World’s Biggest Challenge – a brilliant, new startup – is attempting to solve what it calls “the world’s biggest challenge”!

Frustrated by the media?  Disillusioned by our seeming inability to come to grips with difficult issues?  Us too.  We think improving the credibility of the information we encounter is key to solving this problem.  In fact, we think it’s humanity’s biggest challenge. will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work wherever you are – as an overlay on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more – without requiring participation of the underlying site is a non-profit effort built on strong principles, and a clear vision of what it wants to achieve.  When I first discovered it via Twitter, I was stunned by its clarity on the subject, from the concept video by its founder – Dan Whaley – to the FAQs that ask hard-hitting questions and answer them.

The project has been self-funded till now, but to deliver a working prototype, has joined hands with Kickstart to help raise $100,000 via crowdsourcing.  Your pledged amount will not be charged unless they hit the goal.

Every dollar counts, and all of us will benefit from it. I’ve pledged my support, and hope you do too.

As on 13 Nov, 2011, has raised over $230k from donors across the world!

Thank You, Steve

On 5 Oct 2011, the world lost a creative genius and visionary – Steve Jobs.

Steve was not a spiritual guru or a political leader, but a force to reckon with… someone with both the determination and the talent to change the world.  And, change the world he did. 

Tomes have been written already on the man and his legacy, and a lot more will be said in the years to come.  Sure, he gave the world the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.  But he did much more than that.  Steve’s work touched millions of lives in more ways that even he could have imagined.  I just wanted to take this opportunity to pen down what he meant for me, and to thank him for the contribution he made to my life…

Thank you, Steve, for teaching us that “Design is how you Think!”

Thank you, Steve, for demonstrating that you can follow your dreams and change the world, without compromising on one or the other.

Thank you, Steve, for proving beyond a doubt that Less is More.

Thank you, Steve, for the learning that we don’t have to choose between Form and Function.

Thank you, Steve, for showing the world that it’s possible to raise the bar so high that you touch the sky.

Thank you, Steve, for having the courage and the conviction to go with your instincts and not ask us – the consumers – what we really wanted.

Thank you, Steve, for making a dent in the Universe…

You will be missed.

Innovation vs Quality

Thanks to a friend sharing a link on FB, I chanced upon an interesting post on the VC Circle blog entitled ‘Status Quo Police‘ by Adam Hartung.  The writeup covers many aspects of innovation in large scale enterprise, and the impediments that innovators face.  What particularly interested me was Hartung’s argument on how Quality systems and practices can often become the biggest obstacles to Innovation:

Quality – Who can argue with the need to have quality? Total Quality Management (TQM,) Continuous Improvement (CI,) and Six Sigma programs all have been glorified by companies hoping to improve product or service quality. If you’re trying to fix a broken product, or process, these work pretty well at helping everyone do their job better.

But these programs live with the mantra “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Measure everything that’s important.” If you’re innovating, what do you measure? If you’re in a new technology, or manufacturing process, how do you know what you really need to do right? If you’re in a new market, how do you know the key metric for sales success?

The key to success isn’t to have critical metrics and measure performance on a graph, but rather to learn from everything you do – and usually to change. Quality people hate this, and can only stand in the way of trying anything new because you don’t know what to measure, or what constitutes a “good” measure.

Now, I’ve spent a fair bit of my working life as a Six Sigma / Quality champion, and an even longer tenure developing cutting-edge Technology solutions for organizations.  Given my background, I always viewed Systems and Processes as two sides of the same coin.  In fact, I believed that real success in one depended on success in the other. 

But, Hartung has a point.

If you go by the classical approach, practitioners of Quality typically stick to the “what gets measured, gets improved” argument and, therefore, are unable to get a good grip around ideas that reek of blue-sky thinking and innovation.  How ironic that the champions of Change become obstacles to change itself!

On the other hand, innovators have to contend with uncharted territories and unknown experiences, often-times operating in an environment that does not understand their unique needs.  As Hartung elaborates:

… When you’re innovating, what you don’t know far exceeds what you know. You don’t know the market size, the price that people will pay, the first year’s volume (much less year 5,) the direct cost at various volumes, the indirect cost, the cost of marketing to obtain customer attention, the number of sales calls it will take to land a sale, how many solution revisions will be necessary to finally put out the “right” solution, or how sales will ramp up quarterly from nothing. So to create a business plan, you have to guess.

Everything done to efficiently run the old business is irrelevant when it comes to innovation.

When you think about it, for any organization to succeed, it must achieve a fine balance – between maintaining status quo and forging a new path, between encouraging new ideas and rewarding evolutionary growth, and ultimately, between Quality and Innovation.  Easier said than done, don’t you think?

How To Take Better Photos

This post is meant for newbie photographers who want to experiment with a little creative control.

So, you’ve bought a shiny new ultra-compact, or the latest DSLR you could afford.  And, you just can’t wait to start shooting every thing that comes your way, eager to show off your photography skills to your friends and family.  But…

When you start using that fancy new camera, you begin to wonder if it was all marketing hype.  Surely, modern technology can’t get that bad?!  Surely all those $$$ you spent on your latest toy couldn’t have been a waste?!

It happens to many of us.  Sometimes, it can get quite intimidating for newbies to get good results from their new tool.  Yes, modern cameras make it very easy to get “technically” good results – provided you let your camera do the thinking.  That means turning the dial to the Green / Auto / Idiot mode and getting predictable, boring results.  But, if you venture into the Program/Aperture/Shutter/Manual modes, or start fiddling around with the 257+ menu items built into your camera, you may soon discover that the results are far from ideal.

If you still want to get more juice out of your camera, and don’t mind learning just a couple of things to begin with, there is still hope.

Here’s a simple 4-Step guide to get you started:

Step 1: Turn the dial to P for Program mode (Use A for Aperture if you’re shooting portraits instead)

Step 2: Compose your frame, Shoot the pic, and review on your LCD screen

Step 3 a: If happy with the result, go to Step 2 to shoot some more!

Step 3 b: If unhappy, find the [+/-] button on your camera, and change the setting to brighter/darker, and then go to Step 2

If your camera offers the option, review the “Histogram” for the pic, and tweak the Exposure settings till you get a well-spaced graph; It is the simplest way to ensure that you have got the required details in the frame, irrespective of the quality/size of your LCD screen.

Step 4: Rinse and repeat from Step 2, for each new frame.

Bottom line : If there’s one thing you need to master to get better results from your camera, it would have to be the Exposure Compensation.  Remember, all cameras “meter” (read the light) differently, and the [+/-] compensation you will need for every frame will vary.  So, learn to use that feature well.  Happy clicking!

Bonus Tip: If you are aiming for “accurate color rendition” in your photos, you will need to get comfy with the White Balance setting on your digital camera.  Again, there is no such thing as the ‘right’ setting – it’s a matter of personal taste.  But, it helps to know what Shade / Tungsten / Flourescent can do for each shot that is not taken in direct sunlight…

See Also : Understanding Histograms

FreeAgent Checklist

Another gem from Seth Godin – ‘16 questions for free agents‘ – helps any one starting out as an entrepreneur / freelancer / project manager, by asking them 16 questions that will guide them to make the most important choice they’ll make.

Here are some of my favourite ones from the list… 

– Who are you trying to please?
– Are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?
– Is it more important to add new customers or (engage with) existing ones?
– Are you prepared to actively sell your stuff?
– Which: to invent a category or to be just like Bob/Sue, but better?
– Choose: teach and lead and challenge your customers, or do what they ask…
– Do you want your customers to know each other (a tribe)?
– What does busy look like?

 These questions may just mark the beginning of a journey for you.  And, an important one at that…