Of Polynyas and a Pollyanna

Yesterday, I was watching the wonderful Nature series by BBC’s David Attenborough (specifically Frozen Planet). During winter, most things that fly escape the freezing arctic to warmer southern regions of our planet.

Spectacled Eider Duck

There is an exception it seems. The Spectacled Eider, instead of moving south, heads for the frozen seas in search of ‘polynyas‘, which are naturally occurring ice holes in the otherwise frozen ocean.  The entire Eider population gambles on the open ice hole betting that it will continue to remain open through the harsh winter. Polynyas are reported to remain open over several winters sometimes. Others may just not sustain the thermodynamic conditions required to keep the ice from forming. For the Eiders its important they choose a Polynya that doesn’t close in. But when the bet fails, like in the video I watched, the open ice hole becomes too small for the crowd to stay afloat and alive. Its like a noose that slowly tightens freezing many to their deaths.

The best part of my career was like the abundance of spring. Seasons do change and when winter set in some 5 years back, I cut loose in search of my own Polynya, navigating entrepreneurial waters. While watching Frozen Planet, I was struck by what mirrored those doomed Eiders! My startup Polynya seemed perfect when I chose that space, and it was the best contrarian bet, I thought then. It was so good that it reflected in my improved health very quickly. Its worth noting that being my own boss, chasing a dream was an amazing stress buster in itself. My higher cholesterol levels were down. Later, my curious enquiry of changes in eating, exercise, sleep patterns revealed nothing. I was left to conclude stress was the silent killer. And I beat it in my own Polynya. In the micro climate of the startup ecosystem, talking to investors, fellow entrepreneurs, businesses at networking events, award functions so on, the Polynya comes to life, nurturing the dream. Until it starts closing in!

Everyone in the ecosystem is aware of the dynamics of thermodynamics at play. Similar to the Polynya, the freeze tries to extend constantly, while the upwelling currents continue their churn bringing rich nutrients to the surface for the ducks and seals to feed, not to mention the submerged naval vessels that need to rise to surface on occasion within a Polynya. If I may draw a literal parallel, these naval ships are the big enterprises with their ‘open innovation’ programs, launching funds, accelerators, shared IP, so on to ensure their large appetites constantly find new sources of food to keep that magical growth number going or in search of technological progress and visit startup Polynyas.

Unlike the poor Eiders doomed within the confines of a false Polynya, a startup is afforded an exit, for the lucky few its newsworthy and others end in a icy, watery grave. As unreal as failure is, reason informs one that I took a chance, I didn’t fail, it was my aspiration, my expectations that failed. More importantly, I realize these can be shed. I remind myself its all gravy, and I welcome back myself to this neglected blog.

The optimistic pollyanna that I am tells me – here its spring all through the year! It will be unfair to the Polynya that fed me during tough weather and open conditions and like so many of us do, I am richer for the experience! In my next post, I hope to share an insight gleaned from that journey, where I will try to makes sense of what linkages there are, if at all, between two worlds I straddled (I am no deep diving Eider either), the ‘user centered’ world of design and the ‘data centered’ world of big data. As for my future, I believe I have not failed, but emerged from a cauldron or should I say ice bucket of learning, ready to apply in new work that I will take up.

Meanwhile, enjoy this stanza V from the 1925 T.S.Eliot poem – ‘The Hollow Men’ (quote taken from All Poetry). Its a sort of feeling I get as I exit the startup Polynya.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

It’s all gravy

image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Voyager_Path.svg

I was in my early teens when the Voyager spacecraft was launched for what was a four-year mission to explore the solar system. I still recall fascinating, never before seen close up pictures sent by Voyager as it shot past Saturn’s rings. After a long period of silence, Voyager has recently signalled, 36 years later, that it is indeed outside our solar system, sometime this week. The first man-made object to leave our solar system.

Like a bird leaving its nest to lead its own life, led by its own purpose. Its all gravy after that. To track progress, it’s only keenest speculation. The degree of Keenness matters because, if I may borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, now, its an unknown unknown and as it moves beyond, to exist only in imagination. The bird in the nest is a known known. To know about the bird that has flown, best predictability models matter. Patterns matter. There will be lots of noise from uncontrolled, unknown sources. When I used to gaze at those captivating pictures of Saturn and all the planets, those days there was the Skylab crashing down incident. Around that time I was living in Kolkata (Calcutta) and there was this craze, perhaps in jest, to get helmets to protect oneself from the impending crash. It’s funny that in modern times, the scientific rationale can easily be thwarted with such emotive responses. Is that natural when a familiar, well-understood worldview gets challenged and a lot of unknowns enter the picture?

This is the familiar language of big data these days, as popular as it is, and a lot of unknowns. Its all gravy today, for the Voyager, for the bird that discovered flying, and for me too. Through this blog I hope to explore and discover new aspects of our digital worlds, to thwart the known and structured definitions that I have lived by these days, the world of design, user experience, entrepreneurship encompassing Cloud, mobility and big data. I welcome you to join me on this journey and share your thoughts as it progresses.

My first post explains why UX Gravy. The content is primarily contributed by Sridhar Dhulipala until we get other like-minded individuals who want to share out here. The idea is that over the last few decades, especially since the advent of GUI, PCs, point and click devices today we are in the middle of a far more digital-driven world and highly mobile users consuming this digital content across the globe. Those initial heuristics and definitions that guided user interface design perhaps hold, but fundamental changes are questioning their relevance. The nature of tasks, how we work, interact, personal lives are all changing and user experience expectations, opportunities are different.

UX Gravy is about whats beyond previous well-defined rules of user experience. It’s about identifying, exploring, conjectures, evidence pointing to new user experience where our digital stuff has crossed thresholds of easy, ready, structured comprehension. It’s about what user interfaces, what contexts, how, why people interact with information and how it is helping them adapt at work and in life.