The Changing World: Part 4 – The Apple Watch and Nurturing Change

Ok, we did it, my wife and I bought Apple Watches. As I said in the last post of this series, sometimes it’s hard to understand the significance of an innovation without personally experiencing it. After a couple weeks with the Apple Watch, I noticed that it adds another dimension to the technology equation. It is not “must have” technology, but it does address several issues:

  • Notification stress: Low priority notifications can be turned off and a quick glance at your wrist shows important ones.
  • Phone interactions: How many times a day do you pick up your phone to check it? Since important notifications can be viewed at a glance (literally), my phone now stays in my pocket. For people without pockets, it saves digging in a purse or bag to look at the phone or answer a call.
  • The Health App: Though it has some problems, it works. I really do stand up at least 12 times a day now, even on super busy days. Being more aware of motion is one good first step to health.

Most technological developments are incremental: features added, bugs removed, etc., but once in awhile risky new ground needs to be broken. The Apple Watch is this type of development. It certainly has its problems. It is a bit slow, battery life is marginal, and there is a steep initial learning curve, but it became unobtrusive after a couple days. Now it feels weird to not wear it.

However, for niche technology companies, a failure in taking a big risk can jeopardize the entire company. One solution is by occasionally taking smaller, calculated risks. Instead of just updating an old product, use the opportunity to explore a new approach to solving a problem. Experimenting with Software as a Service (SaaS), Cloud Computing, distributed processing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all examples of calculated risks. Additional development resources can be allocated to the successful “experiments.”

A new idea is like a plant seedling, it needs to be nurtured and handled gently until it develops roots and can grow on its own. Organizationally, there are a variety of ways to achieve this such as protected development teams and “companies within companies.” Big examples include Amazon’s “Lab126” that develops the Kindle and Fire hardware or Microsoft Research that does research in areas ranging from Machine Learning to Computer Vision.

The next post in this series will dive a bit deeper into the organization issues involved in nurturing change. In the meantime, here is an unintended consequence of the Apple Watch, an epidemic of HWS (hairy wrist syndrome).


Monthly Recap: Evolution Versus Revolution – More Thoughts on Change

This month marked the end of an era in Acoustics. Dr. Bruel worked right up to the end, celebrating his 100th birthday with over 100 people and attending the March meeting of the Danish Acoustical Society before passing on April 2nd, 2015. He celebrated his 100th birthday with a style and flair that was his trademark throughout his life. “A Great Acoustician is Quiet” is a short post about my personal experience with Dr. Bruel in 1995.

Dr. Bruel truly changed the world through acoustics by developing products ranging from the first commercially practical measurement microphones to advanced ultrasound machines and photo acoustic gas analyzers. During my early years as an instrumentation engineer working at a consulting company, I remember taking apart one of those gas analyzers. Coming from an electrical engineering background, I didn’t know anything about Bruel and Kjaer, but immediately realized that it was a work of art inside with beautifully designed circuit boards, pumps, tubing, and mechanical components. My first thought was either these people are geniuses or they are completely crazy. When I joined Bruel and Kjaer a couple years later, I found out they were a bit of both. One thing I learned during my 15+ years at Bruel and Kjaer was that change through evolution can be more powerful than so-called “market disruptors” which attempt to be more of a revolutionary change. Another company that changed the world was Lockheed Martin and the post, “Learning to Run a Company in One Afternoon,” provides a glimpse into the management philosophy behind the Skunkworks division that created breakthroughs such as the U-2 surveillance aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the stealth bomber.

Of course, today Apple is the primary example of evolutionary change. The post “The Changing World: Part 3 – Walking the Razor’s Edge of Change” uses the Apple Watch as an example of walking the razor’s edge of change. The watch is a major risk, but surprisingly many people in the high tech world see Apple as lagging behind the cutting edge of technology. Android phones have had NFC payments (Apple Pay) and the equivalent of the Apple Watch for years. However, these products have not gained popular acceptance. Google has even tried the revolutionary approach with Google Glass and the backlash was severe. People wearing Google Glass began to be called Glass-holes. An upcoming post will explore how it is possible for “the cutting edge” can be such a relative concept.

Other topics this month included DEWESoft’s excellent free training resource called “PRO Training,” the surprisingly popular “Creativity, John Cleese, and Taylor Swift,” and the hopefully humorous “Wardley’s Scale of Corporate Desperation.” If you are hearing “culture eats strategy for breakfast” around the office, you might want to polish your resume. Finally, as monthly recap bonus, National Instruments is in the middle of a webinar series on “Sensor Measurement Fundamentals.” Some of them sound like a marketing person reading from a script, but if you can live with that, the material itself is excellent.

As always, feel free to send ideas on topics of interest. Research interests, niche technology sales and marketing problems, training, and social media questions are all welcome suggestions for future posts.


The Changing World: Part 3 – Walking the Razor’s Edge of Change

As I mentioned in a recent monthly recap, I’ve been shocked by the reactions to the Apple Watch. They range from ridiculous to the surreal to everything in between. Here are a few more examples:

Whether you like the idea of wearable technology or not, my favorite quote was from Lauren Goode’s review on ReCode, “But Apple Watch is not a cure-all, and it’s likely not a timepiece you will pass down to your grandkids. It is a well-designed piece of technology that will go through a series of software updates, until one day, years from now, when the lithium ion battery can no longer hold much of a charge and it won’t seem as valuable to you.”

Apple is walking the razor’s edge of change. They envisioned and successfully built the first commercially viable touch screen smartphone. Even if you prefer Android or Windows Phone, it’s hard to imagine the world without them. With billions in the bank, Apple can afford to take major risks that other companies can’t, but with an increasingly competitive marketplace even for niche technology companies, is there a middle path?

The answer is yes, but if a company does not have this mindset as part of its corporate culture, it is very difficult to develop. It requires a sort of “start-up” mentality that can live inside a successful, probably conservative, company. In the acoustics and vibration field, several companies have made the shift including:

  • Dewesoft – A wide range of advanced, reasonably priced, DAQ and analysis solutions
  • National Instruments – Very low cost, “commodity,” DAQ and powerful analysis
  • Faber Acoustical – Advanced signal processing for smartphones
  • DTS – Amazing small and capable DAQ and analysis software

The next post in this series will provide some tips on how to create and nurture a project that walks “the razor’s edge of change.”



A Great Acoustician is Quiet

The end of an era. I met Dr. Bruel personally when I first started at Bruel and Kjaer over 17 years ago. Bruel and Kjaer had just been purchased by a German bank after having some financial difficulties. He taught a brief class at B&K Headquarters in Naerum, Denmark on impedance tubes and taught it with such enthusiasm and excitement that I still love impedance tubes to this day. You would have thought he would be upset about “losing” his company, but his commitment to Acoustics far outweighed that. He was a true visionary who transformed the world through Acoustics!

Here is a great article at the Bruel and Kjaer website:


Monthly Recap: The World is Barely Keeping Up with Apple…

And Google… and technological change in general… so this month’s posts were all about change… again… Topics such as changes in the buyer’s process explored how change affects sales professionals and the risk of change for change’s sake explored the more philosophical aspects of change. Now, when a company announces that its industry is “stabilizing,” it catches my interest – it is only a matter of time before disruptive competitors will begin to take serious market share. The post “Is that the Light at the End of the Tunnel?” explored this idea in depth.

For example, I’ve been shocked by the negative reactions to the Apple Watch. Here are a few examples both from friends and major news sources:

When I was writing the recent post that used Nintendo as an example, I realized that there is a natural tendency to reflexively fear and criticize new technology. Breakthrough products from the phonograph to original iPhone (no video recording, no copy / paste, bluetooth limitations, etc.) have all had their share of vocal haters. This is certainly true of the Apple Watch even though very few people have even seen the product yet. It is also true of Apple Pay. I was traveling and a millennial barista at Starbucks told me he didn’t think Apple Pay was secure. I asked him how he liked to pay for things, prompting “debit card, right?” He responded, “Yeah, of course.” Even somebody that has grown up with tech didn’t realize that Apple Pay doesn’t store or transmit the card number at all so it is a much more secure form of payment than debit cards.

Maybe Apple Watch, Apple Pay, Apple TV, etc. will succeed and maybe not, only time will tell, but technology publications have noticed the trend and started columns like Re/code’s (Walt Mossberg / Kara Swisher) “Too Embarrassed to Ask” which covers topics like “Wi-Fi versus Bluetooth” and the Huffington Post’s “5 Tech Terms You Secretly Wish You Understood.” These resources can help people feel more comfortable with the technology that literally surrounds them.

Part of this backlash is due to technology news reporting. The NYT article was definitely clickbait. Apple products harmful?! There is even a name for this: Betteridge’s law of headlines which states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” Technology already causes stress for many people so it must be a relief to read articles dismissing tech, then they can safely ignore it and reduce their fear level.

These topics will be explored in more detail in an upcoming post, “The Changing World: Part 3 – Walking the Razor’s Edge of Change,” but in the meantime I find it helpful to pause, take a breath, and look at change as an opportunity to grow. I might buy an Apple Watch, I might not, but it allows me to rethink the way I interact with a product that I pull out of my pocket literally dozens of times a day.

As a bonus to subscribers, here is a fun article from James Altucher. He is a bit all over the place, but somehow his article, “I Prefer To Leave Early” really caught my attention. Technically, the article should be called “I Prefer to Leave On-time,” but that just doesn’t have the same dramatic ring to it. A quick summary might be to say that “good timing is everything.” James is a bit pedantic so here is one more bonus from a guy who is never pedantic, Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin. His post “My Top 10 Quotes on Change” is excellent (and a quick read). My favorite is “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy wrote this 115 years ago so maybe it is finally time to get comfortable with change.

As always, feel free to send ideas on topics of interest. Research interests, niche technology sales and marketing problems, training, and social media questions are all welcome suggestions for future posts.