This blog is one of the first things I have to get done in the morning before I can work on anything else. It’s a strange habit I developed over a year ago when I found myself with quite a few things to write about and decided that I’d slog through them at one idea per day until I ran out of material. Today, whilst my blog posts are longer and generally a lot more thought out, the core idea behind them doesn’t seem to come as easily as it once did. This very post had me scrounging around for a couple hours to find something to write on until it finally dawned on me.
You see this blog is a kind of artificial barrier to me achieving any goals that I might have set forth for the day. There’s really no compelling reason for me to do this before anything else other than for the joy of it or the small hope of Internet fame. Realistically if I didn’t write a post today nothing bad would happen apart from me disappointing a few of my lunchtime readers and the hit count going down for a day. Still I’ve managed to convince myself time and time again that until the post is written, proof read and scheduled I can’t get any meaningful work done as it will sit at the back of my head, constantly nagging away at me until I cave into it.
The concept of artificial barriers isn’t new to me either, as it’s something that I’ve dealt with in many different aspects of my life. Pretty much any endeavor I’ve undertaken has usually come to a point I see myself thinking “If only I had that piece of equipment” or “If only I could do X” and use that as an excuse to shelve a project completely. The barriers themselves really didn’t exist and they were merely an excuse to placate my own inadequacies rather than dealing with them the hard way (I.E. working with what I’ve got). Over time I’ve gotten better at identifying the times when I’m engaging in these games of mental gymnastics with myself, but that hasn’t seen me drop the habit entirely.
It all came to a head last night when I was eying off the new MacBook Pro models that Apple has released. I’ve long said that it would probably be my next laptop as I need a mac machine to do the iPhone development work I have planned plus I have plans to do a bit of travel in the coming months, and something relatively portable with a bit of grunt would fit the bill nicely. Still in the last month though the amount of development work I’ve done would total about 4 hours or so, as I’ve spent the better parts of my weekend playing games and generally avoiding spending any of my free time working. In the back of my head though the excuse has always been “I need to start coding the handset application now” which leads me down a spiral of analysis ultimately ending with “I’ve got an iPhone, I should do that first”. Buying the MacBook rubs up against the fiscally responsible side of me who tells me I don’t really need the device, and hence we arrive at yet another artificial barrier to me progressing towards my goals (I could quite easily just code up a Windows Mobile version to get the infrastructure in).
I’ve picked on people in the past for doing this as well because really you have no excuse apart from some internal desire that’s manifested itself as this artificial barrier. Primarily I see this when people tell me they’re not happy where they’re working but once you dig a little deeper you find that they are quite comfortable where they are, and the idea of facing the unknown is far more scary than dealing with their current set of issues. For my current artificial barriers it would seem to come from a deep rooted belief that all the work I do is crap, and I shouldn’t bother with it anyway. This could also be because I just scrapped the last 2 months worth of work after talking to someone who’s in the industry (and gave me great insight without even knowing it) and I’m faced with yet another giant wall to overcome, but again it’s not the barrier I’m making myself think it is.
If you’ve managed to get this far into this post let me just say thank you. Whilst this blog is almost entirely self serving (in the fact that I’m really doing this all for myself, although I like to think I’m producing something of worth) this blog post is my way with dealing with the current climate of change that’s surrounding my life. I’ve had quite a hectic month and it doesn’t look like it’s going to settle down anytime soon. Hopefully though once everything settles down I’ll be able to rekindle my passion for starting my own company and bring something to the world that will really be of some worth. There’s nothing more therapeutic for me than making my own weaknesses public as, for some strange reason, it motivates me to work on them. Maybe I’m just some kind of weird exhibitionist in that way… 😉
Back in my teenage years I was a retail employee at an electronics chain called Dick Smith Electronics. It was a pretty good job for someone like me, since I had a keen interest in all things technical and the customers that frequented my store were known for their technical expertise. I put this down to the shop being right in the middle of industrial estate, since most of the customers would be other businesses. I worked there for a grand total of 6 years and I saw many technological trends come and go, but there’s one that really surprised me at the time and it still sticks with me to this day.
Most of the stuff I would sell was low end consumer goods and electronic components. Back in 2000 when flash memory was still expensive (and 512mb of ram was considered a decent gaming rig) MP3 players were few and far between. I remember on a trip to Japan in 2001 there were 512mb MP3 players for a tad less then AUD$700, and I couldn’t believe that we’d come that far technologically. It was probably around 2003 that I started to see the first of these devices start to trickle down into my retail chain, and some customers starting to look at them seriously.
Then enter the iPod. A classy little number that, whilst not the greatest spec wise (when compared to a Nomad), had a something that a lot of the other models I stocked lacked. Initially the take up was pretty minimal, since Apple had decided that everyone had to use a Firewire connection to transfer files to it. Although after a few generations they started to include USB 2.0, which was a good move but it would be naive to think that a mere connection change was responsible for the iPod’s success.
Apple did what they always do with their products, they marketed an image:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF9s3TpncAo
It is interesting to note the differences and similarities between this, the first ad for the iPod, and their current incarnations (which just happens to showcase my favourite band, Daft Punk):
The first thing to note is the strong focus both ads have on either the iPod itself or Apple’s technology. The first ad shows a regular person using a Macbook and an iPod and although it’s not shown all the time, you’re constantly aware that it’s there. The second generation of the iPod ads does this more blatantly, pretty much elminating everything except the iPod from your view. The second major element is the enjoyment of the use of the technology, which is what a lot of marketing campaigns for products like this build off of.
So, you may be wondering how something like the iPod has helped progress technology in any way. Well I can tell you from my experience in retail once the iPod hit critical mass, it wasn’t just the sale of iPods that increased. Most people would come in asking for an iPod but balk at the cost (the cheapest where circa $400, a bit much for a birthday present for your teenager) but we had several others which were kinder on the pocket. Apple noticed this fact and started churning out models like the Shuffle and Nano, which quickly took over this market segment. It was very much a build it and they will come scenario, since there was little demand for these devices beforehand and it is now a booming industry.
This has me experiencing quite a bit of cognitive dissonance, as I’m not the biggest Apple fan (although an iPod shuffle made its way into my life by way of a corporate gift) but I love the way they pushed and industry into the spolight. The first drove the hard drive manufacturer’s to make larger capacity small form factor drives so that their iPods could be smaller, lighter and better than their predecessors. More recently their demand for flash memory has driven the market to a point where solid state drives are now a consumer item. It truly is amazing what Apple has done for these markets.
This is the kind of trend that needs to be set by companies in order to further the progression of technology if they want to move faster than they ever have before. Whilst creating a cultural icon isn’t easy we know it can be done with careful marketing and nuturing of current installed base of consumers, and there are a few candidates, apart from Apple, who can do this (and already have):
So in essence the secret to technological innovation is to build a dedicated consumer base and then start releasing new technological ideas to them. As you build momentum you’ll see that people start craving the latest from you no matter what it is. Whilst this can lead to technological stagnation it will still generate a large following, spurring on technological development.
I can only hope that Virgin Galactic’s foray into space becomes as popular as the iPod.