Discipline and Innovation

David Fore of Lybba forwarded me this article on innovation. It provides a set of beautiful examples of the role of discipline and standardization in fostering innovation.

At my first startup company, Silicon Spice, we were extremely disciplined in how we structured internal communications, identified and followed technology standards and incorporated automatic testing into all our technology development efforts.  The company-wide discipline we established allowed for an unprecedented pace of product innovation in the rapidly evolving communications market of the late 90’s.  Peaking at only 120 employees, we constructed a complex set of technology targeting telco equipment vendors including reference voice switching boxes, a 2.5 Watt 21-core DSP processor, companion ASIC devices, a vector compiler, a real-time OS, a fully-featured set of voice processing software and a complete suite of development tools for our platform.  A few people in key roles were able to spot opportunities that spanned numerous product sub-teams and we were able to quickly implement coordinated design changes across our home-grown technology stack.

A lead engineer from Texas Instruments, our primary competitor, once commented to me that they couldn’t believe that we had build our product in only 3-4 years with 100 people; I didn’t have the heart to tell him the product they were evaluating for acquisition was built by an average of 50 people over 16 months!  We seized 70% of the carrier-class market from them in the 18 months following our acquisition.

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OS X Lion?

Mac OS X updates often contain controversial features that lead people to wonder whether they should upgrade.  My short answer is there is no need to rush into Lion.  The only feature that I think is a real step forward is the new facilities for search in Mac Mail and increased support for cool gestures.  Even if those sound appealing, wait a couple of incremental releases for some of the various quirks to subside and more apps to integrate with the Lion look and feel changes.

  • Gestures.  Very nice, smooth, worthwhile.
  • Content scrolling.  Annoying, go to the Properties and disable for normal up/down two-finger scrolling
  • Look and Feel. Animations make the system feel slower.  Generally feels a little awkward to me.  I suspect you’ll be able to turn off animation in a future release.
  • Mission Control.  Expose + Spaces might have been harder for basic users, but mission control is a step backward for power users.  If you use those features heavily, you may want to hold off for awhile.  I’m disappointed by Mission control on multiple monitors.  It’s also feels slower than the old Spaces + Expose.  May be due to the animation issues.
  • New Mail widescreen layout and search functionality.  Search is great.  Almost worth the upgrade by itself.  New layout is nice when on small screens.
  • Safari 5 + Lion.  Faster!  Zippier!  Could just be the new js and rendering suppport, but feels good.  Sometimes the sandboxed renderer eats up CPU cycles and memory and there is no way to tell what tab is responsible.  Just force kill the Safari content process.
  • Fullscreen apps.  Meh.  Ok for mobile use and interacts cleanly with Mission Control.
  • Rosetta (Power PC binary support) is deprecated.  Beware of older programs; some programs may still be using Rosetta under the hood and negatively surprise you.

That’s it.  Of the hundreds of features they tout, those are the only ones that really pop out for me.  Generally the overall feel of the system remains inferior after several weeks of use.