So here it is, 10:15pm on a Sunday night, and tomorrow is the first workday of 2010. Of course, the lines between work and personal life continue to blur, so while I have not officially been in the office in nearly 2 weeks, I’ve spent a ton of time thinking, planning, and figuring out the “big picture” things that I want to focus on in the next 12 months. That, in turn, has led to a lot of more focused thought around specific stuff that I need to accomplish in order to get somewhere.
It’s kind of funny…a lot of people make a big deal about New Year’s resolutions, and there always seem to be a ton of cynics who want to point out how rarely New Year’s resolutions survive past the month of January. And yet, the first of the year always seems to be a great place to pause, to reassess, and to redirect our energy, even if it’s not in the form of specific goals or change targets. But, I suppose you could just as easily reassess things on July 1st, or August 15th, or at 3am some night when you can’t sleep because the dog next door is howling.
Regardless, I am determined to make this year a transformative year, in a lot of respects. I’ve been around the sun enough times (44 as of Tuesday) that I’m pretty sure that this time next year, we’re going to be looking in the rear view mirror at a lot of stuff that we never saw coming, that might make a huge difference in how our lives evolve. But in terms of the things that I can control, I plan to take my Themeword for the year to heart, and truly make this a year for action on a lot of fronts.
Professionally, this will be a significant year, with multiple trips overseas already on the calendar, which in itself will be educational, and a larger growth opportunity for me than perhaps any single event to date. In addition, I’ve made strides in the last 2 months on an independent project that I plan to start building traction on, and that will be something that I’ll write about here as well.
Personally, there’s a ton going on as well that will make 2010 challenging and rewarding, both from a family and personal standpoint. Again, should make good fodder for material for this blog.
Interestingly enough, I just took a look at my Twitter page, and the very first Tweet shown is a pretty powerful way to end this “starting gate” post:
v_shakthi Finally , what you DID NOT do always outweighs what you did in the end
Thank you, Shakthi, for providing just the right way to start my year!
After being introduced to the concept of the Themeword by Tara Hunt and Erica Douglass, I’ve spent a fair amount of time an energy trying to decide on what my Themeword for 2010 should be. If you’re not familiar with the concept, check out this post by Tara, or this one by Erica O’Grady. In a nutshell, a Themeword is a single word that represents what you want your year to be about.
The challenge for me is that there are so many words that could represent what I’d like to make 2010 about, and as with so many things, the real challenge is paring down the “good” words, and the “great” words, to come up with that ONE word that fits just so. In addition, I didn’t want to blindly copy others’ ideas, at least not unless I really couldn’t come up with another alternative. This meant that words like “Achieve”, “Adventure”, “Focus”, and “Execute”, while all pretty relevant for where I find myself now, were set aside.
In addition, there were some words that represented a means to the end, not necessarily the end itself. Given that I have never been great at building truly meaningful connections outside of my close circle of family and friends, “Connect” was a strong contender. However, in the end, while I do intend to build my connection skills in the coming year, it really represents a skill that I need to develop in order to make my 2010 what I want it to be. Likewise, a big part of my 2010 plan will depend on being able to deliver on plans, and make things happen, so “Deliver” was set aside.
After a lot of thought, I realized that for the last 2-3 years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and exposing myself to new ideas. I’ve done a lot of planning, and noodling, about where I want to go professionally and personally, both from a family and a fitness standpoint, but have not made a ton of progress towards any specific goals. And so, I’ve decided that my themeword for 2010 is going to be ACT. Act on the plans and ideas that I’ve cultivated over the last 3 years, and start to make them a reality. Act on specific professional goals, so that I can see a measurable change in who I am professionally in 12 months. Act on the things we’ve wanted to do around the house, to better adapt our home to our growing family. And Act on some of the fitness goals I’ve set for myself for the past several years, but have never made a lot of progress towards. It’s just a 3 letter word, but it represents a ton of power and promise.
As with any plan, there are going to be bumps, detours, and it’s likely that where I end up in 12 months will bear little resemblance to the future I’ve got envisioned in my head right now. But if I can look back at each month and recognize specific instances where I took concrete steps to ACT on my plans, then 2010 should be an exciting, fulfilling year!
I wish everyone reading this a very happy, healthy, safe and productive 2010, and look forward to continue to share and learn with each of you.
Dave Winer just posted his thoughts on the future of sharing photos (any shareable media, really) – introducing the concept of devices that are hard-wired into social networks. In a nutshell, you take a digital camera, equip it with a wireless connection, and plumb it directly to Twitter, or Facebook, or myspace, or any social network you use to share images. You then can take a picture, and by hitting a dedicated button on the camera, automatically upload the picture to your social network account, and most likely instruct your social network to send a tweet or an update to your followers/friends that you’ve just uploaded new content.
Having just picked up a Flip video camera for my wife for Christmas, this idea really hits me as a natural evolution of the digital world we’re living in. Imagine liveblogging a family holiday get-together to family in different parts of the world. Or sharing moments from a class reunion with classmates who weren’t able to travel to the reunion. Or sharing a picture along with the price and location of a particular item that’s on sale, that you know your friends might be interested in.
In fact, as I sit here, there are dozens of potential uses for such a device, and more than a few new questions that get raised, as with any new technology. For example, what if I’m at a concert and I’m liveblogging photos of a particular performance? Many venues restrict concertgoers from bringing in cameras, but as devices become smaller,and more integrated (as in cell phone cams), will acts attempt to prevent what they may interpret as unauthorized sharing of performance images?
And what if I witness a crime, and liveblog pictures of the perpetrator? Can those images, published to dozens or even hundreds or thousands of followers/friends be used as evidence in a court of law? Will the existence of those images potentially derail a prosecution, or even open me up to slander or libel charges if the wrong person is arrested on the basis of my pictures?
There has been a lot of attention paid to the images shared on Google Maps “Street View” feature – and those are static images that are updated very infrequently. What about street level images taken by hundreds or thousands of individual citizens and shared continously, every day?
I’m not sure the existence of a “Twitter camera” creates entirely unique questions and issues, but it certainly might create a lot more situations that fall into legal and social “gray areas”.
This doesn’t create a “new” problem – these issues exist today, and we’ll continue to argue about them and shape our laws and behavior patterns according to our opinions. But as the distance between a captured image and the publication to large numbers of people becomes shorter, and more “democratized”, we’ll need to figure out ways to adjust our lives and our rules. None of that will, (or should) stop someone from offering up a device like that…technology marches on, and we will all continue to adapt to a new world.
After a week that felt long and drawn out, suddenly it’s Friday, which for me always begs the question – how to spend this day most effectively? I suppose some people would tell you that Friday isn’t any different than any other day from a work perspective – you’ve got things scheduled, tasks to complete, and if your long-term vision is in place, you just need to keep executing against it, regardless of the day of the week.
For me, though, I usually try to make Friday a bit of a look-ahead day. All week long, it seems that there are countless fire drills that come up every day that take away from the big-picture, strategic stuff that I know, deep down, that I really NEED to accomplish in order to make the long term vision a reality. So on Fridays I try to take a step back from the fire drills, and spend some quality time focused on my long term objectives.
There are some people who go so far as to have “email free” Fridays – I’m not sure I could go that far, but I have managed to discipline myself to only check my email every hour or so, and on Fridays, I’ll try to stay “in the flow” until at least noon. That means checking emails early (perhaps on the train on the way in), and then doing actual, real work until noon. That’s the plan, anyhow – we’ll see how it all pans out.
What do YOU do to make Fridays an effective end to a great week?
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a day-long seminar presented by Edward Tufte, Professor Emeritus at Yale University (www.tufte.com), and one of the leading thinkers in the space of information design in the world. Tufte spent the day taking the participants through a fascinating journey of landmark data graphics ranging from Galileo to NASA. The content of the session was, for me, incredibly valuable and interesting, and a big part of that was the way Tufte ran the day.
Every participant in the session received all four of Tufte’s self-published books dedicated to information design. (insert book links here) Tufte self-published these books, because in his words (more or less) he wanted to control not only the content of the finished product, but the presentation. And it’s clear that he pays serious attention to detail. Each book is well constructed, laid-out, with an incredible attention to detail. For example, during the day, ET (as he refers to himself on his website), showed an example of an original book by (xxx), describing Euclidean geometry. In order to demonstrate the properties of a pyramid, the book included a small fold-out triangle made of small leaflets of paper that the reader could fold, stand up, and have a 3 dimensional representation of a pyramid to examine. Tufte showed us the original book from his collection, then directed us to page (xx) where he provides the reader of his book with the same feature. He confided that each triangle cost him 32 cents per book, but that he felt the message that the object provided was worth the cost.
While the class was run as a traditional lecture, even held in a lecture amphitheatre at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center, Tufte conducted the session in an interesting way. The pre-session literature announced that the hour preceding the start of the lecture would be devoted to “pre-reading”, which consisted of selected passages from each of his books. Once the lecture began, he repeatedly used specific examples from his books, citing each one by name and cover art, and directing the class to specific pages within that contained illustrations of the examples. He did make use of the overhead projector, but mainly to tell us all which book to open, and which page to go to. Then the projector screen went dark, leaving the class to focus on his words, and on the printed work in front of us. For me, this did two things – first, it kept me incredibly focused all day, and I think the physical act of reaching for a new book every 20 minutes or so was a part of that. It also enabled me to study and really get engaged with the example in a much more intense way than if I were looking at something on a screen 40 feet away. Tufte made the point several times during the day that the resolution of the printed page is still 20 -30 times better than the best computer monitor out there, and made it clear that he prefers paper as a communication medium in many cases as a result. It was a message that he really hammered home in word and by example in the lecture.
Although spending 7 hours in a lecture hall listening to someone go on about charts and graphs might probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I really enjoyed the day, and found myself not only looking at the graphics in the newspaper differently, but also thinking differently about how I present information. I’ve made it through Tufte’s first book “The Visual Display of Quantiative Information”, and it’s given me all kinds of ideas on how I can improve what I do when presenting to others.
Anyone who works with data, and has to explain that data to others should take a look at Tufte’s work, and consider going to see him if they have the chance. His next lecture series is scheduled for early December in San Francisco – check his website for details.
Found on some of my favorite blogs tonite:
Ryan at 37 Signals has an interesting take on design.
Forrester Research’s Bruce Temkin wants you to get Emotional about your Customer Experience
Tom Peters has got 5 things to say about the current state of the economy
Tara Hunt muses on being 36 and feeling “middle-aged” (Really, middle age? I hope not, cuz that means I’m a senior citizen)
Design blog The Dieline features a fascinating new packaging product that’s eco- and design- friendly (Warning: Hardcore design freaks only)
And while we’re on the subject of design, former Bostonian turned San Franscisco PR diva Renee Blodgett talks to a number of local artists inspired by color
That’s it for tonite, folks!! Friday next and the weekend to follow!!!
So the New York Yankees have won theirr 27th World Series title. Good for them…but is anyone really surprised? After all, they had the biggest payroll in baseball, and they’ve played like champions all year long.
Maybe it was fitting that they brought it back to the new Yankee Stadium to close it out, and give the House that Jeter built a proper housewarming. I’m sure there are plenty of NYY fans with smiles on their faces and a spring in their step this morning.
The Yankee organization shelled out an incredible amount of money this year on player salaries, and it (finally) paid off. Pay for Play does work, and maybe President Obama should take note when he hosts the Yankees at the White House for their traditional World Series champion photo-op. The Yankees wanted the best talent, they paid for it and got it, and are now reaping the results. Wall Street, take note!
But back to my original point – it all just seems so….predictable. The only thing that shocked me, frankly, was that the Phillies actually won two games. The way the Yankees were playing for the last month, I wouldn’t have been shocked if they ran through the entire playoff series without losing a game. Does that take away from their victory? Probably not. But doesn’t it just seem like we were watching a movie that we’ve already seen before? We knew how it was going to end long before the credits rolled.
As I sat down at the computer tonight, I thought that I had a reasonable plan for making some measurable progress on my little “side project”, that for now, will remain “eyes only – top secret”. And, I suppose the night is still young, but already I feel it slipping away from me. The reason? An absolute fire hose of information, courtesy of just a few Tweets. In rapid succession, I clicked through three Guy Kawasaki Tweets that linked to stories on his Alltop site that I found fascinating:
The first two articles led me to subscribe to the RSS feeds for both of the originators of the content. The third article prompted me to actually sign up for one of the small business social networking sites (check it out: http://sta.rtup.biz/profile/JeffGraves ).
After absorbing all that great content, I spent 20 minutes searching for other interesting posts and people to follow on Twitter on my “secret project” account. About 19 minutes into that exercise, I realized that there is just an endless supply of good, relevant, interesting content to consume, and if I were home 7 days a week with nothing else to do, I STILL wouldn’t make a dent in it.
Back when I was in school at WPI, I remember reading an article about the worker of the future, a classification that the writer called the “gold collar worker”. The key to being a “gold collar worker”, as I recall the article saying, was not necessarily knowing things, but knowing how to FIND things – sort of a 21st century Radar O’Reilly, or in today’s terms, a human Google. Speaking of Google, I just Googled “gold collar worker”, and have discovered that someone was kind enough to put an entry into Wikipedia regarding our friend the Gold Collar Worker! According to Wikipedia, Robert Earl Kelley coined the phrase in his 1985 book The Gold-Collar Worker: Harnessing the Brainpower of the New Work Force, although I have no idea if the article that I read (it was probably circa 1986) was written by Kelley or someone else.
After all that, I decided I just HAD to write a post about all of this…and here I am, nearly 2 hours into tonight’s work session, and not one of the tasks I had intended to chip away at complete. However, I do feel better educated, I’ve identified some new resources that I’m pretty sure might come in handy on my project, and I even managed to submit this post.
OK, off to work…unless that post by Tara Hunt that’s calling my name in Google Reader distracts me…
With the recent passing of ubiquitous TV pitchman Billy Mays, I got to thinking a little about how much I actually enjoy informercials and those “But wait, there’s more” TV ads that have been on the air for years. Mays and a lot of his peers got their start working country fairs and trade shows, demonstrating products in front of passing crowds, and needed to learn ways to quickly get their audiences attention and hold it. Once they attracted an audience, they needed to turn those passersby into paying customers. While you might not be in the business of selling household gadgets, I think there’s a lot that a pitchman like Mays can teach anyone who’s in sales, particularly those of us who do product demos for prospective clients.
Now, I’m not a professional sales person, let me get that out of the way right up front. However, I do conduct software product demos in sales situations on a regular basis, and quickly came to the realization that it’s not as easy as just trotting the product out and putting it through its paces. Pitchmen like Billy Mays have a very specific approach to selling and demoing, whether it’s for a kitchen gadget, or a miracle cleaner, and that approach might help you improve your next product demo as well. So here, in no particular order, are 4 things I learned from Billy Mays and his peers…
Get to the Point! A typical TV spot is 60-90 seconds, and most people use a commercial break to get a refill on their drink, take a bathroom break, or (perish the thought!) have a conversation with the other people in the room. As a result, a TV commercial needs to get to the point fast, and capture the audience before they get busy doing something else. You need to do the same thing in your product demo. Just because you’ve got 30 minutes allocated in your meeting agenda for a product demo does NOT mean you should spend the first 15 minutes talking about the history of your product, or about your own resume. Your audience will start counting ceiling tiles after about two minutes if you bore them, and I don’t care how interesting a speaker you are – they’re here to see a demo of your amazing product, not to hear you TALK about it. So show them something, PRONTO!
What’s in it for ME? The next time one of those gadget commercials is on, pay attention to how it begins. Almost invariably, the very first thing the pitchman does is ask the audience if they suffer with some kind of problem, be it torn clothing, the challenge of making dinner, or hard water stains on the shower. And guess what? The pitchman has got the solution, and here it is! If you’re sitting in front of your TV and you’ve got a shower covered in soap scum, you’re probably going to at least pay some attention to the rest of this commercial, even if you think that it’s all a load of hooey. You need to start your product demo the same way – by identifying your product with some challenge or problem that your audience needs to solve. Then it’s time to wow them by showing them how your product helps them solve the problem.
Practice, Practice, Practice! Let’s face it – it’s a good bet that most of the kitchen gadgets we see on TV commercials aren’t quite as easy to use as they seem on TV. And even if they are, you’re probably not going to take the thing out of the box when it arrives, and make it do what the pitchman did on TV the very first time you use it. The truth is, even the pros make mistakes. But when you’ve only got 60 seconds (or 10 minutes) to convince your audience of the merits of your product, you need to make damn sure that you don’t fumble, or stumble, or click the wrong button and derail your entire demo. Remember, those ceiling tiles are just calling out for your audience to start counting them. Don’t give them the opportunity to lose interest – make sure you know EXACTLY how your product works, and make sure you have your entire demo down pat long before you step into the room with your prospective audience.
Be Memorable!! Part of the fun for me in watching a Billy Mays commercial is Billy himself. He was loud, he moved his hands a lot, and he seemed to bring real passion for whatever product he was hawking, whether it was a laundry detergent or a kitchen gadget. Now, I’m not proposing that you stand in front of your customers and yell like Billy Mays, but don’t be afraid to put some oompf into your delivery. I firmly believe it’s better to be a little like Billy Mays, then to be like Ben Stein. And part of the experience is the message. You don’t have to include hokey sales rhymes or catch phrases (but wait, there’s still more!), but make sure you get your key messages across with a few memorable lines, and make sure that there’s at least one thing in your demo that you KNOW your audience is going to remember a month from now.
Over 20 years ago, there was a commercial on the air here in Boston featuring a Saladmaster salesman named Chris Nahatis, who I believe still sells for them. I can’t locate the commercial on YouTube, but at one point in the commercial, Nahatis demonstrated the durability of the Saladmaster skillet he was pitching by banging the skillet against an inferior skillet repeatedly until the cheap skillet dented and nearly folded in half. He then held the Saladmaster skillet, still in excellent shape, up to the camera, exclaiming “Look at this for abuse!”. I wasn’t in the market for kitchenware 20 years ago, but that ad held my attention everytime it was on, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. That’s the kind of product demo I want to give everytime I stand up in front of a prospective client, and I wish the same for everyone out there who gives demos.