Five Things Jean Paul Gaultier Can Teach Innovators

A week ago, I was in San Francisco visiting friends. We had the most perfect San Francisco summer day that Saturday: gray, cool and windy. It was a great day for culture, so we decided to go see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk (on through August 19th) at the de Young. I saw the same exhibit last year in Montréal where it started. It blew me away then, and it inspired me this time around.

Now, I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination. I do, however, find art and fashion to be incredible storytelling mediums, beyond anything technology could offer. I thought Gaultier’s exhibit was so creative, so inventive, so beyond inquisitive that it exemplified innovation for me. Jean Paul Gaultier’s strong point of view and storytelling capabilities are something from which one should learn as much as one envies.

Bending and blurring the line between the masculine and feminine is a big theme in Gaultier’s collection. He brings diverse cultural aesthetics into his haut couture and prêt-à-porter collections. All the while, telling the story of modern masculinity and its evolution in our society.

The exhibit is rife with inspiration. As a technologist, I was especially inspired by the following:

  1. Have a Strong Point of View: There’s no time for mediocrity of thought. Take a stand and pursue it. Not everyone’s going to like it, but so be it. You don’t want to be on your deathbed lamenting the fact of being boring.
  2. Embrace the Fringe: Just because something isn’t popular, doesn’t mean it’s not useful or valuable. Innovators see value in the most mundane, ordinary, and sometime, outcast elements. Keep your eyes open for the extraordinary in ordinary things.
  3. Tell a Story: Storytelling is what makes people connect with you. Whether you’re building a clothing line, software, company or a country, it’s the story you tell that captures people’s imagination. Not what you’re building.
  4. Be Yourself: You’re most effective and authentic when you’re being yourself. Hiding any aspect of who you are will directly or indirectly hinder your chances of success.
  5. Have Fun: Enjoy the process because there are no guarantees in life. Be passionate, care deeply and enjoy the ride!

I believe technologists could benefit immensely by stepping outside the bubble of tech to draw inspiration from other disciplines.  There’s so much to learn from theater, art, fashion, music, martial arts, sports, …etc. The most effective innovator in our lifetime, Steve Jobs, drew much of his inspiration and innovation from calligraphy and type theory.

The world around us offers much mental stimulation. Are we tapping into it?

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Jobs is a Four Letter Word

Many people might mistake this book for a mere biography of the man that made Apple a household name and its products coveted by millions around the world. It’s not.

This book is actually three books in one. It’s a business book on how to (and not to) run a company using Apple, NeXT and Pixar as case studies. It’s also a history book on the ascent and the drama behind the consumer electronics evolution. And as its title suggests, it’s the fascinating story of one of the most gifted people of our time.

As a business book, Isaacson writes about three distinct business practices. The first is how to really create a company from scratch. The passion exuded by Jobs and Wozniak is detailed with infectious enthusiasm in the first half of the book.

The second practice (and one often not talked about in business books) is how to drive a company to the ground. The book is rife with examples of internal politics, lack of leadership and the absence of focus that truly illustrate how companies fail.

The last practice is how to build and operate a creative company that endures. For me, this is the most fascinating narrative of all. But to fully appreciate it, one must truly understand the first two, which almost always precede this one.

The book offers a great case study of three companies: Apple, NeXT and Pixar. One fascinating vignette in the book draws a contrast between Apple and Sony and why Apple was successful in conquering the consumer-end of the music business while Sony, who was in a favorable position to do exactly that, failed to do so. This story draws attention to the importance of inter-departmental cohesion that Apple possessed and Sony didn’t, to the success of innovation in a company.

Business leaders reading this book will learn a lot about the power of “focus” in business. Steve Jobs’s most doled out advice was “focus.” Throughout the book, we learn how Jobs followed his own advice to a deadly fault.

As a business book, it is amongst the best.

It’s also an even better history book. It details the ascent of personal computing from the perspective of the very people that were (and still are) at its helm. The book doesn’t only cover Apple’s evolution, but Full Article

Sweetness and Blood by Michael Scott Moore

Catching a Wave Across the World of Global Surf Culture

I love surfing. I’ve always been fascinated by the surf culture (Point Break is one of my favorite movies ever.) So when I saw this book, I did what any self-respecting Southern California surfer dude would do: I bought it.

I was expecting a “surfari” of sort but what I got was so much more. I was immersed in a global adventure, history lessons, cultural analysis and fine reporting by the pithy prose of Michael Scott Moore. A foreign correspondent and a world traveler himself, Moore took me on a global journey that is as unique as it is enriching. He wrote nine very entertaining and informative chapters about the culture of surfing around the world starting in California and moving on to Hawaii, Indonesia, Germany, Morocco, England, Israel, Gaza, Cuba, Sao Tome and Principe, and Japan.

Hawaii has surfing in its blood, culture and history, and the state just recently made it a High School sport. In, California, Huntington Beach is crowned “Surf City” and by so sparked the birth of a new counterculture that soon after took over the nation. In Munich, people surf canals and risk being arrested for doing so. In Morocco, a surf school is instituted by the King to counter the radical Islamic wave threatening the youth. In Gaza, surfing is as popular as a falafel sandwitch.

The stories collected in this book are a testament to the power of American pop-culture and its indelible effect on the lives of people worldwide. I’m not just talking Madonna, Michael Jackson, Eminem, Friends, Glee or Desperate Housewives. I’m talking about skateboarding, rollerskating and of course, surfing. The American way of life is evidently embraced and emulated even in parts of the world where we think we’re so despised.

You don’t have to like surfing to enjoy this book. If you love travel and adventure, you will enjoy it. If you love history and culture, you will enjoy it. And of course, if you love all of that and love to surf, you will definitely love this book.

The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson

This book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, other in the manufacture of sorrow.

– Erik Larson.

The Devil in The White City The Spirit of Entrepreneurship in America

This is a fascinating book. Yes it is a great read full of suspenseful moments, and at times horrific details, of the murders by H. H. Holmes in Chicago circa 1890s. Yes it is a great book about the Columbus World's Fair that was built in Chicago in 1893 by America's greatest architects. Yes it is entertaining and yes it is historic.

But what makes this book fascinating to me is the fact that it's a case study of entrepreneurship in America in the late 1800s.

The project at hand was the World's Fair and the man behind it was Daniel Burnham. Burnham was a successful Chicago-based architect when his firm was selected to design and manage what most thought was an impossible undertaking: build a World's Fair that makes America (and Chicago in particular) proud. Expectations were very high given the astounding success of the World's Fair in Paris a few years earlier at which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled.

Burnham was not a man with small vision. He was known for this frequent admonition:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.

Burnham made no little plans indeed. He built the Montauk–the first skyscraper ever.

Once built, the Montauk was so novel, so tall, it defied description by conventional means.

He was one of the most celebrated entrepreneurs of his time and this book is about how he managed to take on something so ambitious, so impossible, and made it a reality.

Burnham had to deal with government bureaucracy, inflated egos, unexpected setbacks, budgetary issues, amongst other things. Sounds familiar?

The Burnham story is a testament to the American innovative spirit. It's also an inspiration to all entrepreneurs and those who "choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible."

Are you one of those lucky few? Find out if you got what it takes. Read this book.

American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915

I was lucky enough to see the American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915 exhibit at LACMA in Los Angeles almost 14 months ago. It's definitely one of my favorite exhibits, surpassed only by the Machu Picchu exhibit that was held at the Natural History Museum several years earlier.

Below are several paintings that caught my attention by the stories they told and by the beauty they exuded. I hope you enjoy them as well.

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John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)
Watson and the Shark, 1778

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 William Sidney Mount (American, 1807–1868)
Eel Spearing at Setauket, 1845

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Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
Breezing Up (A Fair Wind), 1873–76  

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George Bellows (American, 1882–1925)
Club Night, 1907  

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John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815)
Paul Revere, 1768  

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Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741–1827)
The Exhumation of the Mastodon, 1805–8 

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Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910)
The Gulf Stream, 1899   

Foreigners Attending US Grad Schools Way Down: Wake Up, Xenophobes

Oh no. This is not good. Will America still lead if it continues to stem the flow of raw, ambitious and hungry foreign talent? The answer is NO.

What’s really sad is that instead of stopping the illegal, poor masses flooding this country every day, setting us back culturally and economically, we’re keeping out the educated, smart guys who can actually lift us out of the state of stagnation in which we’ve been bogged down for so long.

Foreigners Attending US Grad Schools Way Down: Wake Up, Xenophobes

It’s happening: Lou Dobbs’ dream come true and Silicon Valley’s worst nightmare. We’re already seeing the reverse brain drain as smart immigrants take their US educations and experience building companies and creating technology back to their home countries.  But now, xenophobia and the lack of any sensible H-1B visa policy is keeping the world’s brightest minds from coming to the U.S. in the first place.

U.S. grad school admissions for would-be international students plummeted this year, according to the Council of Graduate Schools—the first decline in five years.  The decline was 3% on average, thanks to increases from China and the Middle East, but some countries saw double-digit declines in interest in a U.S. education. Applicants from India and South Korea fell 12% and 9% respectively—with students turning their sights on schools in Asia and Europe instead.

via www.techcrunch.com