Six Ways to Connect Without the Internet of Things

Reflections on the 2015 Bloomberg Technology Conference

July 8, 2015

Partner, NBBJ


At the recent Bloomberg Technology Conference in San Francisco, I felt like a bit of an outsider and, frankly, expected to lag behind most of the conversation. I’m a “building architect” as opposed to a “software architect” — an important distinction to make at an event attended by current and former leaders of highly-visible organizations such as AirBNB, Twitter, Yahoo, Cisco and Pixar, as well as a few lesser-known companies that will soon be turning our heads. Even though my firm, NBBJ, has spent the last few years helping the worlds of physical and digital space collide for similar companies, the challenges our two industries face are not the same, right?

Yet there’s a growing sense that any company wanting to understand the complexity of issues better, solve larger problems and reach consumers faster will either need to think like a tech company or render itself obsolete. We’ve subscribed to that at NBBJ too, as we’ve hired our own software engineers to attack complicated challenges. Additionally, we’ve observed that the stark differences in how people work may just be nuances in the phase and pace of social evolution. The increasing speed of technology seems to be shrinking these differences. We’re more similar than most realize.

What surprised me most was an aligned belief that people — not algorithms — are still the foundation of great companies. Here are six takeaways — my own summaries of presenters’ talks — that have nothing to do with coding and everything to do with being more human:


Be wary of iterating at the expense of being bold.
Data is everywhere. We are fascinated by how it can help us heighten performance while predicting if outcomes will be positive. But at a higher level, we need to understand the difference between what constitutes a design problem versus an engineering problem. Data is fantastic for the latter. But if we rely solely on data for the former, it can lead to “analysis paralysis” and strip us of the healthy, creative tension the design process demands for dramatic change. It’s important to evaluate not just the outcome — which may benefit from data — but also the process it took to get there. That is, was it uncomfortable enough?

From “The Coder as CEO”
Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo


Don’t forget art.
What should children study in school: coding or art? Certainly a question that we’ll continue to volley as we strategize about the future workforce. Fortunately there is, and always will be, a marriage between art and technology. They go together. We have an interesting purpose in trying to capture and convey the juxtaposition between the two.

From “The Art and Science of Code”
Padmasree Warrior, Former CTO and Strategy Officer at Cisco


Technology can make healthcare more human.
Throughout history, people have been fascinated with the human body and its associative wellbeing. Vitruvius focused on the whole body, wherein its entirety was either healthy or not. Medicine looks to parts of the body as opportunities to improve areas through artificial elements or foreign implants. DNA is now enabling us to recreate bones that are true, living extensions of our specific bodies, not fabrications that our bodies might reject. We can finally think of the body as a living system. Can we do things with cells, not machines?

Also, can technology enable “selfcare” versus healthcare? People don’t want to spend more time at a doctor’s office, at the pharmacist, at physical therapy. If anything, Silicon Valley has helped the healthcare industry understand the potential for frictionless service. There is an emerging sense that in making treatment individual and personal, we empower people with chronic diseases to live better.

From “Code as a Cure”
Nina Tandon, Co-Founder and CEO of Epibone

From “Health Apps: Upgrading the Ultimate Personal Technology”
Glen Tullman, Chairman and CEO of Livongo Health


Hack the management structure.
What do hackers know that managers don’t? Speed, adaptability and no barriers. They have open, frank conversations at any level. They have responsiveness in reacting to new information. Hackers don’t do the same repeated tasks over and over.

What can managers do better? Frame an exercise in the language of “an experiment” and not as a task. Share the goal as opposed to sharing the plan. And be prepared to have the outcome be entirely different — and better — than what was first charted.

From “Management Tips from Hackers”
Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of Redhat + Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder of Mightybell


Make the most of ideas (and make a lot of them).
There is a small window where you have enough investment in an idea to defend and believe in it, but not enough that you can’t change it. That’s when you should critique it. Successful people are those who draw well, are fast, play well with others and ALWAYS have another idea. In a company of 4,000 people, there’s no shortage of great ideas. Learn as fast as you can, and don’t hold on to dogma.

From “How the Animation Studio Uses Technology to Solve its Problems: Building Tools for Telling Stories”
Michael Johnson, Pixar

From “One-on-One with Dick Costolo”
Dick Costolo, Former CEO of Twitter


Be kind, not nice.
The average company is too nice, almost “terminally nice.” In the tech industry, you can’t take things personally. You need to be gritty, resilient and incredibly self-aware. People deserve to know where they are failing, where an idea is not worth pursuing. We spend a lot of energy dancing around this topic because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. That’s our “nice” side. Instead, think about how much energy could be gained by being kind, by working with people to, as William Faulkner said, “kill their darlings” and create something better.

From “One-on-One with Dick Costolo”
Dick Costolo, Former CEO of Twitter

From “Management Tips from Hackers”
Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of Redhat + Gina Bianchini, CEO and Founder of Mightybell


Image courtesy of Panca Satrio Nugroho/Flickr.

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