PBTO S2E4: Rethinking Vertical Movement Inside a Building

Who is on the show:

In this episode we host architect and product designer Elena Larriba. She works at the intersection between art, science and design. Her curiosity leads her to investigate new concepts, technologies and techniques which she blends together in novel experiments merging engineering, design and craft.

Why is she on the show:

She is the designer of a vertical movement product called Vycle, which is a hybrid version of a cycle and an elevator and can be used for vertical movement. She has since this conversation gone on to create a lot more interesting products.

What did I learn from the conversation:

  • There are opportunities all around us. We only need to look with curious eyes.
  •  One of the easiest way for us to come up with interesting ideas is to combine multiple ideas in ways never tried before.
  •  The importance of imagination in the product creation process.
  •  The importance of repeated prototyping in solving some specific problem.
  • You don’t need to be an expert or experienced for you to have breakthrough ideas. What this means is that anyone on your team can have breakthrough ideas. Listen to them and their ideas.

How can you find more about her and her work:

You can find more information about her and her portfolio of work here. You can also reach her by e-mail.
This episode is brought to you by Skillshare. You can get 2 months of Skillshare for free .

Mime Artists & A City’s Transformation

I came across a story that could potentially be a Hollywood blockbuster. This is the story of a mayor who transformed an entire city, an unruly one into one that learnt to follow rules. He did this by breaking all the rules about how a politician should look like or behave like. And the entire transformation of the city started by getting “Mime” artists performing on the street.


To understand the extent of the ingenuity, lets first try to comprehend the problem that was being tackled (sounds a lot like our cities):
  1. Lots of people dying on the roads due to accidents.
  2. Traffic jams galore around the city as neither pedestrians nor motorists would not follow the traffic rules.
  3. Corrupt cops who would prefer accepting bribes & letting traffic violators go against fining them and bringing them in to face the law.
Trying to tackle even just one of these problems would be difficult enough, try addressing all three together.
Lets just take a minute and think about what would you do if you were elected mayor of a city like this one…


Instead of increasing the policing or launching a mass media advertising campaign to ask people to behave, the mayor took a group of “mime” artists to the street and asked them to show people what their rights were on the road (both motorists and pedestrians). And make it a spectacle of doing it. Though, most people dismissed the idea as a gimmick and expected it to not work…


Boy did it work… Deaths on the roads reduced by more than 50%… traffic jams reduced as people started following the rules… This allowed the mayor to weed out the corrupt cops, some of whom then went on to sign up to become the “mimes” on the road educating and humoring people on road etiquette.
The transformation of the city had just begun. This mayor went on to do great work changing how people acted in the cities.
He brought in “The Carrot Rule”, which was that the city will not be allowed to party post 1:00AM and many more.
He was followed by another mayor equally innovative, who changed the way the entire city looked. He built 100’s of public parks, migrated slum dwellers in to low-cost housing, built some of the best schools and libraries in the poorest neighbourhood.
Within 3 terms between them, together they transformed the entire city.
The city we are talking about is Bogotá. The mayors we are Antanus Mockus and Enrique Penalosa.
You can watch an entire documentary film on how these two mayors transformed Bogotá here (Strongly recommend that you go watch this documentary).


There are a few things that I learn from this transformation story:
  1. To solve a large complex problems, you don’t need a large and complex solution. Rather you need simple solutions to solve complex problems.
  2. Trying to solve complex problems in isolation doesn’t really work. We need to look at a holistic solution and a solution that works like a ripple travelling through multiple complex problems and solving them all with the same single idea
  3. Large scale behaviour problems can best be tackled with emotional solutions. Solutions that address our primal emotions like love, hate or shame. This is the exact idea that Mahatma Gandhi used against the British in the Indian fight for independence.
  4. One other reason not to throw out crazy ideas out the door without giving them serious consideration.
  5. The importance of connecting disparate fields to come up with a novel solution for a problem is the best way to solve any given problem.

In conclusion:

From a social context, I think our cities are again in need of such mayors and politicians who are able to think creatively and who can bring together a team that can go about transforming our cities.
From a business context, I think we need to develop the skill to look at a given problem and not be wary of trying out seemingly crazy ideas to solve them.

Book Review – Three Box Solution

Name of the book: The Three Box Solution: A Simple Framework for                    leading  innovation
Author of the book: Vijay Govindarajan
Publisher: HBR Press
Overall Rating: 4/5
Implementability of ideas: 4/5

This is a book about how to lead innovation in an organisation. The framework that Vijay suggests is simple to learn and keep in mind. As he rightly says in his book, easy to remember doesn’t mean easy to implement. Leading innovation isn’t easy either. However, the simplicity of the framework is a big plus. No need to remember complicated stuff. This also means that we can put in place strategies to ensure that we are able to follow the three-box approach. So, from an implementation point-of-view, I think this book also deserves a 4/5.

Readability: 4/5

The book is clearly divided into sections (one to set up the context, one each for each box and then one to summarise. Each section talks about a specific organisation that used the approach that Vijay is sharing via this book and how they were able to benefit from the framework, The book is easy to read as it contains a lot of anecdotes, stories and analogies. So, from a readability perspective, I would say it rates 4/5.

What I learnt from the book:

The three boxes that Vijay references in the book are as below:

1. Create the future
2. Forget the past
3. Manage the present.
4. Keeping them all in balance

Create the future: This is the set of activities where we bet on a specific trend or a product or a technology and bet on it for the long term. This is like investing in a self-driving car when no one is even thinking about it. This is the box in which we can envisage a bold future, one that is radical, transformative, has the potential to disrupt not only competitors but also our existing cash cows. This is where disruptive innovation is at home. This is where you make the kind of bets that you can bet your company’s future on.

Forget the past: In most organisations, the idea for the future of the organisation exists within the organisation. However, the past success (and to some extent failures) put on shackles on the ideas with future potential. So, in order to be able to bet on the future, some of these shackles need to be cut. Some of the past actions and belief’s that led to success/failure in the past needs to be forgotten and change mandated. It is important to know which one of these actions of the past needs to be forgotten and which one of these past actions/beliefs need to be not just remembered but brought into the consciousness of the organisation again. It is the leader’s job to find out which section of the past belongs where and share that within the organisation.

Manage the present: Unless we are able to continually increase our efficiency in the present, there will be no future to be worried about. So, it is critically important that the present needs to be managed well. This is where operational efficiency and incremental innovation lives. This is where we need an engine which functions smoothly and continually improves itself. This is the success and the cash cow that will fund the future. There will come a time when we might have to bring the future in the present. Until then, the only thing that we need to worry about in the present is to keep the lights on and the profits coming in.

Keeping them all in balance: As Vijay puts it, one needs to be able to manage all of these three kinds of activities at the same time at any point in time. Failure to do so inevitably leads the business into a crisis mode sooner than later. So, how does a leader keep all the three box rolling, all at the same time? By ensuring that (s)he puts in time and effort (visibly) in all the three boxes. It can be done by a simple rule of thumb calculation like (1 day in a week focusing in the future, 1 day in a week on forgetting the past and 3 days in a week on managing the present) or by some complicated scheduling mechanism. A leader can also identify leaders who fit the profile needed to manage each box and allow them to manage each one of the boxes and (s)he can then focus on managing these leaders in turn. In any case, it is important for the leader to be visibly engaged in all the three boxes in order for this process to work.

In Conclusion:

Vijay talks about an analogy of the Hindu trinity and how it led him to create the three box framework. I believe that it is easier to remember the framework once we learn about the Hindu mythology behind the Hindu trinity:

In Hindu mythology, there are there important deities, who are considered to be the root of everything in this world:

– Brahma – the creator
– Vishnu – the protector
– Shiva – the destroyer

All of them play an equally important role in keeping the world going. At any given point in time, all of them are active. There is always something new being created. There is always something that grows and needs protection. There is always something being destroyed. So, all the three processes of creation, protection and destruction happen at the same time.

So it is with innovation. We need to invest in the creation of the future, protection of the current and destroy things from the past, in order to continue to evolve. IF we forget to do any one of these, it creates an imbalance, which inevitably leads o stress and stagnancy and eventually death.

So, the question to as is the following:

 “Are your boxes in balance?” If not, how do you bring them in balance?

Quest for the elusive Innovation Framework


I have read countless blog posts, wrote a few myself, watched videos, did innovation courses, read books on innovation, all in the quest to learn what makes innovation happen and if there is a way to institutionalize innovation. While there are people who claim that they can do so, I have come to the decision that it is an elusive quest, one that we may never be able to complete.

Innovation and Parenting:

As is usual, when I was taking a walk post lunch today, I was thinking about innovation and if there is a way to institutionalize it. I then realised that the process of innovation is very similar to parenting.

As parents, we want our children to do well in life and turn out to be good citizens. We try to create the right environment for our children to grow in, take care of them, ensure that they develop the right habits, send them to good schools so they learn well, coach them, get them to sports events, music classes, etc. We do this in the hope that they can find their passions and build their lives around these passions.

As leaders, we do very similar things to foster innovation. We try and create the right environment, help build the right practices, employ the right frameworks, bring in external experts to help our teams. We send our teams to conferences, to workshops and creative retreats, all in the hope that they learn something and can come up with interesting breakthroughs.

However, just like parents we can’t guarantee that every one of our children will turn out to be good citizens and a successful professional, we as leaders can’t guarantee that any of this will result in a successful product.

We have seen siblings grow up in the same home, with the same parents, under the same conditions, yet turn out to be very different from each other. So can two different products being developed by the same team under the same conditions, using the same processes and frameworks can have different results when it comes to success.

There are times when we have children growing in tough conditions go on to become really great men. There are times when we can see that products that were developed in not so great conditions for innovation go on to become extremely successful.

In Conclusion:

Realising this, I believe that just like we as parents can’t fully control the destiny of our children but only control what we can (teach them good habits, give them a good loving, caring environment, teach them well, allow them to make their own mistakes and learn) and hope that they go out in the world and do well; as leaders responsible for innovation should do the same (help our teams build good habits, allow them to make their mistakes & learn from them, give them a good loving, caring environment, let them learn well, etc) and hope that they come up with interesting and successful products.

There is no institutionalizing of innovation. So, instead of spending our time to find this ever elusive framework, it is better for us to behave like parents and allow our teams to innovate, in their very own pace and using a framework, the one that works for them. And see magic happening.

PS: This post is in part inspired by a book that I have read by Prashun Dutta (https://in.sagepub.com/en-in/sas/systems-thinking-for-effective-managers/book259327).

Finding Our Centre Of Excellence

I read a post by Mitch Joel (one of my insanely awesome people) where he proposes a 7 step model to define what could be our centre of excellence. Please do read his post here.

I wanted to do this exercise and the result is as below:

  1. The Tactic: My tactic of my primary output is content, just like Mitch himself.
  2. The Format: My format is text and audio.
  3. The Frequency: This is a place where i need to improve significantly. I have committed to myself that i will create content everyday in text and at least once a week in audio.
  4. The Triangle of Attention: Here i have a slightly different take than Mitch. I don’t have three topics where i spend my attention, it is 5 – Sales, Marketing, Innovation, Leadership & Entrepreneurship. So, for me its a pentagon, rather than a triangle.
  5. The Bullseye: My bull’s eye is “Innovation”. For me, the primary focus is to find ways to bring innovation to every field of my focus to see how I can become an agent of transformation for my audience, their businesses and ultimately, their lives.
  6. The Promoter: I promote my content primarily on twitter and some specific whatsapp groups that i am a part of. Some of my content is also syndicated on other much more popular sites, so that helps as well. I know that this is not sufficiently large group of people. This is something that I am going to continue to work on, so that i can increase the impact that my thinking has on this world.
  7. The Analysis and Adjustment Bureau: I do continue to explore which of my content works. What I haven’t done, at least not as effectively as I would need to, is to understand the reasons why the content that works and why something doesn’t work. This is another area of learning for me, just from doing this exercise.

As you can see, just by going through this 7 step process, I have been able to identify at least two areas that I need to focus and improve on, so that I am able to create a unique brand for myself around my topics of interest.

I would now strongly urge each one of you reading this, to go ahead and do this exercise – for yourself and if you are a business owner or a product owner, do this for your business and the product as well. You will be surprised at the level of clarity you will have once you have gone through this exercise.

If you do go ahead and do this exercise, I would love to know if it helped. Also, if would be great if you could also leave a comment on Mitch’s blog page with the result, so he knows that his model actually helped you clearly articulate your priorities and that he is having an impact on this world, one person at a time.