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Unfollowing—vision inspires evangelists

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lorenzo de’ Medici brought together diverse people from vastly different fields—architects, scientists, sculptors, poets, and painters. His court included Piero and Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Michelangelo Buonarroti—all unfollowers driving the Renaissance.

Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo and his family for five years, dining at the family table and participating in discussions led by Marsilio Ficino—a Catholic priest, who wrote the first Latin translation of the complete works of Plato. Gadi Amit, the inventor of the Fitbit, and Ben Horowitz, are present-day unfollowers who work in an information thick world.

They both have very strong beliefs in something of their own creation and are not distracted by what people think. Karl Lagerfeld couldn’t care less about what men think of his designs. They think for themselves, from first principles and generally arrive at different endings from those who start with the literature. It is a ‘beginner’s mind’ or ‘Shoshin’ in Zen Buddhism, an attitude of openness, an eagerness to learn, and an absence of preconceptions.

Courage is a skill they cultivate. At 23, Zuckerberg was in the midst of a full-scale mutiny and he threatened to replace each person who wanted to sell the company.

They set themselves apart from the rest of the field like Peter Minshall who creates not by adding, but by what he strips away. They know what they do not know, and like Lorenzo de’ Medici they surround themselves with talent. They have all noticed, however, that as they get older—the more they know, the less they are capable of reasoning from first principles.

Making zero assumptions is a challenge and unfollowers never assume that the sky is blue. Like Leonardo, Steve Jobs had an unquenchable curiosity and a feverishly inventive imagination. To realise his vision, Jobs hired Mickey Drexler, the CEO of Gap Inc, a garment retailer, along with Ron Johnson from Target, the second largest retailer in the United States.

After studying the Four Seasons Luxury Hotel chain, Johnson carved out the iconic design of an Apple Store using steel, glass, and Scandinavian wood. He observed that Target had 31 toaster models but Williams-Sonoma Inc, the master of food preparation had just two. Johnson advised Jobs to restrict product range and fill the store with ownership experiences to enrich lives where 75 per cent of the shop floor will be like a concierge dispensing advice and solutions.

Devices would be restricted to 25 per cent of the floor space allowing the rest of space to be open for customers to play games, surf, read books, and listen to music. Vision inspires evangelists. They are the key players who take ideas to market as fruitful innovations. Vanilla companies on the other hand asphyxiate themselves as creatives struggle to persuade layers of middle management who lack passion for the products they are making and who only react to the competition having lost sight of ‘Next’. Jerry Manock was hired by Jobs to mimic the designs of Cuisinart Food Processors found in the kitchen section of Macy’s.

The outcome would be smooth curved edges like a toaster, muted colours, lightly textured surfaces, and a moulded plastic outer shell. Inspired by the practice of resting a telephone on top of the telephone directory the design team had to figure out how to build a computer vertically instead of horizontally.

Apple’s proprietary magnetically attached power connectors was an old feature of Japanese rice cookers. Recent unfollowers have invented ‘self-cleaning concrete’ infused with titanium dioxide. At Delft a microbiologist has created ‘self-healing’ concrete by adding bacteria (bacillus pseudofirmus or sporosarcina pasteurii) to the concrete.

When moisture seeps into a crack the bacteria produces limestone that repairs the crack just like osteoblast cells in our body during repair of a fractured bone. Tomorrow, we will all look back at the ‘Dark Ages of Today’ and marvel at the unfollowers who saw the similarity between things that are different and unfollowed with Blockchain, Barcodes, and Bitcoin.

Dr Fazal Ali


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