Madame Bovary and product creation. What I learned from Elon Musk part 2.

This a continuation of the previous blog  Tesla Motors. What I learned from Elon Musk

Why did I write about Tesla?

Because I asked myself why we can count on one hand  how many -  Elon-Musk-like aspiring entrepreneurs exists? 

One explanation  is that such revolutionary Product Creators, must held the title and the power of a CEO in order to deliver unbelievable products. They can not breathe the air of the corporate world to start with. 

If Elon Musk would have had got a Product Manager job at, say, General Motors, he would have had issues right at the interview stage. Human Resources asks questions like what previous experience he had. When they hear he founded and sold PayPal - a financial company - they would eliminate him  as a candidate right away. What that experience  has to do with cars, or even more, with batteries? Assume he passes this step, because a connection inside GM, he would have had to learn the way they make cars in GM  - policies, and all that. He would have had faced some huge opposition from the other Product Line Managers. His salary, no matter how large or small, will never be sufficient for someone like Elon, The hard liners managers of equal rank will protest anyway  Top management will never risk their jobs, because they will never gamble their fat paychecks. Their personal risk tolerance  in their jobs is nearly zero.

Steve Jobs, was fired from his own company, because he has no marketing, no management,  no design, and no business education.

I belong to a group of few people, I estimate thousands of them, who are or were product managers in traditional organizations, and who would like to emulate Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. We could not start yet new companies as CEOs,  a question of luck. We continue to try, although many of us will not ever be CEOs. Meanwhile  we live a life of compromises. Our economic system does not accomodate this type of daring, nuanced product management and they will not pay us to do this work, which is similar to a form of art.

We hope

 Feeling like Madame Bovary

Last century in France, they had no radio and TV and people read books in French - called a roman (a novel) - serialized in weekly parts. Emma Bovary is a heroine of such a book. She was a very sensitive woman who in 19th century, had only one option in life: getting married and stay that way
She wondered if there might not have been some way, through a different set of circumstances, of meeting another man; and she tried to imagine those events which had not happened, that different life, that husband whom she did not know.
They asked the author, Gustave Flaubert who was in real life Emma Bovary.  "Madame Bovary, c'est moi!" (I am Madame Bovary), replied Flaubert

I would say every aspiring product manager who wants to make a difference is a Madame Bovary,  locked in a stale "marriage" meaning a job that limits her.  Her managers who are job survivors, -  career guys.  We put up with these jobs because we must eat, while we imagine those events which had not happened, that different life, to liberate us what must do today.

The spiritual and the science

Some great thinkers, writers, philosophers, religious prophets pray, meditate, enclose themselves in the solitude of room to create a religious-like number of followers, who would buy and do whatever such a leader recommends. The dictionary say the spiritual is
of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
Engineers, scientist, researchers believe in the power of objective experimentation. They write books, publish papers, patent inventions, build prototypes. The dictionary defines science as
the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Product Managers extraordinaire - the Elon Musks of this world - have a combination of both skills. They defy a definition and all we have today are definitions of jobs created by others who think in terms of Industrial revolution from one hundred years ago.

We  gain wisdom

The BoscoR Team

While I had a one year contract with Open Science I acted as a product manager for an open source project called Bosco. Usually in High Performance Computing, rarely, if ever a scientist asks who is going to use this. Many people  in our team were also working with the CMS group who searched for the Higgs particle. For those people , this was the only goal. This is leading edge

If a Steve Jobs would have had been around, he would have had discover some goldmine developments that could be used to make people happier and richer. For example, Steve took the mouse idea from Xerox Labs. Xerox scientists did not have an immediate application for it, Steve did

Bosco was an easy way to talk to a cluster or a supercomputer - well easy for scientists. But we had an idea. Why not create special versions for specific users, like the two million users of the Open Source R statistical language?  We called it BoscoR

This means 
By moving R processing to remote clusters, your R workflows can run hundreds or thousands of simultaneous calculations, all managed from your laptop.
and than we did something new:
Through interviews with R users, and their feedback after using BoscoR, we learned how R users work and designed BoscoR to fit their needs.  We incorporated their feedback to improve BoscoR by adding much needed features, such as remote package management. A key design goal was to have a flat learning curve in using BoscoR for any R user.
Sure we were not Elon-Musk level, but we did two extraordinary achievements.  First we opened the gates to hundreds of thousands of of simultaneous calculations from a mere laptop. All these big data companies  cropping like mushrooms after the rain -boasting to predict the future - are nothing but applications written with R, in the same way that GPS systems run with signals from US Government satellites for free. We did this without changing the normal behavior of the existing users.

Second, there was a mind shift in the younger and more dynamic HPC / HTC community of scientists and bright minds. We discovered the importance of the interviews (and its' limitations).
I had a role for this to happen sooner, rather than later.

One day we will be funded,

Steve Blank about National Science Foundation (NSF) entrepreneurial initiative.

The Lean Startup is not a religion, yet this initiative - although a very sound idea - failed to produce significant startups among scientists and academia.

As Steve recognized later, having a scientist acting as  entrepreneur to "go out of the door" (a mantra in the preaching for Lean Startup followers - is against the DNA of the researchers. It is outside their sets of values, too down-to-earth and some do not have the people skills to gets the essence from other people who will become users what they produce.

There is a need of a product creator, someone who speaks the language of the researchers, who understands exactly what they are going to achieve, and then spots the opportunities among the other scientists who will use the products and discover new markets. This is exactly what I did  at Computation Institute, University of Chicago, hoping to make this program a reality.

It is about NSF I-corps initiative, which is described in this blog under the "Scientists as entrepreneurs" subheading. I tried to involve BoscoR into this program.

I failed, but this is a temporary failure. We did not give up. This  video below is two years old. This was only the beginning, and we try to get funded somewhere -outside Academia - sooner than later.

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