Timeless Tunes

I have been developing an obsession for Arvo Pärt, a minimalist Estonian composer. My favorite is Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror). If you listen to it with full attention (through earphones) I promise it will make everything around you go slow motion. Perhaps a bold claim, but BBC Soul Music seem to think just as highly of it.

I am also a fan of combinatorial creativity; a hat tip goes to Beats Antique for a fair attempt to remix Fratres.

There’s an old documentary about him. This guy is a genius.

Next Stop: MIT Sloan

I visited Boston in 2011 on a business trip. One sunny day, while wandering around, I stumbled upon a small stand selling t-shirts. In a standard impulse buying behavior I decided to buy a light grey MIT shirt. I only wore it once; it didn’t feel right as an outsider.

Last month I received official admittance to MIT Sloan to pursue a two-year MBA. If you were to tell me, three years ago, that Boston would be my next home I would have laughed it off. I still can’t believe it.

I am forever indebted to those who helped me throughout the process.

Book Summary - High Output Management

I often forget what I read. This is why, for every non-academic book I read, I will be sharing an electronic copy of my bullet-point notes. I hope this would help me retain the information, easily reference it in the future, and maybe share some of the things I learned with you.

High Output Management is a very practical, result-oriented guide to optimize processes and manpower.

Andrew Grove (the author) was the CEO and Chairman of Intel, and a significant icon in modern management practices. He steered Intel from its startup days to become a world-class brand, while driving the growth phase of the whole Silicon Valley.

Grove’s methods are impressively practical. Some of the things that hit me the most is the idea that he prefers decisions to come from the middle of the hierarchy chain, because that’s where you get the know-how and the authority to execute. Or how much emphasis he puts on performance evaluations: the fact that every year, he reviews around 100 random evaluations, making sure that all of his managers are giving concise and constructive feedback. He sends notes of compliments or requests for re-writes to all of those evaluations.

Click here for my bullet-point summary. If you are in management, I highly recommend you read the book. I’d give it 4/5.

Thanks to Jihad for unknowingly bringing this book to my attention.

The Best Advice

The best advice I have ever received was around one year ago, when a good friend told me about (and pushed me to embrace) Rejection Therapy. Few minutes ago I received the best news I have ever received – a life changing phone call.

Rejection Therapy is a marvelous idea. Put simply, it is the concept that if you are not being consistently rejected/denied, then you are not consistently aiming for big things, and therefore not consistently evolving or learning. Practitioners of this exercise should find themselves comfortable out of their element and always surprised of how much they can achieve only by asking or trying. Or as the Arabic Bedouin proverb goes: اللي ما يطلع القنص ما يصيد.

Do it today. Plan for experiments immediately.

Human-Centered Automated Teller Machines

I use an ATM almost every week, and no matter what bank I use, it has always been an irritating experience. Here we have a device used consistently by billions of people, that is making money to its proprietors, yet have failed to keep up with the advancing technology.

Despite being invented in the late 1960s, the only true improvements this beast have seen were 1) the adoption of ATM cards instead of paper cheques, and much later 2) the touchscreen.

Few years ago I read about IDEO’s work in this area and since then it has been impossible for me to get it out of my head. Here are few ideas on how I would improve an ATM, from walking to the machine to receiving my money.

  1. Malfunctioning/disconnected light indicator: many times I find an ATM, park my car, and walk to the machine only to find a dreadful “out of service” message. A light indicator would save people time.
  2. RFID/Touch-free ATM cards: why do I have to pull out my ATM card, gently slip it in, and hold my wallet until the end of the transaction? At the end of a transaction, both card and cash are given back to the user simultaneously. When this happens, I always find myself racing against time to put back my card inside my wallet and then take the cash before the machine eats either of them.
  3. Early network authorization: just after showing my card, and while I am entering my pin, the machine should connect to the bank and get meta data on my account, such as balance and permissible amount to withdraw. That way I do not have to wait 8-30 seconds doing nothing after I choose my transaction.
  4. No more choose-your-language screen: I told you my preferred language a billion times. At the very least, make an assumption while having a “change language” button in a corner.
  5. Offer my most popular transactions: I almost always withdraw SAR 400. I do not want to go through the many screens and enter that amount every time.
  6. Option for receipt only after the transaction: after I choose to withdraw money, the machine should not slow the transaction with yet another question “do you want a receipt for that?”. Instead, the option for a receipt should be available for 5 to 10 seconds after I receive my money. I have a feeling that the reason why we have so many receipts lying on the ground is that people are always in a hurry, pushing “next next yes” and therefore unconsciously answering that question. This also explain why some people ask for a receipt but never pull it out of the machine.

This is what I have so far. In retrospect I notice that all of my suggestions are time-saving improvements, which is probably a reflection of how I perceive an ATM machine should serve me: not by giving me health tips or impress me with new animations, but by giving me money when I need it and then getting out of my way as soon as possible.

A perfect experience would require exactly five pushes on the keypad: four for the pin, one for the common transaction, all in less than ten seconds.

Share your ideas in the comments!