“The Mother of All Demos is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Englbart’s December 9, 1968 […] The live demonstration featured the introduction of a complete computer hardware and software system called the oN-Line System or more commonly, NLS. The 90-minute presentation essentially demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revisions control, and a collaborative real-time editor (collaborative work). Engelbart’s presentation was the first to publicly demonstrate all these elements in a single system. The demonstration was highly influential and spawned similar projects at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. The underlying technologies influenced both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows graphical user interface operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s.” – The Mother of All Demos, Wikipedia.
Compelling demonstrations can make all the difference when introducing emerging technologies. There is no slideware or paper substitute for the kind of revelations, quality insights, and lasting emotions that we all get when experiencing things live and first hand. On the research side, interactive demonstrations have become invaluable tools that expose and test concepts. Moreover, they prompt invaluable feedback by questioning, validating, unveiling unsuspected items as well as winning hearts and minds to further advance a cause.
Those are some of the reasons why I prioritize demo development and my research process involves activities such as field trips and ethnographic insights captured in environments like the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago and open-door showcases at renowned institutions like Fermilab. Successful science exhibits make complex topics approachable and engaging. They are carefully designed with craftsmanship pride to be perceived as astute, immersive and to appeal to our brain’s intuition and intellect.
The above graphic features quotes from Albert Einstein and Nicholas Negroponte on the left, coupled with Salvador Dalí and Arthur C. Clarke on the right. I created that poster’s first version a few years ago and became my reference framework for prototyping and demonstration since. The photographs are courtesy of Wikipedia. Here are further insights on what these quotes mean to me:
1.- DEMO OR DIE – The introduction of inventions and diffusion of innovations relies on effectively conveying clear and concise value. Interacting with engaging demonstrations can be best supported by well thought out whiteboarding sessions. This communication strategy works best when allowing dynamic conversations instead of long agendas packed with presentation monologues. Most people can talk about the many times when they were either overwhelmed, underwhelmed or just bored to death by slideware… and became suspicious of hype. Note that we all deal with an unfavorable Signal-to-Noise (S/N) ratio in today’s information rich environment and, therefore, compete for customers and/or users’ undivided attention. Once again, memorable hands-on demonstrations can make all the difference.
2.- GROW TO LOOK LIKE THE PORTRAIT – High tech is a fast paced industry. One can be left wondering if the technology, toolset, application and/or overall system being discussed will grow and scale as needed beyond day one. There can also be concerns around maturity levels, roadmapping options and future proofing when working with emerging technologies. Demos can be used to convey a tangible vision based on attainable end-goals. They can also be used for what-if-analysis, sunny and rainy day scenarios (which can include full lifecycle and stress tests) and plot plausible journeys to go from A to B and any steps in between. Helping everyone come to terms with what lays ahead is key to defining product strategies and planning decisions “to grow to look like the portrait.”
3.- EXPLAIN IT SIMPLY – Apparently unavoidable jargon and well intended technical kumbaya can become easily entangled. Complex explanations suffer from information overload. Convoluted narratives pleasing the presenter’s ego can make unclear what specific problem or pain point he/she solving, and what the sought after benefits and priorities are. When “less is more” it definitely pays to define a vantage point, zoom out, distill fundamentals and synthesize the essence. Knowing your audience and getting the job done in the clearest and most effective terms possible means striking a balance and staying away from oversimplifying or complicating matters. This is an iterative exercise that often demands more time, effort and reviews than the usual information dump. We also need to be able to step-zoom to deliver the next level of detail and to conduct deep dives… without incurring information overload. Humanizing technology, storytelling techniques and ease of information visualization are key to developing a coherent narrative.
“The meaning of a communication is defined by the Change and Affect it creates for the audience. Stories are concerned with transformation. In stories something Changes to create an emotion […] The Change has to resonate with the Audience to generate an Affect; a feeling, a reaction or an insight […] We shall consider these two defining characteristics of narrative to clarify the purpose of any communication […] Change and Affect create meaning. – “Crackle and Fizz. Essential Communication and Pitching Skills for Scientists.” – Caroline van den Brul. Imperial College Press.
4..- IT’S MAGIC – This is all about the so called X-FACTOR: an unsuspected quality making something be different and special in unequivocal terms. To be more precise, the X-FACTOR’s experience can be broken down as follows:
- SURPRISE FACTOR – this relies on managing perceptions and the discovery process, the tipping point being delivered by a timely and unsuspected clever twist and a defining punch line – the “aha” moment.
- WOW FACTOR – high impact, impressive, awe-inspiring outcome, benefits and results that can be easily understood and embraced – the “I didn’t know we could do that” and “I want to know more” moment.
- COOL FACTOR – elegant sophistication and grace, clear object of desire – the “I want that” moment, this being most demos’ ultimate Call-To-Action (CTA.)
The art and science behind the above is known as “affective design.” Techniques such as perceptual learning and emotional intelligence in design (emotional design in short) are applied in Human-Computer-Interaction (HCI) to foster pleasant ease of use, drive further engagement and productive usage in the process. Widespread digitalization and the advent of wearables make HCI commonplace, which is influencing product design.
The above is a demo’s “full disclosure” chart, which breaks down what’s real and what’s not. This is needed because vaporware can be an issue of concern.
1.- PRIOR ART – In the above example, a given percentage of the demonstration system involved known technologies, some from third party partners.
2.- STATE OF THE ART – The greatest and latest features, cutting edge delivered by technologies that are available today.
3.- FUTURE ART – A sneak preview of new features and capabilities that are planned, undergoing development and/or committed, but not yet available.
4.- ART OF THE POSSIBLE – Proof of Concept illustrating experimentation results and potential, bleeding edge capabilities that are not yet committed.
By the way, vaporware is the result of positioning 3 and 4 as part of 2. Avoiding unpleasant misunderstands prompts the need for disclosing these four different maturity levels. Note that one graphic applies to a comprehensive demonstration system encompassing those four aspects and their relative weight.
One other thought, there is a difference between incremental and disruptive innovation. The first delivers improved qualities such as better performance in A/B comparison testing as an example, “A” being prior art and “B” state of the art. Most would agree on defining disruptive innovations as game changers which deliver unique capabilities that clearly supersede legacy and conventional systems. That alone renders “A” obsolete. A/B comparison testing leads to discussions on the difference between Present Mode of Operations (PMO) and Future Mode of Operations (FMO.)
“Humanists must be educated with a deep appreciation of modern science. Scientists and engineers must be steeped in humanistic learning. And all learning must be linked with a broad concern for the complex effects of technology on our evolving culture.” – Jerome B. Wiesner.
“In business and economics, innovation is the catalyst to growth […] In the organizational context, innovation may be linked to positive changes in efficiency, productivity, quality, competitiveness […] research findings highlight the complementary role of organizational culture enabling organizations to translate innovative activity into tangible performance improvements […] Innovation is the key element in providing aggressive top-line growth and increasing bottom-line results.” – Wikipedia.
“Product development within the telecommunications industry has traditionally followed rigorous standards for stability, protocol adherence and quality. While this model worked well in the past, it inevitably led to long product cycles, a slow pace of development and reliance on proprietary or specialist hardware […] In October 2012, an industry specifications group, “Network Functions Virtualization”, published a white paper […] discussing NFV as a network architecture using IT technologies to virtualize entire classes of network node functions into building blocks that may be connected, or chained, to create communication services.” – Wikipedia.
Left: Ted East. Right: Jose de Francisco. Location: Alcatel-Lucent’s Naperville Auditorium.
Our NFV Innovation Day was held this past Thursday. I would first like to congratulate everyone involved: participants, speakers, and the team of volunteers at the company’s Technology Leadership Council (TLC) who made it happen with support from Alcatel-University, company Communications teams, Real Estate and IT support.
This was an internal daylong event designed for Alcatel-Lucent’s own cloud computing community. The agenda featured 15 speakers addressing 3 modules: demystifying NFV, portfolio readiness and future direction, as well as an engaging live demonstration on Lean NFV Ops delivered by the Cloud Innovation Center on stage.
What was originally planned as a campus initiative to brief teams on what transpired at Mobile World Congress, quickly became a far more ambitious undertaking involving speakers from worldwide locations and a global webcast. All definitely worth the effort as feedback received is very positive and encouraging. The better news is that there are more TLC “Innovation Days” on other emerging technologies in the works already.
Making the Lean NFV Ops video. Location: Mobile World Congress, Barcelona.
By the way, speaking of Barcelona’s MWC, thanks to Darlene Cetrulo we will be making a video on the Lean NFV Ops demo available. This is just a quick note to let you know that it is ready and will be shared soon. Stay tuned : )
Left: Jose de Francisco. Center: Carla Cico. Right: Ted East. Location: NFV Experience Room at the Cloud Innovation Center.
Leading to NFV Innovation Day, we also had a good meeting with Carla Cico, member of Alcatel-Lucent’s Board of Directors. The company’s Board involves 11 Directors, all independent with the only exception of Michel Combes, CEO. My understanding is that Carla started her career with Italtel and was CEO of Brasil Telecom. International Business and Forbes featured her among the top 100 most powerful women.
We gathered with her in the Showcase area, a good place to illustrate what’s changing in the telecommunications industry to begin with. The bulk of the discussion took place at CIC’s NFV Experience Room since the interactive Lean NFV Ops demo invites the conversation and helps visualize complex topics.
Left: Bhaskar Gorti. Center: Naperville Auditorium. Right: Michel Combes.
Back to the NFV Innovation Day, Michel Combes, CEO, and Bhaskar Gorti, IP Platforms President, delivered the opening remarks for the morning and afternoon sessions respectively.
The event featured a “dream team” of NFV speakers who did an excellent job without exception. Though, it should be noted that there is plenty of cloud talent and good work going on in the company. For that reason, when working on the agenda our planning team came to the conclusion that we were scratching the surface.
Nonetheless, NFV Innovation Day delivered insightful content coming from a broad and well balanced cross-section of the business, coupled with Bell Labs ingenuity in the areas of analytics and autonomics (machine learning) for NFV. This approach now delivers opportunities for following up and conducting deep dives as needed.
Left: Phil Tilley, Jose de Francisco. Center: Cassidy Shield, Betsy Covell. Right: Anne Lee.
Last but not least, TLC is a boundariless Alcatel-Lucent community fostering knowledge networks across the business. TLC focuses on activities involving technology sharing to drive heightened innovativeness.
Working on the diffusion of innovations and marketing emerging technologies presents known challenges:
- fast evolving contexts
- shifting environments
- market timing and uncertain speed of adoption
- technical trade-offs leading to open dilemmas
- high signal-to-noise ratio often cluttered by chatter, hype and vaporware
- legacy systems’ last gasps given improvements and existing economies of scale
In this context, it is worth considering the following:
A – Thinking clearly and mastering clarity:
- Depicting and differentiating between what’s “state of the art” and readily available vs. concepts and future opportunities belonging to the “art of the possible.”
- Spelling out “incremental innovation” based on performance (technical, operational, financial) improvements when compared to today’s environment.
- Spelling out “disruptive innovation” exposing new unique capabilities which cannot be achieved with conventional and alternative solutions.
B – Thinking differently and mastering the element of surprise:
- “Abstracting out complexity” by striking a balance between Albert Einstein’s (above) and Arthur C. Clark’s (below) statements on simplicity and sophistication.
- Delivering the “wow factor” based on elegant know-how, technical prowess and by appealing to unequivocal easy to follow logic.
- Delivering the “cool factor” based on engaging simplicity and memorable experiences creating positive emotions.
C – Thinking about your audience and mastering the conversation:
- Understanding their journey, business, haves/have-nots, pain-points, behaviors, motivations, aspirations and decision making.
- Recognizing what belongs to “need to know” versus “good to know,” what’s core vs. added value to stay away from self-defeating information overload.
- Designing best of “breed solutions” in the context of the lifecycle of “end-to-end” systems.
This is not a comprehensive list, but a quick effort to synthesize a handful of guiding principles proven to work in past projects. As usual, I will welcome your emails to continue the discussion. In the meantime, I hope that some of the above are of interest.