Pitching the e-Calendar, plus That Won’t Fit There!

Today I learned:

1. That won’t fit there! Earlier today our 2 year-old pooped on the potty – no small achievement in itself – and after an excited potty dance our 4 year-old examined the output from multiple angles and proclaimed, very seriously, “well…I think we’re going to need this…” She then went and pulled out the plunger from under the sink. Flushing proved her hypothesis correct.

What did I learn from all this?

  1. We need to buy the 2 year-old some prunes.
  2. The 4 year-old’s spatial reasoning is really improving. She already knew the square peg, round hole thing, but now she’s good to go with round peg, round hole too. Cool.

2. Pitching the e-Calendar: My wife won’t use an electronic calendar. I have my schedule online. We are forever destined not to know what the other is doing.  If things don’t improve we may need to actually talk to each other to ensure we are on the same page.

Taken from: http://oggsync.com/img/google.png

Ok, it’s not that bad. We do speak, but we certainly aren’t on the same page with our calendars. This was highlighted for me today when I missed an activity that was on her calendar, but wasn’t on mine.

The truth is, I couldn’t live without my online calendar – the reminders (via email and pop-up) keep me on track and it is a constant reference accessed via phone, laptop and iPad. I don’t do task lists. I do calendars. If there is a task to do and it’s not scheduled, it’s not going to get done.

My wife actually has one too. I created a google calendar for her and it syncs perfectly with mine. The only problem is she won’t look at it. I have been trying for months – years maybe – to get her to make the shift but I haven’t ever been successful at getting her to shift for more than a couple days.

Today, I realized why.

It’s Marketing 101. I’ve been trying to sell her on the features, not the benefits.

In a renewed effort to get her on the bandwagon I did some brainstorming into why an e-calendar will make life better for her. 

  • It’s like a purse for your schedule. Sure, it doesn’t have a nice little pocket to hold receipts, stickers and fruit bars like your Mom-Calendar, but it holds a crazy amount of stuff. Each entry will hold links, clipped articles, recipes and other information so you will have it in the right spot when the time arrives.
  • It will save you time. Synching events automatically will save copying between home and work. Recurrence settings will move birthdays etc. from year to year.
  • It will save your butt. Automated reminders by email, pop-up or text will mean next year you won’t forget your parent’s birthdays and anniversary.
  • It will always be accessible. Events come up when you are out and about, not when you are standing next to the fridge.
  • It will keep you in the loop locally. Schools, sports leagues, dance companies and all sorts of organizations we are involved with use online systems, so their calendars can be aligned with ours.

To summarize my new sales pitch:

How would you like a product that will save you time, carry everything you need, cover your butt when trouble crops up, help you keep tabs on the neighbourhood and always be at your side?

Now, if I could just find a pen I would be able to get myself an appointment on her calendar to deliver my new pitch!

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The Streaming Diet, plus Saved by the Pomodoro?

Today’s two things come via links courtesy of Daniel Pink. His book Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – has been sitting near my bed for months. Now that I see all the great content on his site and twitter account (@danielpink), I might just be motivated enough to move it up in the queue.

Today I learned:

1. The Streaming Diet:

“Personal Productivity is the new Dieting”

– Daniel Pink

The central concept proposed (linked below) is that information, much like our caloric options, has proliferated to such an extent than an entirely new industry has been created to help us manage the issue. Essentially, he suggests we pile too much information on our plates now, in the same way we started to pile too much food on our plates decades ago.

A useful analogy, in my opinion, and a concerning one.

Despite a multi-billion dollar diet industry, collectively we clearly haven’t figured out food. Obesity rates continue to climb, particularly in kids.

Does the similarity between food and information mean one day ADHD will be the new Diabetes?  It’s been 72 years since McDonald’s was founded and we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the food in front of us. Certainly in the 6 years since Twitter launched the stream of cool stuff coming at us has simultaneously multiplied and become more difficult to say no to. I have never been great at turning down the chance to super-size my value meal. I am no better at avoiding the seduction of another glance at Twitter, email, RSS feeds…the list goes on.

That all said, I actually had some personal success with dieting through 2011.  My breakthrough came when I translated a trick that had helped me manage a family with two kids, full-time work and a part-time MBA program for 2.5 years. The solution was simple: meticulous planning, diarizing and recording of everything on my calendar.  In translating the idea to food this meant keeping a diary of all food intake via an app on my phone. I set no goals or dietary restrictions, but found the simple act of keeping track kept me honest and motivated. Personal drive immediately and drastically improved the quality and volume of what I consumed. In 9 months I lost about 20% of my body weight – a drastic improvement with almost zero effort.

It all makes me wonder: Could the same “diet” concept translate to managing a information overload?

This seems to me a worthy experiment. So, here is my plan:

For one week I will keep a simple but meticulous checklist recording every time I do the following things:

  • Check my work inbox
  • Check personal email
  • Review my Twitter feed
  • Navigate to Google Reader
  • Click into Google + (accidently of course, because why else would you visit a ghost town every day)
  • Check out my Facebook timeline

If, after a week, the idea seems manageable and promising I will continue my checklist in hopes of seeing if my behaviour changes over time. My working title is The Streaming Diet and March 1 (tomorrow) sounds like a natural place to start.

Link to Daniel Pink: How to Say No…Especially to Things you Want to Do

2. Saved by the Pomodoro? Keeping on task is a problem for just about everybody. If you don’t have issues with it, you probably quit reading this post somewhere in #1 above.

The question is, can a Pomodoro save us from ourselves?

Pomodoro is italian for Tomato, and apparently the shape of most simple timers in Italy, so in North America this idea might gain wider appeal as the Egg Technique (though it would not have the same marketing appeal).

The concept, via pomodorotechnique.com is simple:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break

I find the concept appealing in its simplicity. I also find it appealing in that there is an app for it.

Screenshot from ITunes Canada

I’ve been an advocate of mini-breaks for years and I used them incessantly while studying to artificially “chunk” my progress.  I like the concept for work too, due to the natural tendency to allow interruptions – phone, email, open-door – to impact my ability to buckle down and keep me from critical tasks for the day.

This seems like another worthy experiment for me. I have a sense that the short time blocks might simultaneously make me more productive, and help me with The Streaming Diet that starts tomorrow.

Time to go shopping in the app store.

Link to the inspiration for this post, Daniel Pink: Can a tomato make you more productive?

Link to the “cheat sheet” on pomodortechnique.com


Leave ‘Em Be, plus What I Learned from the Honey Badger

Today I learned:

1. Leave ’em be: 

http://i1112.photobucket.com/albums/k488/sqacct7/Topic%20Photos/Section%20B/betterthanyouquotes.jpg

Today was my first day back in the office after a week at home recovering from surgery. As I sat down with different people on the team through the day one thing became abundantly clear: Everything was under control.  This didn’t come as a surprise mind you, but it is good to learn that your expectations have been met, or exceeded. It reminded me of a great quote on hiring and team building:

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them alone to get on with it.”

David Ogilvy

2. What I learned from the Honey Badger: With 39+ million hits on You Tube, most people have seen the hilarious Honey Badger video (linked below). I’ve been exposed to it a number of times, but always from the perspective of humour.  When the link crossed my path again today I saw an opportunity to view it in a different light.

Can we learn anything about business from the Honey Badger? It turns out we can.

For me, there are three key lessons:

1. Be fierce:

“The most fearless animal in the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a sh*t. “

The Honey Badger knows what he wants, and he goes after it. In his case the prize is a treasured Cobra and maybe a taste of larvae. For you it may be additional responsibilities, a new contract or just a chance to bend the bosses ear. Whether your goals are personal or career driven, it pays to clearly identify what you are after and then be fierce in your pursuit.

2. Be relentless:

“It’s getting stung like a thousand times. It doesn’t care.”

The Honey Badger takes its problems in stride. Stung by a swarm of bees? Bit by a cobra?  Day to day, hopefully at least, you are not likely to be taken down by a cobra, but other pitfalls and speed bumps are all around us. Downsizing? Negotiations falling apart? Crappy boss? We have problems every day. And we choose our own response. Take your licks, get back up and continue driving forward with both eyes squarely on your prize.

3. Accept pursuit:

“The Honey Badger does all the work, while these other animals just pick up the scraps.”

You wouldn’t surround yourself with Jackals by choice, but they are a sign you are doing something right. In business the jackals will multiply in the good times. Don’t be concerned when they are hanging around. Be concerned when they aren’t.

I should note, I chose a business angle to this post, partly because I googled the subject and it turns out I am not the only person with a slightly odd sense of humour who thinks we can learn something from the Honey Badger. I actually found a couple other blog posts referencing personal learnings and life lessons from the Honey Badger. These are the two best I found:

As well, for those of you who would prefer to see the Honey Badger video in the light context that I am sure it was originally intended, I apologize. Here is a link to another hilarious video that I promise not to analyze and ruin for you. There is certainly nothing to learn from it, other than the fact is it an obvious reminder for self-censorship.


Disney Day 4: Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test, plus the Service Scape

The fourth in a series of Disney-themed posts as I continue a quest to ingrain within myself the habit of learning two things a day. Our vacation continues…

Today I learned:

1. Market Research – Test, Iterate and Re-test: I get the sense Disneyland is a living lab, with constant testing of new ideas to see which generate the highest customer satisfaction and revenue. Subtle and not-so-subtle examples of experimentation are everywhere.

On the not-so subtle side, I have seen numerous appearances of a small army of pleasant, approachable, middle-aged researchers, with touchscreen devices attempting to collect data from customers immediately after different service contact points. The team has appeared after a street performance and a parade, while exiting a restaurant and after using a couple of the rides. They were even at the main entry point after getting our passes scanned this morning.

We completed one quick survey and it was focussed on basic satisfaction questions, rating our experience and whether or not we would recommend it to others. Nothing new, just ever present. The interesting thing is that I have never seen anyone turn down a request, which is well over 15 for 15 at this point. I am guessing that level of success rate would be unheard of in the outside world.

On the subtle side we have seen a few examples of unadvertised test-performances. One such street show related to the Princess and the Frog did not appear on any of the main schedules and seemed to be a trial run to see how the crowd enjoyed it, in comparison to the typical entertainment in that area of the park.

I suppose it is easy to keep your brand focussed on research when you control the environment as every day is groundhog day – you get a chance to start over and try again 24 hours later. This experimentation keeps the park fresh for recurrent visitors and ensures the show is constantly improving.

Test, iterate and re-test – it is all a part of what helps a great company stay great for 50+ years.  I can think of a few examples of companies that could use that kind of insight. There is a deal on right now for RIM stock. Anyone? Anyone?

2. The Service Scape: One of my favourite MBA classes was Strategic Marketing of Services, taught by Kenton Low, a former Vice President at The Walt Disney Company.  Within class he was able to convey a number of insights into the strategies employed in Disney’s theme parks to improve the customer experience, and extract a bit more of every visitor’s tourist dollar.

One of the more amusing anecdotes was about the research that went into every aspect of Mainstreet, USA, all the way down to the aroma in the shops. Apparently a replica of Main Street was built in a warehouse for test purposes and researchers subsequently learned that piping in the smell of cotton candy proved to sell the most sweets.

Along with the distinct odour of cotton candy, with what I believe was a mild undertone of waffle cone, today I was equally impressed by these aspects of the Service Scape:

  • Flow/Geography: The hub and spoke set-up of the park helps you always feel like you are constantly entering somewhere new. Each “Land” is unique and in look and feel helping to break up the visit and periodically revive interest as you move through the park. It also mean you can get from anywhere to anywhere in about 5-10 minutes (assuming you can walk at a healthy pace), meaning you can change activities with the whim of your mood. And, it all filters into a central spot that makes it easy for families to meet and re-group then head about their separate ways if they choose.
  • Mood: The pastel colours of Mickey’s Toon Town give a good balance to the wild energy of the toddlers climbing Donald Duck’s boat and running around Goofy’s Playhouse. More whimsical than other areas of the park it seems to draw my kids like no other, even though there are fewer rides. It just seems to make them feel happier and more energetic as soon as they arrive. Admittedly though, that might just be the smell of hotdogs. Now, if we could just get them to build Minnie’s Spa Town right next door.
  • Atmosphere: New Orleans Square is a long way from Bourbon Street but the energy found in the crowded, narrow thoroughfares and ample restaurant options makes it perfect for an evening stroll. A few more strollers than the real thing, but still a great vibe to generate energy after a long day at the park.

I could go on, but better to stop there and head back to the park for a post-nap evening with the kids!


Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory, plus Trust Your Team

Today I learned:

1. Anticipation – Mickey’s Victory: Little girls have a hard time falling asleep the night before they fly off to Disneyland.  What is interesting to me is this phenomenon, while expected, far exceeds the same problem on Christmas Eve. Despite having a thorough understanding of the concept of Santa and only a cursory knowledge of Mickey et al., Disney takes the cake as a cause of sleep deprivation.

Hopefully this does not foreshadow additional sleep issues in the coming days.

2. Trust your team: While preparing for a brief absence from work today I was bolting around the office like a chicken with my head cut-off through most of the morning. It took someone else to wake me up to it.

One of my reports said, “Well…somebody is trying to clear his desk for vacation.”

Unfortunately it took someone else to snap me out of it, but fortunately she was successful.

In that moment I realized the world doesn’t stop when you leave the office. If you have a good group around you, and they are competent and engaged, it really doesn’t matter what you fly around trying to accomplish in a few hours. Everything is covered. Any fires that come up will be put out. Everybody already knows exactly what they need to do, and they will do it.

Today I learned, thankfully, that I needed to get over myself.


Locus of Control and Don’t Blame the Tech

Today I learned:

Locus of Control in Parenting: One of the most disconcerting times in life for a parent is knowing your child’s future will be impacted by factors beyond your control.

Our daughter – set to being kindergarten in the fall – has her name in a hat tonight with hundreds of other preschooler’s registered for French Immersion.  With more families interested than spots available, the method of schooling of our daughter is now left to chance.

Growing up I didn’t learn another language, and this remains a regret.  I would like to provide her with an opportunity I did not have, and it is quite bothersome to know I cannot control the outcome of the draw.  It is not a matter of money. I would gladly pay for it it that option was available.  It is simply a matter of which names come out of the hat.

So, today I learned for the first time, but certainly not for the last time, that not being able to control the path your child takes through life doesn’t feel good.

[Note @ 2013.02.01: After losing the draw she spent this year in English Kindergarten. It has been mostly great, with some annoyances…but we are now VERY pleased she won the lottery this year and she can switch to French for Gr. 1. Sad for all the other parents and kids that lose out to chance again.]

2. Don’t blame the tech: I participated in a webinar today which got off to a rocky start. Immediately after logging on we were all kicked out and told to wait five minutes then restart, giving the presenter time to deal with a technical issue.  The program eventually started 15 minutes late and in turn went 15 minutes long, impacting the rest of my day

Blaming the technology is a nice fallback option to have, but this excuse is starting to feel like crying wolf.  When a carpenter learns his trade, the rule #1 is “measure twice, cut once.” Other similar maxim’s include “success is 90% preparation,” and “practice makes perfect.” One of my favorites comes from from Abe Lincoln:

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spent six hours sharpening the axe”

How come then a similar lesson on preparation for presentations doesn’t seem to catch on? I wouldn’t wing it if I was renovating a bathroom.  I would make a plan, learn the tools and find a way to practice. Yet people seem just fine winging it in front of a crowd of people? Here’s hoping this quote, from Wayne Burghaff, one day becomes as popular as the rest:

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”


Tweets Can Kill (Your Job Prospects) and Corporate Trends for 2012

In honour of my shot yesterday at Guy Kawasaki’s apparent spamming strategy on Twitter, I decided to stay tuned in to him for one more day to see if I could actually learn something valuable before enacting my plan to unfollow him.

So, here goes, two diamonds in the rough courtesy of links from @guykawasaki‘s ridiculously annoying spambot.

Today I learned:

1. Cats and the downward dog:  Apparently cats love Yoga.

I’m kidding. While I did technically learn that today I am not counting it in my two things. I just couldn’t resist another shot. Lucky he only repeat posted that gem 3 or 4 times today.

Please allow me to start over…

Today I learned:

1.  How Social Media can get you fired: Via @guykawasaki, and courtesy of tribehr. The linked infographic is particularly interesting for someone – no names here – trying to write a blog that involves thoughts on business, without ever directly referencing anything that could put himself in hot water with his employer.  Generally this can be achieved by focusing on personal and positive lessons learned without direct or even traceable references to other employees. Admittedly though, this is a fine line.

The interesting piece to me from this link is one specfic stat:

“85% of employers indicate they are less likely to hire candidates whose social networking profile or tweets evidence unprofessional behaviour.”

This suprises me, but maybe not in the way you might expect.

What amazes me is why is this not 100%? Exactly what businesses – 15% in total – would still hire you if you were clearly displaying unprofessional behaviour online? More importantly, even if you are one of those businesses, how could you ever admit it? I wonder if the practice aligns closely with another stat that I probably just made up: “15% of businesses get burned by inept hiring practices.”

2. Trends for Workplace Change in 2012: Via @GuyKawasaki, and courtesy of Entrepreneur.com. The linked article provides a good set of cues you can use within your own organization to see if you are on track with hot issues on the agendas of other organizations. A few of the issues discussed include open office concepts, telecommuting and co-working spaces.

Two of the trends I keyed in are:

  • Corporate Culture Initiatives: Ever since reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com, I have been enthralled with things that influence culture.  Entering a new role about 12 months ago I think it is fair to say that I underestimated what it takes to make meaningful change in this area. It has been particularly tough through a period of outsourcing and downsizing, but it remains a key interest of mine.  It is not surprising that more and more companies are realizing that attracting and retaining the best is no longer just about the money.
  • Mobile Devices: We use Blackberry’s at work but more and more I find my company phone doesn’t offer me the flexibility and tools I want.  I now carry my personal iPhone (and periodically my iPad too) at work, and often end up using it for work purposes to help make me more efficient or creative. In the last 5 business days I have shared whiteboard shots with colleagues, demonstrated slides on a iPad for discussion purposes and used a mapping tool to brainstorm ideas. I have also dictated brief memos, uploaded business cards, mapped my route to a meeting and reviewed a service provider’s app.  An efficiency has been gained in each one of these actions.  More and more companies are bound to realize – as people like me already have – that there are tools available to help us do a better job. Why not provide them?