This week we hop over to Denmark to check out an alternative business school, then over to Seattle to learn about how we can help improve the health of children around the world, and then we wrap things up with a good ol’ Hollywood (product management) crash landing.
As I get older, the more I seem to question the benefits of spending precious time and money, sitting in a classroom, being lectured on theory, while real life passes by outside. So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I recently read an article about Kaospilot, an alternative Danish business school established in 1991. Rather than have students spent most of their times sitting through years of tedious lectures and traditional homework assignments, they focus on learning by doing. Students are given the chance to work on projects for companies like Lego and Cisco. Each year faculty and stuff head off to some corner of the world to tackle a social issue (Bogota and Cape Town are the two most recent). Heck, students even get business cards when they start their programs, so they can get rolling with networking. The school has apparently built a pretty solid reputation and now has a second location in Bern, Switzerland. I hope more schools integrate this approach because at the end of the day there is no better teacher than the school of hard knocks life.
Throughout the years, the philanthropic activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have always interested me, even if I haven’t always been in agreement with their approach (most notably the genetically modified cassava project). However, the group has once again romanced me with its latest project, by harnessing the power of crowdsourcing to do good. They’re currently running the Records for Life Contest, calling on all of us to lend a hand in redesigning health records. Health records are key in tracking the immunization history of children, but there are several drawbacks in their current implementation around the world. For example, a great number of parents are illiterate and so the information contained in these records are of no help to them. Also, the health records are printed on paper and can be easily ruined as a result of regular manipulation or simply spilling water on them. There are a host of other user experience and design-related challenges and while some are region-specific, the overall need to redesign health records applies to all countries. The contest is open till October 31st, so let’s all do our part!
In 1991 Zak Penn and Adam Leff, two unknown writers, wrote a little script called “Extremely Violent”, parodying action movie clichés. The main character, Arno, was inspired by that era’s king of action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That little script soon found itself in a Hollywood bidding war, with Columbia Pictures ultimately winning, paying up $350,000 for the acquisition. Even more incredibly, Schwarzenegger decided he wanted to do the movie.
What followed is a fascinating study of product (mis)management: at least 5 more writers reworked the script, studio executives made on-the-fly script changes, and the movie’s release date was publicly announced before filming had barely even begun. Oh, and to cover up the stench of the project, the studio subsequently went nuts with marketing, spending $750, 000 on the trailer and half a million dollars to have the movie’s title appear on a NASA rocket (this is excluding the toy figurines, t-shirts, and all the other bizarreness that generally goes along with such movies).
No matter your role in the product development cycle – developer, designer, stakeholder – this is a must-read. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when products are forced to come to life (without any focus or clear objective as to why we should even bother making them), fueled mainly by egos and conflicting product visions. Oh and a $70 million budget.