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Book Summary: Stitched Stories

Author: Mukri

Substory: Preface

When I got my driving licence in US, the first thing that came to mind was to explore Bay area, where I lived. This was the era before Google and other digital maps. One had to carry a physical map and occasionally ask the nearest 711 for help with directions. Given that I had no destination in mind and the idea was to simply explore the city, I followed a simple algorithm. At every streetlight, I will pick the light that comes first with priority given to left in case both left and straight is allowed. The trick worked and that’s how I discovered Coit Towers, Chinatown, Ferry Building, Union Square, Palace of Fine Arts.

The inspiration for “Stitched Stories” comes from that trip that helped me explore San Francisco in a very unstructured yet structured manner.  These stories are algorithmically picked from a collection of non-fiction books. The next story is related to previous one by some concept. My hope is that these series of stories will stich different views to give you an interesting perspective of a topic.

In this episode, I have randomly picked one of my favorite story of “Chlorination” for water purification from Matt Ridleys’ book “How Innovation Works”. Ridley argues that innovation is a bottom-up process that happens as a direct result of the human habit of exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process developed according to a plan. Ridley walks us through how Dr. Leal in New Jersey got the water purification idea from a similar experiment at Lincoln, England which in turn was inspired by Indian Army Medical services who got this idea from typhoid outbreak in Kent.

From Ridleys book, we jump to another classic from Steven Johnsons’ “How we Got to Now”. Johnson starts his argument on the similar subject of “Chlorination” from innovation in glass that led to the invention of lenses. Johnson eventually leads to Dr. Leal in New Jersey but if you read his version of Dr. Leals’ story, it would appear that Dr. Leal did this all independently and was never inspired by the set of events that Ridley mentions in his book.

The interesting trivia in Johnson book is that Leal did not seek permission from government authorities to add Chlorine to Jersery city water. Taking “permission” as a cue, we move to another interesting liquid story and in this case, it Coke vs Pepsi war to be the first soda can to enter space. As crazy as it may sound, the two companies fought hard to be the first soda to enter the space. Coke was winning the race when just four days before the launch Pepsi got the permission to board the same Challenger space shuttle with Coke. This story comes from the book “How Soda Shook up the World” by Tristan Donovan.

The next stitch continues with the Nasa concept and this time its slightly deeper science and art of how a spacecraft picks “SpaceDust” which moves at almost fifty kilometres an hour using aerogel. Mark Miodownik explains this concept beautifully in his well-crafted science book “Stuff Matters”.

The next stitch will remind the reader of last year trade market story where share price of a company called Zoom Technologies (ticker ZOOM) went through the roof when many traders thought they were buying shares of Zoom Video Communications (ticker ZM). When NASA launched Pathfinder to explore Mars, the sales of a chocolate company Mars went up. This story from Jonah Berger book “Contagious” talks specifically about this story and how ideas catch on.

The next stitch takes us back to Mars but this time we are back to the planet Mars. This story is from the book “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Diamandis is a space entrepreneur and talks about the story of Mars mission in 1997 where in the goal was to land a probe on Mars at significantly low cost. Viking mission costed $3.5 billion and the total development cost for this project was capped at $150 million. Diamandis walks through the great story of how airbags were used to cushion the initial impact of landing.

The next stitch takes inside the darker side of Nasa culture. This story from David Epstien book “Range” talks about how the cultural downside at Nasa using the similarity of disaster of its two missions of Challenger and Columbia. It also talks how some aspect of culture changed and the successful launch of “Gravity Probe B” whose mission was to validate Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

At this time, I was hoping the next stitch would lead us to Einstien and theory of relativity but the algorithm chose hiring over Einstein – yes Einstein came second to hiring. The next stitch is from the Clayton Christensens’ book “How will you measure your Life”. Clayton explains the McCall theory of hiring to build a great team. He talks about his failure while he was hiring for a key position for his company CPS technology and wished that he knew McCall hiring theory at that time. He also takes another example of Intel SAP joint venture for Pandesic which failed probably due to the same reason.

Taking SAP as the clue, the next stitch takes us to the book “Play Bigger” by Ramadan, Peterso, Lochhead and Maney. This book talks about how innovators create new categories and become the category king. This specific story talks about how SAP perceived to enter the cloud-based business while all it was doing was to use this as a mechanism to protect its old business. In the process Salesforce became a behemoth focusing on the enterprise cloud software.

The next stitch is inspired by the Todd McKinnon who ran engineering at Salesforce and then co-founded Okta, a security identity system. This story from Ben Horowitz book “What You do is Who You are” talks about Todds decision to “risk the company” over “risking the culture”. Todd turned down Sony as a customer as he did not believe the company could deliver Sonys’ requirement. Instead of lying and getting the money, he decided not to sign up the account.

The reason why Okta was saved was getting venture fund at the right time. The next stitch takes us to Sony which never got venture money, struggled do pay salaries in its initial days yet turned out to be one of the most innovative company. This story from Clayton Christensen book “The Prosperity Paradox” has the perfect movie script on how Morita built and empire on his instincts and in the process fuelled Japans’ economy.

Pixar started as a hardware company and one of its struggles was to price its hardware. Ed Catmull book “Creativity Inc” talks about this challenge and how he took the wrong approach. Eventually he took his inspiration for Japanese firms of Sony and Toyota and incorporated them at Pixar – “You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility”.

The last stitch continues with Pixar but this time as a movie making company and not hardware company. This story from the book “Think Again” by Adam Grant walks through the team that produced the movie “Incredibles”. One of the most technically complex movies was engineered by a team of “’Black Sheep” who were the biggest misfits at Pixar.

Hope you enjoy these stories.

- Mukri