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The Decision Book

Cognician is proud to announce that we will be releasing a cog based on Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler’s European bestseller, The Decision Book. The cog will be available in our cog store on the 6th of January 2011. We crack a brief mention in this article by Alex Butterworth in the guardian.co.uk.

We secured the rights to adapt The Decision Book from Profile Books in London and hence we have the rights to distribute the cog throughout the world, except in the US. Rest assured that we are doing all we can to make the cog available to our users in the United States as soon as possible.

We are also fortunate to have secured the assistance of five MBA students from Harvard University who will help us to market The Decision Book Cog. The graduate students are among a group of 50 who will be in Cape Town on the 10th and 11th of January 2011 to interact with local entrepreneurs.

So mark your calendars and remember to look out for the The Decision Book Cog in our store in early January. Imagine starting the year knowing you have a dynamite digital companion to help you make brilliant decisions all year long!

We had the idea in December 2006. Doodles turned to mindmaps, which turned into sketches that became prototypes. We started building the current version in January of this year. And we started servicing our first client, The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, in August. Now, finally, the new Cognician.com is live and the Cognician app can say, “Hello world!”

We have a lot of work to do before Cognician is in the shape that we want it to be. And although there are currently bugs, we are satisfied that it can live up to it’s promise to help you think better, further and faster. So please download the app and a few cogs and let us know what you think. There are only six cogs in the store right now, but we’ll be adding loads more in the weeks ahead.

We’ll soon tell you more about the great work we’re doing with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. And we’re itching to tell you about our newest client too, but that’s still a secret for now.

When I was 11 years old, I had an epiphany. It was my first, of course. I wasn’t so precocious that I had epiphanies before the age of 11. I was reading in bed, opposite a tall bookshelf stacked with books. The book was 1984. Winston Smith was being threatened with torture in Room 101 and I suddenly realised that this book was all about an idea. I’m not sure how my 11-year-old mind described that idea, but I remember thinking that Animal Farm, which I had read a while before, was also about an idea. Then I looked up at the bookshelf opposite my bed and my mind opened up to the epiphany that every one of those books was about an idea too. Right away it seemed important to me that I should find out what each and every one of them were. From that moment I fell in love with books and ideas forever.

Years later, I embarked on a four-year degree in literature. I chose every course available that allowed me to read and to learn how to write. Nearly every thought I have today is influenced in some way by the time I spent in deep contemplation of the books I read during those years. When I left university I started working with my brother, Barry. During our long partnership we have created many products – books, games and other learning experiences – which we could not have built without the intuition, sensitivity and creativity that we nurtured by the reading of great literature. We owe so much to the books we’ve read.

Intuition, sensitivity, creativity… I borrowed these words from Rheina Epstein, who introduced herself to me after my presentation last week at Net Prophet. A tiny package of intellectual dynamite, she exploded in front of me with a barrage of criticisms for my apparent distaste for books. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she wrote down the gist of it on a piece of paper and handed it to me after the conference once we’d spoken and cleared up our differences:

Facts and technological advances need to be processed with the intuition, sensitivity and creativity developed by the reading of imaginative literature to produce results that are both innovative and humane.

She’s right of course. And that’s why she mistook my zeal for Cognician – for being a new way to capture and consume knowledge – as an indication that I dislike books. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stillness I find in reading is the cornerstone of my sanity. What Rheina did not understand – and what I failed to explain – is that Cognician is not suitable for fiction. It is focused on non-fiction works that help you get something done. What Rheina perceived as a beef with books is actually my impatience with the lazy application of the book form onto units of knowledge that could sometimes be better packaged in other ways. Ways that help you get things done.

Each time Barry and I design a new product we read from hundreds of different resources as part of our research. These can include books, blog posts, white papers or anything that can give us deeper insight into our challenge. Often we will read for hours before finding a single helpful nugget of knowledge in a deep bed of irrelevant ideas. That nugget then becomes one unit in a new latticework of knowledge that holds our product together. It’s a laborious but invaluable process to ensure we create intellectually robust materials.

With Cognician, however, we’re able to go directly to the relevant ideas in a variety of resources. We can select ideas from any number of them and we can build new mental latticeworks with no more effort than it takes to drag, drop and click. Cognician takes the slog out of research. It makes smart thinking systematic. It leaves your mind free to make connections and see patterns. It helps you get difficult stuff done. And it does it faster than a pencil and paper and a pile of books.

Will it help to cultivate your intuition, sensitivity and creativity? Perhaps. Will it replace the quiet and beautiful journey of the mind into a piece of fine literature? Of course not. And we wouldn’t want it to.

My brother came across a great analogy the other day in response to the crowds who are calling the iPad nothing more than a big iPod Touch: The iPad is as much a big iPod Touch as a swimming pool is a big bath.

Sure, it’s funny. But it’s actually quite a useful analogy to unpack the mindset behind some of the iPad’s dissenters. So let’s interrogate it a little. What is wrong with calling a swimming pool a big bath? What do we fail to see if we think of a swimming pool as a big bath? The answer is that we fail to see what becomes possible to us in a swimming pool.

Many critics are asking the question, “What does the iPad replace?” In doing so, they are assuming that the iPad is an oversize iPod Touch or an underpowered laptop and so they fail to see what the iPad makes possible.

So just what does the iPad make possible? Well, if the bath and swimming pool analogy can give us a clue, then we can probably expect a categorical difference in use between an iPod Touch and an iPad. After all, cleaning yourself in a bath is categorically different from exercising in a swimming pool. But then perhaps at this point, applying the analogy starts to be more facetious than useful, so I’ll just answer the question directly. The iPad creates a user experience that is closer to our natural behavior than anything before it. And that means it will usher in an era of technology that will reach deeper and further into our lives than anything before it. Put simply, the iPad makes it possible for people to harness the power of a computer with significantly less effort, leaving their minds free to do whatever it is they’re good at.

The chances are that if you’re reading this blog post, you’re not the kind of person who will benefit most from using an iPad. Even as I write this, I’m looking at a WordPress interface that many people I know would find intimidating. Alienating even. Not just the screen, but the entire device puts a distance between them and what they want to get done. The iPad narrows the gap.

So what questions should we be asking? If not, “What does the iPad replace?” then what? How about:

  • Where will the iPad be used where other devices are cumbersome?
  • Who might benefit from the iPad’s ability to deliver expert guidance in real time in the field?
  • What study processes could the iPad simplify for students?
  • How could a meeting be improved if the attendees all used iPads?

To all the developers who have turned their minds to asking questions like these, I commend you! To all those wondering what the iPad will replace, I implore you to challenge your assumptions and ask more interesting questions.

We met Elaine Rumboll last weekend at the Geekretreat, where we showed her the mock-up of Cognician’s iPhone interface. To say she was excited would be putting it mildly and so we’re looking forward to meeting her again tomorrow, when we hope we can plot a way forward that sees Elaine using Cognician as soon as possible in her executive management training at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business.

We are especially excited about working with Elaine and perhaps this post from her blog on How to Create a Curious State will best explain why. Take note of her three excellent mantras:

1. Be fascinated by your own ignorance.

2. Answers don’t change the world, questions do.

3. Go slow to go fast.

Cognician came out of stealth mode this weekend to a surprising and humbling round of applause. We couldn’t have chosen a better occasion for it. Geekretreat at Stanford Valley Lodge was an inspiration from start to finish.

Organised by geeks and for geeks, the event is something of a think tank for all things geek. The theme of the weekend was how to make online education in SA better. While the theme was sometimes lost amidst issues that the majority of attendees found more pressing – how to enable mobile payments more easily, for example – some great ideas were thrashed out, which will help advance the work of those attendees who operate in the online education space.

Some of the sharpest tech minds in the country shared ideas around their projects and their challenges. Although every part of it was hugely interesting and inspiring, some of my personal highlights included:

  • Stefan Magdalinski’s presentation on the theft-based civic information websites he has created in the UK, which deliver previously concealed public information to the general population.
  • Sheraan Amod’s lighting-quick presentation on the Personera. (Watch out for this one! Personera is taking full advantage of Facebook’s traffic and it’s going to be big.)
  • Ivo Vegter’s talk on the “one rule that hobbles mobile payments”, where he discussed the legislation that totally hamstrings the progress of so much local business.
  • Eve Dmochowska’s presentation on her plans to create a crowd-sourced seed fund for local entrepreneurs.
  • Andy Volk’s insights on how to incubate new projects in your existing company.

Positive feedback on Cognician was outstanding. We really couldn’t have hoped for a better response. The following people, among others, took a personal interest and we hope to include them all in early testing and roll-out:

  • Andrea Broom, Jolanda de Villiers and Hermie Voulgarelis from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology are keen to adopt the use of Cognician in the classroom as early as possible.
  • Elaine Rumboll, the Director of Executive Education at UCT’s Graduate School of Business wants to use the mobile version of Cognician in her executive training programmes.
  • Michael Rowe, a physiotherapy lecturer and PhD student wants to incorporate the use of Cognician in teaching.
  • Jarred Cinman, Product Director at Cambrient – a digital marketing & web development company – wants to use Cognician as a project managment tool to direct best practices at Cambrient.

After an inspiring weekend, we’re charged to face a week in which it seems that we’re now out in the wild after being in hiding. And it feels great!

So a special thanks must go to Heather Ford, Eve Dmochowska and Justin Spratt for organising such a fantastic event. And thanks to the sponsors: Skyrove, Yola, RAMP, Seacom, Orca, econsultant, Jackie Scala, White Wall Web and Old Mutual. Also, big thanks to Stanford Valley for their excellent hospitality.

Thanks especially to Old Mutual, who provided our scholarships. We have since contributed to the fund ourselves to allow future scholars to attend, but thanks to Old Mutual for getting us through the door after the entires were closed.

External links:

From xsyn’s bloghttp://guy.cognasium.com/blog/1

From Of Relevancehttp://ofrelevance.com/2010/01/18/geekretreat-stanford-valley-2010/

From White Wall Web – http://blog.whitewallweb.com/2010/01/18/geekretreat-stanford-my-personal-experience-and-highlights/#more-337

From Gottaquirkhttp://www.gottaquirk.com/2010/01/18/geek-retreat-stanford-valley/

From Techcentral – http://www.techcentral.co.za/retreat-for-geeks-is-more-than-just-talk/12253/

From Michael Rowe – http://www.mrowe.co.za/blog/2010/01/thoughts-on-geekretreat-2010/

When he was 16 years old, Albert Einstein asked a curious question: “What would it be like to ride on a beam of light?” He said it took him ten years to fully understand what it meant. By the time he was able to answer it completely, he had described his special theory of relativity and formulated the most famous equation in physics: Emc2. Not bad for a question that most teachers would shake their heads and roll their eyeballs at, no?

Now imagine that you could retrace all the questions that led to a great idea. Imagine starting at the end and working backwards. Having plotted each insightful question at each turning point along the route, you would have more than just the directions to a single destination. You would have a set of useful conceptual tools that you could apply to any number of new challenges. This is what we call thought plotting.

Thought plotting is at the very centre of Cognician. It’s the idea on which Cognician builds its foundations. Because Cognician is based on the principle that if you want to think and act like a genius, you must learn to question like a genius. But genius is perhaps too strong a word. Because the world doesn’t need more geniuses. What it needs is people who can use ideas with the same skill and efficiency that they use tools.

In this blog, we’ll show you how you can use the principles of thought plotting to identify the ideas behind the deeds of entrepreneurs, politicians, artists and scientists. We’ll show you how you can use thought plotting to get to the bottom of social issues. We’ll show you how you can use thought plotting to understand creativity, innovation and business. In short, we’ll show you how you can use thought plotting to harness the power of ideas and make them work for you.

We have always been fascinated by ideas. That’s why we are building Cognician – an application and a platform that makes using powerful ideas as easy as clicking on a mouse. By using ideas, we don’t mean just thinking about things. We mean putting ideas to use to do things. What kinds of things? More on that later.

Since December 2006, Barry and I have been working in some way or another on Cognician. Although the love of ideas is in our DNA, Cognician properly began life as a seminar that Barry created for UCT’s graduate school of business on critical and creative thinking. When we decided to turn the content of that seminar into software, we realised that we were creating a platform for the delivery of many kinds of content. The platform and the application evolved into what we now call, Cognician: the original thinking guide.

So how does it work? What does it do? Who is it for? What will it do for you? Until we release Cognician, and for some time after, this blog will answer all these questions and more. We hope you enjoy reading it and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.



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