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:
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper
- Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
- 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.
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
Today I learned:
1. Leave ’em be:
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.”
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:
- In Pursuit of Happiness – 3 Things We Should Learn from the Honey Badger
- Scenes of Life – 5 Life Lessons from the Honey Badger (because he don’t care)
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.
In a TED-themed post, today I focus on learnings from a morning spent enthralled in the growing online library of Ideas Worth Spreading.
Today I learned:
1. Leading with Lollipops:
“Maybe the biggest impact I’ve ever had on anyone’s life…was a moment I don’t even remember.”
– Drew Dudley
This quote comes from a powerful video (linked below) in which Mr. Dudley describes a time when a young woman recalled an interaction with him that had changed her life, and he couldn’t even remember it.
Mr. Dudley speaks about the idea of everyday leadership. He proposes we re-frame the concept away from money and power, to a more tangible concept we can all own. He suggests leadership is “the moments we create, acknowledge, pay forward and say thank you for.”
This idea is somewhat similar to the theme of Robin Sharma’s book, The Leader Who Had No Title (and I have already made it clear I am a fan of this concept). I consider myself a believer in this approach to leadership, and over the past several months I have been trying to emphasize it in interactions with everyone I meet. It gives me tangible ideas I can use to make me a better parent, manager, and friend. It formed part of the motivation for this blog, and it has certainly impacted how I approach my relationships with others.
The video also led me to consider a “lollipop moment” in my own life – one I have never said thank-you for. Here it is:
In 2007 I was looking at options for what to do next and I was considering a number of different academic pursuits, in the hopes I could open some additional doors in my professional life. I knew I needed to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, until I met professor Darren Dahl.
I decided to attend an information session on the part-time MBA program at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, and as it turns out Mr. Dahl was the presenter. The experienced floored me.
Instead of providing basic information on the program, he energetically launched into a pseudo-marketing class, conducting a discussion on the BMW film series. I said nothing. I was totally caught off-guard. I also knew I was home. I left the session and immediately got to work arranging my life so I could attend the program. Fast forward a few years and I graduated in 2011.
Would I have done it anyway? Maybe. Only one thing is for sure: In that moment, he handed me a lollipop that changed my life, and he probably didn’t even realize it. He certainly never asked for anything in return. That’s leadership.
Link to Drew Dudley @ TedxToronto: (Trust me, it is worth your 6 min 22s seconds.)
2. Sibling Bonds:
“They are with us for the entire ride.”
– Jeffrey Kluger
I have known for years that my brother just gets me. My humour is littered with 80’s sitcom jokes that only he seems to be able to pick-up. Often, I make a joke and we are the only two laughing. Most people are looking at me curiously, wondering what I could possibly find funny about Kale in a salad.
Understanding the impact of our relationship, makes me keenly examine the relationship between my own children – two young girls that are 20 months apart. The girls are the best of friends but admittedly emotions shift quickly. At times they fight with reckless abandon. Within Mr. Kluger’s Ted video (linked below), he suggests children in the 2-4 age group engage in one fight every 6.3 minutes. Frankly I think either he is low-balling the number, or my kids help bring down the average.
The most thought provoking piece to me is Mr. Kluger’s conclusion: “Life is short, finite and it plays for keeps. Siblings may be among the richest harvests of the time we have here.”
This raised one question for me – how can I ensure my daughters value their sibling relationship in the way I do mine?
At their age, I can say it, but it won’t hit home. I can try to control the fights, but it won’t change much. There will always be another doll to yell about.
Instead it hit me the best way to accomplish this goal is modelling. They learn so much from what they watch and experience. What is the best way to build my daughters’ relationship? It might just be calling up my brother and inviting him and his family for dinner.
Time to make a phone call…
Link to Jeffrey Kluger: The Sibling Bond on Ted.com.
The final post in a series of Disneyland-based learnings. A.k.a. Day 45 @ The two things blog.
Today I learned:
1. (Un)happiest Place on Earth: Apparently, if you treat a 2 year old to 4 days at Disneyland, somewhere on day 5 she will return the favour by rewarding you with a 65 minute meltdown in Tomorrowland. The location was, at least, a fitting backdrop for the tantrum – about 1/2 way through it felt like tomorrow would never come.
I tried moving to Fantasyland to see if it was really happening, but unfortunately it was not a dream. At least when we made it to the Tea Cups and Dumbo the sight of a 2 year old screaming at the top of her lungs was not even a notable spectacle. The behaviour was more prevalent than Mickey Mouse ears.
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!
The third in a short series of posts that touch on Disneyland as I continue to blog my way through the process of learning two things a day for 66 straight days…
Today I learned:
1. Down-sizing: It took us 2 days, but we have now learned to down-size any food orders in the Park. We had forgotten we were ordering based on U. S. sizing.
How did we learn this lesson? While seated for a late morning kids snack we looked at the two tables next to us and simply observed what was going on.
Table 1: A family of 4 from Ohio (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the plethora of Ohio State garb), each gnawing on their own “Giant Turkey Leg,” which cost about $13 each, along with a Diet(!) Coke AND a cheese stuffed pretzel.
Table 2: A family of 4 people from Japan (which I hold as a solid assumption based on the fact they were speaking Japanese), each sharing pieces from single “Giant Turkey Leg,” and part of a large bottle of water. They all had some Apple slices too.
From that moment on I realized the portion sizes were more likely to give me a heart attack than the Space Mountain Roller Coaster. Needless to say we all split a couple things for lunch.
2. Upselling: If there is one thing the fine people at Disney have figured out it’s upselling. As a patron of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver I can recall attending several events, mostly in the early days when organizing and queuing methods were suspect , where it was not possible to spend my money. Either horrendous lines or empty shelves empty actually prevented me from getting what I wanted. None of that is true at Disneyland
They seem to understand – better than any other example I can come up with – that the easiest sales to convert are to those people you can already count as customers. With that understanding they make sure to never miss an opportunity. Once you are in the door they try to draw a little more cash from your pocket around every corner.
A few of the best examples I found today:
- Food: There seems to be something new in every different “Land” and (at least in February) there is never more than a 3-5 minute wait to get what you need. Healthy? Got it. Horrendously unhealthy? See the Massive Turkey leg referenced above. Kids sizes? Yup, and toddler too. $12 R2-D2 shaped plastic souvenir container? They have for both popcorn and soft drinks.
- Memorabilia: We all know Disney is famous for their animated franchises and characters, but the tie in to products and ability to find the perfect place for it is equally impressive. At the exit of every Character-themed ride you can buy related product. Perfect placement. Every product you can imagine, plus thousands you wouldn’t have dreamed of tying back to all the Disney and Pixar movies. They know as well as I do that kids will want the Snow White doll, even if the ride just scared the hell out of them.
- Cross-Promotion: If there is a free moment where you might have otherwise noticed a bit of peace and quiet, they have filled it. Audio ads on the Monorail. Posters for upcoming movies. If Disney has a stake in any other product, you will find it on display somewhere here.
- Two-part pricing: Examples of this are everywhere. Admission to every ride is included with the ticket, but on each of the major attractions (typically at the exit), Disney has added secondary products targeted at enhancing the customer experience. Customized driver’s license at Autopia. Photos and t-shirts with your freaked-out face from Space Mountain. They have consistently found ways to extract (or to convince your kids to try to extract) more cash to add-on to the experience throughout the day.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I expected it all and I am not bothered by the constant bombardment. I love marketing and I find it impressive when a company can get me to take my wallet out of my pocket when I wasn’t planning to. It’s like we are in a friendly 1 on 1 battle for my cash all day here.
This is the second of what I expect will be several consecutive Disney-themed posts as my family and I fit in a brief winter trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
Today I learned:
1. It’s all about me: At ages 4 and 2 it is debatable if our kids will remember their first trip to disneyland.
The two year-old? No way.
The 4 year-old? Maybe.
Regardless of the kids memories, I will never forget the look in their eyes as we embarked on our first ride, The Finding Nemo Submarine. The unbridled laughter as they raced along the Autopia. The absolute terror as our 4 year old exited the Space Mountain Roller Coaster. The enthusiasm as they sang along on It’s a Small World.
Will they remember it? Who cares.
The build up and anticipation. The look in their eyes. The laughter. The fun. Today I learned that it doesn’t matter what they remember of this when they grow up, because it’s all about me of course.
2. Get the right people on the Tea Cups: Even before you get through the gates at Disneyland one thing becomes abundantly clear. They know culture, and they protect it voraciously by ensuring that they have the right people in every role, and that those people are empowered to do whatever they need to do to build lasting memories for the visitor.
It reminds me of a quote from Jim Collins in Good to Great, where he reflects on examples of truly great companies and their understanding of the importance of fit, and ensuring everyone is pulling in the same direction:
“We found…they first got the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then they figured out where to drive it.”
Disney definitely has the right people on the bus, or in this case on the Tea Cups, Mark Twain’s Riverboat and Splash Mountain.
To a certain extent I expected that though. What surprised me is this appears to extend to other the businesses operating within the park and surrounding areas. The people in the hotel are beyond pleasant. Restaurant staff ooze enthusiasm. The shops in Downtown Disney are staffed with young kids that are the dream of any retailer.
As an example, think about the interaction you had with staff during your last visit to a fast food outlet.
Now picture this: A young teenager at Jamba Juice made me laugh twice, asked open ended questions about our day, and at the same time managed to up sell me in my selection. She made the occasion of buying a smoothy into an occasion. This is so unlike any other fast food experience I have ever had it is unreal.
It is clear Disney knows a lot about hiring and they are passing along what they know to those in and around the park. They have figured out that it is not enough to control the customer experience solely at your own touch points, but you need to manage the same thing at every point that the customer comes in contact with your brand.
Unbelievably, rather than coming across as an act, the people all seem genuinely happy to work here. I get the sense Disney, like other corporate culture leaders such as Zappos, is as much a lifestyle as a job for these people. It’s infectious. It’s impressive.
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.