Entrepreneurial Karma: Call for Early-Stage Recommender System Startups
UbiComp 2008: Call for Papers, Notes and Workshops (deadline: April 4)

Innovating at MyStrands, Seattle

It's been a little over a month since I left Nokia and started principally instigating at MyStrands, Seattle. Most of my time thus far has been devoted to talking with people and looking at places, as my top two initial instigative goals are to attract a dream team and setup shop in a dream space. Eventually, we'll make progress on other p's - prototypes, papers and patents - but not without the right people and only (or, at least, more easily) in the right place.

I'm making some progress on these initial goals - I will be making official announcements when formal transitions take place - but meanwhile I thought it would be helpful (to me, at least) to write a little bit about what kinds of innovation - and what kinds of innovators - I hope to facilitate with this great new team and great new space! Taking a cue from one of Glenn Kelman's pearls of wisdom - "We never say 'I'" - during an inspiring presentation at my crash course in entrepreneurship (NWEN's Entrepreneur University 2005), I'll be using "we" liberally below, even though "we" is, technically speaking, "I" at this particular moment.

The mission of the Seattle Innovation Team for MyStrands is

To design, develop and deploy technologies that weave together the various strands of our activities, interests and passions to bridge the gaps between the digital and physical worlds and help people relate to the other people, places and things around them in ways that offer value to all participants.

That's quite a mouthful (even for me) so I want to unpack that a little:

  • weave together the various strands of our activities, interests and passions: MyStrands started out as MusicStrands, a web application that can recommend new music based on the music you listen to ("what you play counts!"). Since then, the company has branched out into other types of media (e.g., MyStrands.TV), and we want to further extend this extension to additional types of media, as well as other digital representations of our activities, interests and passions.
  • bridge the gaps between the digital and physical worlds: with the growing wealth of digital representations of our activities, interests and passions, and the proliferation of mobile devices and wireless connectivity, there are increasing opportunities to create new value by opening portals to that wealth in the physical world, either through mobile social computing (MoSoSo) applications or more situated social computing (SiSoSo) applications, such as proactive displays.
  • help people relate to the other people, places and things around them: we all long to feel a sense of belonging and connection to other people we encounter, the places we inhabit and the things we see (or at least some of those people, places and things); our technologies will be designed to help real world communities better enjoy the benefits of virtual communities, digital communications and electronic commerce.
  • offer value to all participants: one of the things I learned - the hard way - during my earlier entrepreneurial endeavor (Interrelativity, Inc.) was the importance of aligning innovative social technologies with viable business models; although our primary focus will be on technical innovations with significant - and positive - social impact, we want to do so in an economically sustainable way that enriches all stakeholders.

As for the types of innovators (we don't call ourselves researchers - or developers - at MyStrands, though we will be doing both) we hope to attract, the primary criteria will be a passionate commitment to the mission of the lab. Of course, following the precepts of Joel Sposky, we also generally want smart people who can get things done. Among the more specific types of smarts that we value are insights into and experience with social computing, mobile and ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, many flavors of design (user interface design, interaction design, user experience design, visual communication design), web programming, rapid prototyping, personal and social psychology, economics, business models ... and, of course, recommender systems.

I'm planning to follow the lead of Lars Erik Holmquist with respect to [one of] his goals for the PLAY Research Group: build a multidisciplinary team composed of multidisciplinary people. As Anne Galloway relayed this idea (in what may be an unexpected recursion based on something I may have sent / said to her about Lars Erik's CHI 2000 organizational overview talk):

Alan Kay once remarked that he was attracted to the MIT Media Lab because of the..."attempt to collide technology with the arts, rather than [to] collide technologists with artists," and continued "You're always better getting people who have already had that collision in themselves." In PLAY, rather than composing a multi-disciplinary group, we try to have a group of multi-disciplinary people ... No group member specializes in only one topic. A typical member has a degree in a relevant field such as computer science, informatics or fine arts, but a strong interest in several other fields such as electrical engineering, linguistics, literature, film, or music. Whether accompanied by academic degrees or not, a wide range of interests is seen as a vital factor in the composition of the group.

Ideally, we will compose a diverse group of diverse people, with a variety of skills, from a variety of backgrounds, who respect each other and work well together, even though - or perhaps because - we may not always agree with each other (indeed, I hope we won't always agree with each other). I have enjoyed many conversations with many talented people so far, and I welcome the opportunity to initiate or renew conversations with other talented people. If current trends continue, we may be able to assemble a dream team without ever having to compose or post a formal job description.

As I mentioned in my review of First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, I subscribe to the philosophy of Bud Grant, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings:

You can’t draw up plays and then just plug your players in. No matter how well you have designed your play book, it’s useless if you don’t know which plays your players can run. When I draw up my play book, I always go from the players to the play.

Given my commitment to multidisciplinarity, I'm going one step further and not even specifying player positions at this early stage, hoping that we will be able attract just the right people with just the right talents to accomplish our innovation mission.

[Update: I forgot to mention that we have a number of more formally specified job openings at many of our other sites around the world. The (Senior) Mobile User Experience / Interaction Designer position may be of particular interest to some of my international friends.]

comments powered by Disqus