littleBits: Designing A Gender-Neutral Toy

C-Suite Strategies, a special supplement in The Wall Street Journal, featured an interview with Ayah Bdeir, founder of littleBits Electronics, makers of gender-neutral kits for building electronic toys — “snap-together electronic circuits, motors, lights and motors.”

“We want to help kids and adults understand the world around them further and reinvent it,” Ms. Bdeir, herself an engineer, says. In response to a question about how she creates gender-neutrality, especially in a category that is traditionally male-oriented, she responds:

“We are deliberately gender-neutral in the design of our product, packaging and communications, the colors we pick, the inventors we feature, the inventions we select [for publicity]. We promote creativity in art, in music, in design, not gendered hobbies. We market littleBits as a tool for invention, learning and play, as opposed to marketing it as a toy, which avoids placing it in either the pink or blue aisle.

The traditional association with robotics and vehicles is that they’re boys’ tools. So, we have bright colors that look like candy. There’s an extra effort to make the circuits look beautiful. And it turns out boys are not turned off. Anecdotally, our teachers tell us it’s close to 40% to 50% girls, which is unheard of in electronics.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Design Science of Conversational Agents

“The challenge of creating a computer “personality” is now one that a growing number of software designers are grappling with,” reports The New York Times. “A new design science is emerging in the pursuit of building what are called “conversational agents,” software programs that understand natural language and speech and can respond to human voice commands. However, the creation of such systems, led by researchers in a field known as human-computer interaction design, is still as much an art as it is a science.”

“Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the ‘uncanny valley,’ in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring … Beyond correct pronunciation, there is the even larger challenge of correctly placing human qualities like inflection and emotion into speech. Linguists call this ‘prosody,’ the ability to add correct stress, intonation or sentiment to spoken language.”

“The highest-quality techniques for natural-sounding speech begin with a human voice that is used to generate a database of parts and even subparts of speech spoken in many different ways. A human voice actor may spend from 10 hours to hundreds of hours, if not more, recording for each database.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Wired to Create: The Chaos of the Inventive Mind

The New York Times: “Creativity is a process that reflects our fundamentally chaotic and multifaceted nature,” write Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, authors of Wired to Create. “It is both deliberate and uncontrollable, mindful and mindless, work and play.”

“While creative people run the gamut of personalities, Dr. Kaufman’s research has shown that openness to experience is more highly correlated to creative output than I.Q., divergent thinking or any other personality trait. This openness often yields a drive for exploration … These are people energized and motivated by the possibility of discovering new information.”

“It’s the thrill of the knowledge chase that most excites them,” the authors write, while also noting that turning that knowledge into ideas can be an uncomfortable process: “Those murky, ambiguous places, as highly imaginative people well know, are quite often where the creative magic happens,” they advise.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Does The Jump Shot Wreck Teamwork?

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s impossible to name any one creator of the jump shot, but once it appeared, it brought chaos to a previously controlled game. In the early 20th century, basketball offenses featured weaves and passes until an open player could fire a set shot—both feet firmly planted on the ground—with two hands … Many of the first jump shooters … redefined what was possible. They held the ball over their head as they leapt, making their shots impossible to block.”

“As the popularity of the jump shot spread, basketball turned into a high-scoring spectacle … Consider the impact of the shot on college basketball. Starting in 1939, the first 11 NCAA national championship games featured an average score of 49.1–39.2. By the following decade (1950-59), scoring had increased by an order of magnitude, with the title game averaging 74.9–66.2. Yet critics still ridiculed the tactic.”

“Hall of Famer Dick McGuire … believed that the jump shot gave individuals too much power, robbing the game of teamwork … Former Notre Dame coach Moose Krause … believed that basketball became too easy by 1957 and ‘gets less and less interesting every year.'”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When Collaboration = Interruption

The Economist: “Why have organisations been so naive about collaboration? One reason is that … any fool can record how many people post messages on Slack or speak up in meetings, whereas it can take years to discover whether somebody who is sitting alone in an office is producing a breakthrough or twiddling his thumbs … A second reason is that managers often feel obliged to be seen to manage: left to their own devices they automatically fill everybody’s days with meetings and memos rather than letting them get on with their work.”

“About 20% of company stars keep themselves to themselves. So organisations need to do more to recognise that the amount of time workers have available is finite, that every request to attend a meeting or engage in an internet discussion leaves less time for focused work and that seemingly small demands on people’s time can quickly compound into big demands. Helping people to collaborate is a wonderful thing. Giving them the time to think is even better.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Loyalty & The Late Adopter

Those who are slower to adopt new products or services tend to be more loyal to their choices, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Typically, a late adopter is “a person who buys a product or service after half of a population has done so. Late adopters tend to share certain characteristics: They are skeptical of marketing and tend to point out differences between advertised claims and the actual product. They often value a product’s core attributes, ignoring the bells and whistles intended to upsell the latest model. They may not try something new until weeks, months or even years after the crowd has moved on.”

“It takes a long time to change late adopters, but once they’ve done all that research, and once they are convinced about a product, they are going to stay for a long time,” says Sara Jahanmir of the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon.

Late adopters are also believed to have “important things to tell companies about the role new products should play. Because they tend to be highly critical, late adopters can be useful to companies perfecting their wares … By listening to late adopters of the old version of a product, developers can create a new version that is quicker to be adopted.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail