Hello! This is a micro-blog by Ahmad Al-Naimi; a software craftsman, curious experimenter, and founder of a one-man laboratory Burkan Labs.

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.

Aiming for the Arena

Always racing to the front row, he is now restless and boiling. The tiered seating can no longer seat him. After every fight, he shoves his way through the crowd and, with a strong fist, he shakes every sweaty hand. A beast with a big smile, he hears their stories, while hiding a deep envy for both the winners and the losers. This man is tired of the sidelines, and is now aiming for the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.

Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

Cheers! to a life worth living.

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!

Market Research for Fun & Profit

Note: this is a copy-paste of an email I sent to entrepreneurs-in-residence I’m mentoring these days. Please excuse the less-than-perfect formatting. If you have more sources/methods, please share in the comments.

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face (especially in the Kingdom) is the lack of market intelligence to support their planning. I am sending you this email to share with you a list of resources and techniques for market research. I’ve been growing this list for quite some time and I hope you’ll find it as useful as I have in the past. You should skim through them quickly and drilldown on the ones that are relevant to you. Regardless of the sources you choose, try to keep an open mind and always seek out-of-the-box methods to support your decisions.

Saudi Government Entities

  1. Central Department of Statistics & Information (CDSI)
    General statistics such as imports, exports, inflation, population, growth rates, etc.
  2. Information & Communication Technology Commission
    Reports and studies on ICT sector
  3. Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF)
    Industrial statistics and future outlooks
  4. Ministry of Commerce and Industry
    Reports and statistics on factories and volumes
  5. Saudi Industrial Property Authority (MODON)
    Reports including cost of doing business in Saudi
  6. Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency (SAMA)
    Periodical reports with economic indicators
  7. Ministry of Health (MOH)
    Health indicators and statistics
  8. Port Authority
    Monthly and annual reports on imports and exports for each port
  9. Customs Authority
    Annual reports on imports and exports

Techniques for Software Startups

  1. Google Trend: effective/creative use of this toll will allow you to gauge interest in a certain topic, find correlations, and predict behavior. I find the data to be much more meaningful when filtered by country/region.
  2. Alexa.com: the go-to place to estimate website traffic and most popular urls. It can be most effective in determining the most popular websites in similar countries in order to find unexploited trends.
  3. App Annie: best place to look up traffic on mobile apps from different platforms.
  4. Facebook Ads: good to measure niche markets.
  5. CrunchBase.com: good to look up performance and fund raising of similar ventures in different markets