Friday, January 25, 2008

DC 2 is done!!! (1/24/08)

From what I learned from SDM 07, once DC2 is done, the Hell Month (January) is pretty much over. Although we still have 3 projects due, but I can definitely feel a huge load off my shoulder.

My DC2 team is fun, probably will be the wildest team I will ever be a part of at MIT. Part of the reason is that we are an all-guys team. We talked more about “life” than about DC 2. My DC1 is an all male group too. So I was wondering about the probability of an all-male DC2 team given the condition of an all-male DC 1 team. To simplify the computation, I set the class size to 60 people (11 female), therefore, 10 groups, each with 6 members. So it’s (C(6, 49) /C(6,60))² where C means Combination. The answer is about 0.024%. Lucky me!!!

Every team did a wonderful job on DC2. I was impressive by some of the solutions out there, especially with the 2 weeks timeframe. I am very satisfied with our presentation today as well. We covered all the bases. For both obesity and undernourishment issue, we had big picture architectural view, revealed all causes to the problem, narrowed the scope down, and offered final solution. We are the only team with a complete business plan (overview, product, biz model, economic of the biz, market def ad size, pricing, entry and growth strategy, competitor, competitive advantage, financial strategy, financial projection, and timeline). I love writing it. It gave me an opportunity to assess all facets of the business when launching a new product or company.

After the 5.5 hours of DC2 presentation marathon, we had a beer party at the Characters. It’s so nice to see everyone relaxed and truly enjoy the time together. It’s amazing what a few drinks can do to the direction of conversions. It brought our cohort much closer. However, this is probably the last time everyone is together, ever, because there are always a few people missing for business trips (according to SDM 07 and 06). I am going to miss January!

Leadership workshop (1/24/08)

Today we concluded the two-session leadership workshop. Jan Klein instructed both sessions. I have read about 5 to 6 books on leaderships so nothing is groundbreaking for me. We spent most of the time watching a documentary movie about the “big dig” and critiqued Fred Salvucci’s leadership. The positives are the usual characters of a great leader that we all heard of before. Some of the negatives that we came up with are blind sighted, inflexible, sacrificed too much for a personal vision, black-mailing North Carolina, etc.

Jan also mentioned Sloan distributed leadership model, which includes:
• Sensemaking: making sense of the world around us, coming to understand the context in which we are operating.
• Relating: developing key relationships within and across organizations.
• Visioning: creating a compelling picture of the future.
• Inventing: designing new ways of working together to realize the vision.

Overall, I think the workshop can be condensed to one day, and it lost some focus at the end. We talked about Career Anchor instead of leadership, valuable but not focused. I plan to join the leadership committee and hopefully I can provide some feedbacks.

The Cash communication system (1/18/08)

Louise Cash taught a session for presentation skills today. I had a number of similar workshops before, so most of her teachings were not new to me. However, since she came from theatrical background, she did spend some time on Board room walk (facing the audience at all the time, feeling the room out beforehand, etc) and how to position yourself (cheating out, body facing forward when talking to audience on the wings). She also talked about her black bag (distraction), which was memorable.

One thing created some controversies was what Louise called “creative vulnerability”. She used the example of Hillary’s tear. It showed that she’s a real, normal person, she is emotional, and she is one of us. Of course, creative vulnerability is not showing tears all the time, and its purpose is not trying to get pity points. Louis said that the key is to build up your credit and other people's confidence, and then you can use creative vulnerability to show the soft side of you.

The argument against creative vulnerability was what if it’s not legitimate? What if you faked it? Is it ethical? Will that be too manipulative? I don’t have a definitive answer for that. I think it’s totally depends on the situation. I don’t mind people talking about their problems and struggles. But if Hillary did deliberately fake her tears, I would have big problem with that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Putting Your Research in a Business Context (1/15/08)

Dr. Linda Plano from MTTC (Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center) gave us a brief presentation on how to pitch your business plan to VCs. A few useful points I wrote down:
- Should always prepare a 30 second elevator pitch, 10/20/30 minutes investor pitch (10 min being the most important), and a one hour post-NDA Investor presentation. Also have a 1 page written extract, 3 - 5 page exec summary, and 25 page biz plan in your folder.
- Don’t tell them exactly how it works, tell them how it benefits people
- It’s easier to improve something than to bring something in completely new
- If I have more time, I will write less (short, concise and easy to remember)
- Always understand your audience, their interests (10 to 15 x return in 3 to 5 yrs) and their technical level

What to include in your pitch
- why should investor care? - what do you do? - why are you better? - why you and your team? - is it real? - what does it take to get to my ROI?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Robo-Olympic (1/10/08)

DC 1 is finally in the book. I slept on average 4 – 5 hours a day for the last 7 days, but the final outcome was rewarding (well, somewhat). Our team finished second out of 10 teams. Prof. Katz said in Human Side of Technology class that in a competition, the first place is the most satisfying, the third place is the next most satisfying, but the second place is the most pitiful because second place is always a loser. I have to disagree on this one. I felt I am a winner, because we set a goal and we reached the goal. Our goal wasn’t to win it all. Our goal was to do as much as we can and get more sleep than the other teams.

Key Lessons
1. Testing – Many teams stayed late on the last day, some even camped out in the breakout room, making changes, enhancements, tweaks, what have you. How much test have they done? How can you be sure that something you built 4 o’clock in the morning when your brain is on life support inside your skull is going to work in the real environment? “What happened? It was working this morning.” Well, answer to that is obvious.
2. Priority – I heard all of the teams said “We realized that we don’t have time to do everything”. So I asked one team “What are your priorities”, the answer is “Everything!” Our team decided priority level for each event and we planned everything around those priorities. We assigned tasks according priorities, we resolved conflicts according to priorities, and we wrote priorities on our forehead so others can see what current priority is.
3. Configuration management – We ran into troubles early with version management, both for hardware and for software. Who’s changing what, who’s updating what and at what version? Things were out of order quickly. We straightened out the issues at the end, but we should plan the configuration management process early in the project cycle.
4. Requirements – There are lots of bonus points other teams left on the table. Raising a flag worth 5 points but not every team is doing it. We had an extensive requirement review session and every tiny bit of details is captured. Other robots started doing salsa dance already, and we were still in requirement phase. But it paid off in the end. We were able to capture maximum points within our capability.
5. KISS – Our robot is the smallest and simplest. The crossbow design was unglamorous, but accurate. The tow-truck was powered by 4 motors with only 2 worm gears. Our opponent had 6 motors, 8 gears on each motor, take 20 minutes to tie the rope, but fell apart during the competition.
6. Coopetition - cooperative competition - From my observation, teams that worked in a vacuum did not perform well in the competition. For an idea that you think is so brilliant, 2 or 3 other teams were already collaboratively developing the next version. One team may lack a software resource while another may need a hardware advice. There is one team that thought its Tug-of-War setup is so strong that they didn’t even benchmark against other teams. They were out in the first round. They can either be all in stalemate or help each other out and make progress. I want to point out that the value-to-value trade won’t always happen at the same time, and certainly won’t be fair all the time. But if you are afraid to be on the short end of the deal, then you will lose the opportunity to those who are not afraid; opportunity seldom comes the second time.

What can I do better if I can do it all-over-again? Tons of things we can improve. But if I must pick a top-3, I would say
1) To find a better way to utilize all of the team member’s talents. Most of our team members are aggressive, but a few are more reserved. In today’s “who does it first takes it” world, they were left out. We collectively failed to find a better way to discover and leverage their talents.
2) To innovate continuously. I was one of the first few people who finished line tracking code, and I became complacent. I sat on my asses. I didn’t modify that code ever since. Other teams all knew the logic, and some enhanced it, while others built the newer and shiner one. Guess what! The race event was our lowest score for the 5 event. Granted that the race event was our lowest priority, but that face that I didn’t even bother to think improvements is scary.
3) To seek advices from SDM upper classmen or others inside the institution. There is no rule says that we can’t receiving some consulting. Every SDM cohort did this activity, what are their pitfalls? There are other robotic competitions in MIT, what are their secrets? They are sitting there watching and laughing their asses off, why not go out and ask. What can we loose?

Here is a quick re-cap:
Event 1 – open ceremony. Our theme song was “Who let the dogs out”. Our team name was “Dawg”. Our robot was built in a bull dog stand. Everyone on our team barked “Wolf Wolf” during our robot’s dance routine. To cap it off, our robot received no penalties. Judges loved it and gave us the second highest score.

Event 2 – archery. First shot, a medium range target. Our robot located both edges correctly, however, when rolling backwards to it’s finally shooting position, the left wheel slipped and misaligned our robot just a little. First shot missed the target by half an inch. Second shot, a medium range again, but this time the robot didn’t find the far edge of the target. Perplexed by this behavior, I ordered a third medium range, but this time, the judge put the target in maximum distance of the medium range. Our robot became completely blind as expected. With 2 shots left, we want to at least put points on the board, so a short range was a no-brainer. Locate, set, and shoot. “BOOM!” first hit of the day among all the teams. For the last shot, we inspected our robot and ordered another medium range. “BAM!” another hit, 43 points, and 1st place finisher in the event. Other teams either had a complete disaster (parts flying or shooting at the judges) or were unduly ambitious. I truly admire the ingenuity of some robots, they aim further, shoot further, only if their strategy were better…

Event 3 – relay race
Our strategy going in was not the take any penalties, since this is our lowest priority event, and we didn’t have enough time to do sufficient testing. Surprisingly, my algorithm still worked, but our bulldog stand didn’t give us enough ground clearance so we couldn’t overcome the obstacles on the course. 0 points, but still finished fourth place, because some teams took penalties and still couldn’t finish the course.

Event 4 - Tug of war
Our winch design caused many controversies. But read the requirements people, “A bot must be able to displace itself in the right direction”. Our robot moved away from the opponent for about one inch. Done, meet the regulations! After all, I don’t see what people are arguing about. Our robot was about 1/3 of their robots’ weight and size, drives on 4 motors instead 6. All they had to do is to pull a dead weight forward. Anyway, we reached final 4 and lost.

Event 5 – Synchronized Dancing: Kudos to our dance partner that worked late to fix their hardware issues so that we could participate in the event. One of our team members worked late for this event, and it turned out to be a great success. Our song was “YMCA” and, again, no penalties. I don’t know how much we score since this is the last event, but good enough to give us the silver metal.

Katz (1/7/2008)

Prof. Katz is such an energetic person that I was wondering why he is drinking coffee? Have you ever considered de-caff, professor? He talked so fast and his knowledge was so vast that it’s impossible to keep up. I tried to take notes and luckily was able to capture a few interesting points in today’s Human Side of Technology class.

- you want to build your organization to deal problem not just in case, but just in time
- problem are mostly caused by people, their biased, preconceived judgments
- no organization made a major decision based on data, but based on information. So how to convert information from data?
- to innovate, you must understand the history innovation in your organization and its pattern
- vision means nothing unless communicated properly. What is MIT’s vision?
- In order to solve chronicle, large magnitude problem you must focus people (he used the MLK and JFK’s speech as examples)
- leaders in large companies are unwilling to change unless meet by a storm or a better opportunity
- much easier to convince someone that they will lose something if they don't take that risk, than convincing them they will gain something
- good company not only predict but also respond FAST to things that are not anticipated (new coke and classic coke example). Customer satisfaction derived from not 100% problem free, but fast responses to the problems. Customer respond 3 ways to problems - blind loyalties, exit, reciprocal obligations (the one we want)
- If there is no consensus within a group of norms or values with respect to the given issue, it is unpredictable. So A group is an amplifier of individuals but it can only amplify around the group’s consensus of norms and values. Implications: if you want decisions to accurately reflect the current norms & cultural values within the organization, then group decision making is more likely to achieve that result. However: If you want decisions to break free of the group's existing norms and cultural values, then group consensus is less likely to achieve that result. Instead, individual decision making is more likely needed to achieve such an outcome.
- companies usually don't know how innovation took place, so they can’t manage the process to generate innovations. How does org. leverage innovations from users, collect feedbacks from users
- for any new companies to compete with market leaders, don't compete in the area where leaders want to protect, go where they want to stay away, i.e. low end low margin
- Resistance to change: complacent, "not invented here" syndrome, org structure and hierarchy, current expectation is low, corp. culture. Resistance is often rooted in the system (structure, culture, traditions, assumptions, people, and processes).

First day of class (1/7/2008)

Although SDM program officially started last Thursday, today’s Prob & Stat class is my first “real” class in 5 years. It was reminiscent of my first college class, Assembly Language, in that I was excited, energized, and slightly worried (how much I am paying to sit in this place?). The student spirit has always been with me and I felt like a fish in the water in the academic environment. No politics to worry about, no ladders to climb, just me and a world of possibilities. What a wonderful feeling!!!

Coopetition (1/4/2008)

The SDM 08 cohort participated in a team building exercise today (1/4/2008). We were divided into our DC1 teams and did various exercises to learn about each other and to collectively perform tasks. The entire event is way too long in my opinion, but I did learn some key concepts. One thing stood out is Coopetition, or cooperative competition.

How do teams cooperate while competing against each other? How do companies share knowledge while trying to come out on top? How do counties help each other while seeking the competitive edge? Everyone thinks that they must keep a secret in order to be successfully. But Southwest Airline doesn’t have a secret. Nordstrom doesn’t have a secret. Instead of making earth-shattering breakthroughs, most leading companies beat their competitors by improving something every company already know or possess. Low price, customer service, corporation culture have been around for hundreds of years, nothing is secret here. Yet what can be shared and what must be locked up in a valet. If Coke releases their classic formula tomorrow, their market share is likely going to slide. But there is no reason that they can’t share their 100+ years of research experiences. They can even send chemists to help other companies develop their formulas, because teaching is learning. You can share your strategy because it probably works only for you. You can share your ideas because others might already researched it and can give you a pointer. This is one of those “no correct answer” question and different situation calls for different measurements. But the concept struck me and I will certainly seek ways for Coopetition in DC1 and beyond.

Another topic that bounded with me is about team development and group dynamics. We learned about Tuckman’s 4 stages of group development, which are forming, storming, norming and performing. I later found out Tuckman added a fifth stage, adjourning. My question was “Does every team go through a ‘storming’ stage in order to reach the performing stage?” But I looked back into my past and couldn’t remember any teams I have been involved with don’t have a period when members are fighting for leadership and pushing for their ideas. I also think Storming, Norming, and Performing is iterative cycle and teams can ended up in Performing (happy ending) or Storming (sad ending)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Spring schedule is set

15.905 - Technology Strategy
15.571 - Generating Business Value from IT
15.969 - User-Centered Innovation in the Internet Age
15.365J - Disruptive Technologies
15.980 - Organizing For Innovative Product Development
15.401 - Finance Theory I
ESD.40 – Product Design & Development
ESD.762 – Systems Optimization
ESD.802 – SDM Thesis Seminar

Coffee is brewing as we speak. MAY THE FORCE BE WITH ME!!!

Moved to Boston (12/18/2007)

Just Moved into the Westgate J2 on Tuesday and finally have some time to blog.

Dragging a U-Haul trailer and driving through the snow and wind in Pennsylvania and upstate NY wasn’t fun at all, but whole family made it safely. Weather here in Boston is depressing. It has been three major snow storms in a week, and you can see their presence from parked cars, with three distinctive layers of snow on top. It’s like the rock layers at Grand Canyon – a living history book.

I am going through some culture shock right now - the accent, the road rage, the price of a 12-pack, and most of all, the difficulty of parking. I circled for a half hour on the night of arrival, but failed to find a spot that would authorize me to sleep through the night without worrying about my car being towed. Finally, I pulled off the most brilliant move in my life. I parked at MIT police station. The most dangerous place is the safest place. Fortunately, everyone I met on campus is very helpful and polite. We have a party lined up on Sunday already. I am sure once we are settled in, fun will begin.