigm:

(1) Phoneblok: Most of us, by now, would have seen this short video on the idea of building a phone with modular detachable blocks. This  presents the idea of Phonebloks –  hailed as a radical vision of what tech could be. The idea for me, is sheer ingenuity and insight. The possibilities  of such a consumer focused modularity in design seem to be truly empowering and liberating.

(2) NoFlo – A Flow Based Development Environment: The philosophy of Modular Programming is the default standard in most coding systems. But this modularity was mostly – for lack of a better term – limited to the realm of abstraction and ideation, since the corresponding code nevertheless lends itself as ‘strings of spaghetti’ and presents challenges for debugging compilation and logic errors.   With NoFlow as a development environment, modularity can be made more tangible and actionable in order to help inform, structure, design, test, debug and implement a complete software package.  The following is the video put together by the team for their Kickstarter campaign to raise funds (the funding was successful!).

(3) Modularity in content consumption: Unleashing the power of modularity in the domain of content consumption is in fact the name of the emerging game. Platform agnosticism is one of the many ways in which modularity lends itself in the consumption context for services like Amazon, Youtube and now Dropbox.  The latest edition of WIRED in fact features a fantastic story on  Dropbox’s radical plan for a future where “the gadgets are dumb, the features are smart, and data trumps devices.”

Dropbox

So there we have, emerging examples of modularity in the context of consumption (as opposed to only production) and how they promise to pan out in mobile, software design environments and cloud based architectures. Something for the technology powerhouses to sit up and take note? In fact in a recent interview with Forbes Clayton Christensen worries about Apple saying Modularity Always defeats Integration! 

Even in life as usual as we know it, no matter what we do from fixing a meal, concocting a cocktailassembling a piece of furniture, to laying out our Google Newsfeed, there’s always been a sense of joy, an inexplicable sense of desirability that we had for our stuff, for after all, it was our creation.  Step by step. Block by block. Isn’t it?

(Source for the featured image)