Letter to Nikola, written a century later.

SEND: through wireless ether, non-time specific

Calcutta, India

19 Aug. 17

Hi Nikola,

It’s been two years less a century between your autobiography first published in 1919 in the Electrical Experimenter and now that I first read it. I happened to find the copy titled “My Inventions” on the net. It’s a couple of decades short a century since your death too!

However, the feeling of connecting with you was so strong, that I thought, “What the hell!”(It’s a current slang phrase), “Let’s get on with it, maybe some vibration, some energy field or some time-wrap could take this message into the past.”

Everything is after all Energy & Frequency.

You said in your book, quote, “I am prompted to this prediction not so much by thoughts of the commercial and industrial revolution which it will surely bring about, but of the humanitarian consequences of the many achievements it makes possible. Consideration of mere utility weigh little in the balance against the higher benefits of civilization.”

By the way, today the United Nations is celebrating “World Humanitarian Day”. (Are you sniggering?)

You also say quote, “The greatest good will come from technical improvements tending to unification and harmony… (You gave example of your wireless transmitter)”.

News! You have been right. We have this thing called the internet, joined by fiber optics across the sea bed. (Like you professed in your book: a wire buried in the ground, insulated from interference). It has been revolutionary. It has connected like-minded people like never before and reduced the distances between countries. We have smartphones to talk, radios, microwaves to cook food and your discovery of alternating current to provide electricity, is still providing energy to most homes in the world, to power our many devices.

But they still haven’t figured how to harness the energy of the sun and direct it to water arid deserts. Or maybe we haven’t heard about it yet. Some countries, though, are working on a large model of the Sun! Interestingly they don’t have large deserts or arid lands.

About the use of electromagnetic frequencies for warfare, there are doubts that this might have already been misused for weather modification and the sorts. You did warn.

Well, they discovered the Van Allen radiation belts swathing around the atmosphere of the earth, in 1958 tells NASA. Maybe the time to build that free floating ring across the equator, enabling fast travel is now, though the supersonic planes have reached over 3000 km/hr by this era, we like experimenting with new ways to be mobile.

Must mention as a passing note that two things are still around, misinformation and your favorite journal, the Scientific American. The latter has a twitter account, which in today’s times means that it is thriving well into this century.

Do you know, they named a car inspired by you? The Tesla? They are however still looking to make such cars cheaper. The fuel used in electric cars is lithium, which is available in China, Australia and Afghanistan. And there is war-like situation on in at least a third of these places. It won’t be long before Electric car technology are competing with the traditional car models, and your Detroit car manufacturer; is threatened by the laws of demand and inventive supply (Twist of destiny, 🙂

There is sudden interest in you again and led me to wonder, why we didn’t ever learn about you in school? Ironically your invention brings the electricity to every working classroom of the world, illuminating the books, where we learn the name of Edison. (He didn’t actually invent the incandescent light bulb, did he?)

You say in your book, “My belief is strong in a law of compensation. The true rewards are ever in proportion to the labor and sacrifices made.”

On the world humanitarian day, here is hoping that with the same spirit/energy with which you tackled science and harnessed it for problem solving for good of the society, may each inventor in this era direct their energy towards higher benefits of the civilization.

END MESSAGE

 

The Re Skill Trap and the pumping balloon.

Stephen Hawking, recently said;

“We are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing…”

AI or Artificial Intelligence is said to loom as a threat on human’s race with a million articles on the impact of automation.

Debate over debate seems to rage on which job skills would be redundant.

Recently in the US, McDonalds has replaced some 2500 of its cashiers with automated touch screen kiosks. Elsewhere in India, 43 McDonalds restaurants are closing with estimated job loss of 1700 people.

An interesting tweeter observed that if your job is making and receiving emails and creating ppt/pdf etc, your job will probably be automated.

Elsewhere, the corporate money machines are gamifying the process of entry level jobs, by challenging their candidates to play a brain game to collect as much money as possible by pumping a digital balloon.

Reading a paragraph of the 1940s book ” The Future in Education” by Sir LivingStone, one ascertains that the norm of schooling after 14 yrs of age, was established just last century.

The rationale given that “it is the time when parents are most capable of earning money and children least capable of it.” It is also said to be “the best time for learning new languages, memorizing facts and even enjoying what to an adult is drudgery..”

Adult education on other hand was suggested to be given “to students who desire it, have the mental capacity to receive it and experience of life necessary to value and interpret it”.

Even after 70 yrs of educating and receiving education, most of us realize the rewards not corresponding to the time and effort gone into years of slogging.

He himself noted ” I doubt if any candid person, who has been a teacher or pupil in a secondary school, feels the returns correspond to the labour, time & money spent.”

So what do we do?

We go about to re-skill ourselves. The same employment machinery that requires “credentials” for “qualifying” to certain positions, now realizes that the last 17-18 yrs of the education machinery are mostly a wasted effort. New skills are needed to be “employable”.

We do what now?

We put in those extra hours to learn about something afresh.

And then?

A new technology and we spent the extra hours re-skilling ourselves?

And?

Some one creates a startup and endeavors to become a job creator rather than a seeker.

For the rest, the circle goes on, till their job is eventually automated.

 

 

 

 

Should you let the Lions sleep?

While at NIFT, a major part of my job became pushing files with lingo such as post facto, ex post facto, pro bono, status quo and the sorts. (Why a “fashion” institute is still stuck with an ancient method of record maintenance is still a puzzle to me.)

The word status quo came towards me from many directions.

“Don’t challenge the status quo” came again from the HR in a private jewellery company, as I experimented with changes in the branding plan. That actually pushed me a step further towards the door.

“Let the lions sleep” advised another colleague in another firm.

But there have been some lessons which I share.

Innovation vs order

If you are in a job, you have two options. One is that you try to change things for the better and the other is that you try to maintain the “status quo” and work within that constraint.

After working in mostly jewellery companies, I realized that innovation comes not just from products, but also from process; and also from systems. System innovation sounds quite technical, but as I see it, it could be as simple as instructing your back end to do a certain task, or a single person incharge to do a single thing more (or less).

Productivity vs change

While you endeavor to change things around, there maybe resistance to change. Changes in work process without senior most management push, is an uphill task. Many areas that actually need changes are grey areas often between different departments. An ideal scenario would be to identify leaders from each department and enroll them as change agents for the larger innovation. This however also leads to those resisting change to react adversely.

What you think vs group think

When coming up with ideas, innovative thinkers may come up with ideas which appear to be so crazy, so mad, so eccentric that the larger mass of thought might not be able to accommodate it. New ideas are risky, because they have not been tried out before. Getting people apart from yourself out of their comfort zones and  fixed routine might be a huge challenge if you really do believe in the worth of your idea. But if it doesn’t work, its your neck on the line and that is the single biggest deterrent to individuals, our non acceptance of failure.

The conventional employee would let the “lions sleep” and the innovator? What would the innovator do? Would you let the Lions sleep?

How we “Make in India”

Nothing Happens unless something Moves.

Albert Einstein.

Last autumn, I got the opportunity to take a “Makers” workshop for a bunch of management students. They considered it as “craft” exercise. The aspect of making was new to some of them.

We started with the material most familiar to them and many people across the world and that is Paper.

For the next Makers Workshop we introduced Plastic and this time the group was clearer with their understanding of how to use a material

The next trimester, we introduced a Hackathon competition and the brief was to use basic material such as ice cream sticks and rubber bands to create something that demonstrates the conversion of potential energy into movement.

mit_nasik_02

Our group of students was now prepared as they tackled this subject in a limited time within our “Makers Space”. The selected few from these got the chance to explore innovation in a multidisciplinary group at an MIT event at Nasik.

mit_nasik_01

Envisioning MiSiDiCi

Recently an acquaintance was nominated among st finalists from across the globe for his Innovative Idea at the Smart City Expo held recently. He informed us with delight on his return, that India had been given an honorary prize for the work done in the sphere of Smart Cities development.

“The World is taking notice even when back at home we have criticism!” was something what was discussed.

While it is a no brainer for any ordinary urban educated citizen of India  (guilty author) to create a list of cons and criticisms, what if the government had used the Design Thinking approach to simplify, clarify and expand its vision such as the one below?

Make in India:

Could it be envisioned as?

When you visit your regular shop/buying place, most things that you need, like and are useful are made in India.

Digital India:

Citizens are able to make informed decisions, work together, collaborate and share ideas through an unseen network which comes to them rather intuitively and without added cost with respect to their privacy. Responses during emergency situations and life and death moments are seamless and efficient.

Skill India:

Two kinds of skills will be developed simultaneously, the one that ensure jobs and more importantly the ones that create jobs, without added burden or costs of skill development.

Clean India:

When you walk out from your home to work in the morning, the streets are clean, the air is pure and fresh and no encroachments are hindering your path. You are healthy and feel good about your environment. You don’t feel hesitant to drink water from the community tap, because like everything around, that is also pure and clean.

One request: Needed a place where we (All stakeholder: Billion plus citizens) can share views and talk to each other, apart from the social net. Billion People= Billion plus ideas= Fast Track Improvement = Happy Country!

Smarty Pants

If you were ask in India what is the current buzzword, supported by marketing efforts of course, you would get Make in India, Digital India, Smart Cities among some more floating on the social net.

All of a sudden we are considering being “Smart”. Silently we whisper to each other “What is meant by Smart”? Is what is meant “Smart” by them the “Smart” we understand? (Do we really?) We then look up to the architects of the word and ask , “What is Smart?”.

The self appointed architects reply with a mock shock,

“You don’t know?… “See.”

They point towards a country and its city demonstrating some glass, shiny metals and a lot of automation technology.

“Oh!” We look amazed at the trains that go on hyper speed and the doors that open and shut automatically, sensors that send information ahead to someone and someone or something who supposedly makes life simpler in this maze of productivity with people like working ants going about their jobs.

“We can do that?!” we look on mesmerized, silently wonder how many potholes we have avoided that day and how much water to expect in the municipality tap. This smart city appears to look like heaven.

“We can accomplish that?”, We ask again in disbelief!

Nods the architect. “A few trillions here and there, but it is possible.”

“Where are the Trillions coming from?” we ask still in disbelief.

“FDI mostly. Fourteen countries have shown interest.”

We whistle in further disbelief.

“Wow! Fourteen countries will tell us how to live smartly.” Impressed at the achievement. We close the latest edition of Shiv Puraan. Old Sops of life. Lets embrace the new.

“Who..”, we ask further, “..would be living in these smart cities?”

“Smart citizens.” They answer. “Smartly qualified with smart education”.

We applaud!

“How..” we ask, “Would you find these smart citizens?”

The architects now loose patience at this inevitable question and blurt.

“You have too many questions! You are not Gift-ed. You are certainly not smart and don’t qualify to stay in a smart city!”

Disappointed, we start looking at the map and looking for the other non smart cities to live in.

“Don’t worry,” the architects console, “We may be working towards an inclusive society where even the lower income group can be accommodated.”

We breathe a sigh of relief. When we go to discuss this at our daily pavement dwellers meeting over a boiling broth of today’s Dal, most have the same question:

“Will the pavements be really clean? They won’t trouble us every six months for pavement leveling?”.

“We don’t know about clean, but they promise they will be smart.”

“Smart?” asks the pavement mother, cradling one kid on her lap and another suckling on her breast.

We go on to explain what is meant by “Smart”.

“See….” we point towards that country with that city gleaming in the night.

The pavement dwellers rub their eyes in disbelief.

( to be continued.)

Design. Lost in translation?

A few days back I visited a blog which had the conscious effort of being “made”. While the intent of the developer was clear, which was to create a design community, one particular fastidious designer had commented below why the blog wasn’t serving its purpose. While the creator of the blog was positive in taking the criticism, I’m sure too many of such comments would not have served as discouragement and criticism. By the way, this blog was Indian and that context is important.

In India, there are many factions of design community.

There are those who practice pure “design”, which means everything that is done, should be evaluated on basis of some ten point agenda that they seem to have worked out in tandem. They live by their rule and methodology; creating something that only this community can understand. It has absolutely no relation with the general mass understanding of design, if there may even be so, in India. I’d had once “shamelessly” called it the “Bauhaus” effect, which somehow felt offensive to the professor who was preaching design to our group. I couldn’t help it. Circle, triangle and simplifications of that nature, are rather alien to the evolved Indian sensibilities. We left using such symbols in the 3000 BC. Identification: they are still arguing “form vs function” debates in classrooms.

The Aesthetic or trend keepers

“It has to be Art deco”, screamed the designer, “That is the trend.”

This designer would read the latest trend reports on twitter through a built in trend identifying sensor, attend the important colour (international) conferences and maybe sleep with a few pantone colour chips under the pillow. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but it would be close to that. This faction of designers (In India) would embrace the international trends (and classics) and try to vigorously add doses of the same into the Indian market. Whether the “little black dress” has any relevance in Indian society would be lost in the translation to rapidly imitate the sensibility of foreign glossies. (I’ve been guilty of this for years too!)

The Realists

Then there is the group of realists or pragmatics. Their only agenda is cost control. Would it be cheaper to produce if the ornamentation would be done away with? Or would it be cheaper to produce if the ornamentation was there? Would it be cheaper to product if we employed a designer? Or would it be cheaper if we did away with the design process? You get what I mean…?

The Eco warrior

Eco warriors represent that class of Indian designers who have been molded to think that to design anything non biodegradable is a waste of their time on earth. Most of us are eco sensitive, but the difference is the manner in which anything that is created is deliberated as being threat to nature. This is a section, we could actually do with some more . Identification: They are generally dressed in khadi from FabIndia and paper is their favorite medium.

The Businessman-Marketeer

Here is the faction which has captivated their audience by offering “design” through a big marketing trick. Just like the over used word “innovation”, they would use “design” or “designer” as a differentiator, non-withstanding the fact that they hardly employ a design sensibility nor a designer, or their pure design methodology that the purists were so proud of.They use the term “design” or “innovation” without understanding or believing in it because it brings good business. Identification: Glossy misleading advertisements claiming design, not corroborating with the product in hand. Widespread.

Next time you buy or use something, try to evaluate what could the designer have in the mind.Then, maybe you can decide if the product you are using has been designed well or it is echoing any of the thoughts above. Maybe some, maybe all. What about the product, which just sits there silently, helping you about without making “statements”? Maybe that is the ultimately made product and kudos to its designer.