A couple of weeks ago I began trying to incorporate task management into what my daily processes. I’ve been down this road before with any.do, asana, wunderlist and a couple of others. None ever caught on with me. This time I’m trying Google Keep to see if something more integrated with my existing tools helps. We’ll see if it works better this time and I will keep you updated (if it works).
The reason I’m trying again is because I was at a multi-day offsite meeting that spurred so many ideas, discussions and opportunities that I couldn’t wrap my head around how to keep up with them. It was everything from immediate actions, strategic initiatives, ideas for topics to write about, projects that needed to be scoped and just general actions. There were probably 8 pages of notes in my paper notebook that I keep with me. Way more than I could hope to keep up with manually.
I work best without too much structure. If I’m simply following a rote process my interest quickly drifts and I lose focus until a deadline forces me to update things again. However, give me an open ended problem with potential for creative solutions and I can work until it is solved to my satisfaction. What I like about Google Keep so far is that it is unstructured and built around ideas (or cards if you prefer). You can keep it free floating or you can add some definition to it.
Ideas fascinate me because any given idea exists in an infinite number of forms. Give the same 10 people the same idea and it will suddenly evolve, morph and adapt given different circumstances and experiences of the people thinking on them. Provide a time for contemplation and they will change even more – often splitting into new and unique additional ideas as they go.
Ideas are the foundation of creativity. Creativity is the foundation of innovation. Innovation is the foundation of the future. Therefore all the simple little ideas we have floating around in the back of our subconscious are the basis of a new future if we can learn to harness them. Keeping them for a rainy day can be an amazing investment.
A few weeks back I was participating in a work team building activity. You probably know the type – 5 people who are mostly recently acquainted have to work together to solve some problem. In our case we had to build a car out of PVC pipes, 4 wheels, a handful of balloons and a rubber box. All seemed to be going fairly smoothly as we went through iterations of a design up until the moment we all heard a *crack*.
Looking back it feels as if we all slowly turned to look at the man with the hammer in his hands. As one we realized that one of our four wheels had just broken and was laying in pieces on the ground. It could have happened to any team I suppose. We were trying to remove the wheel from one piece and put it into another. It got a bit stuck and the hammer seemed a wonderful way of prying it loose. It certainly came loose.
As you can imagine, having only three wheels available for use when building a PVC car that a person has to ride is a clear handicap. The situation occurred to us that we had suddenly lost all ability to really compete. But there was something amazing about this particular group – it was only about 5 seconds before we got right back to work trying to find a solution to this new problem. There was no complaining, no whining, no hopelessness. We all just started trying to figure out a solution that could work with just three wheels.
It was quite the contraption but we ultimately put together a surfboard style approach with a person standing above two wheel while being pushed sideways with the third wheel offering some stability. Amazingly we almost made it through the entire course with no issues and at a surprisingly quick pace. We had an oustide chance of actually pulling off a victory simply because we didn’t quit when the opportunity to do so presented itself.
That’s the best lesson to me – even when given a perfect opportunity to quit and hand something in incomplete don’t take it. If you don’t get a solution even after giving it your best effort then so be it. But to quit in the face of adversity is to underestimate your potential. The best comebacks are all based on extreme adversity. People remember those who come back from long odds, the don’t often remember when the favorite wins as expected. Never give up because losing when you are supposed to is nothing to hand your head at – but winning when you didn’t have a chance never leaves you.
I cause problems.
It’s part of my job. I’m responsible for making sure that we are pushing our solutions forward for clients and giving clients the solutions that they need (even if they aren’t the solutions they want). Often this means I have to take on the role of bad cop so that my bosses or clients can come in with the compromise solution that gets the job done. Good cop/Bad cop works for this very reason. Sometimes the very act of causing problems where none technically exist yet also forces solutions to be implemented because we prevent a worse problem from coming to fruition later in the process.
Disruption is often cited as the heart of innovation. Without making people uncomfortable you are not likely pushing them to do things better. Humans strive to live and work in comfortable environments. They will seek to fix discomfort until comfort has been restored. Simply forcing that improvement process to initiate is a key step.
The person who creates the discomfort is rarely appreciated at the time though which leads most to avoid the role of troublemaker. Similarly there are some who like to make trouble purely for the sake of trouble and are not even trying to make things better – they just want to see others squirm. It can be hard to tell productive discomfort from unproductive. This is one of the key roles of good managers though – taking a situation, understanding it, understanding the root causing, understanding the participants and then using all available information to drive to a long-term improvement.
Do you disrupt on purpose?
UI and UX are typically concepts kept firmly within the technology and Industrial Design space these days. The word user directly implies someone who is actively using something. This is often software or a product that has an interface.
But does the use of the word User within these concepts prevent others from adopting these principles for non-traditional means?
Interface and Experience are great words. They talk about how people deal with the world. Reading/holding a book is a great example. I am interfacing with the paper, ink and covers while experiencing reading the story within. The type of paper impacts the experience because it could feel cheap or expensive – maybe it has a pleasant pulpy smell – maybe the book is decades old and held up so well it still seems new. These are UI / UX issues.
Another great example is how you run meetings (whether internally or with clients). How well thought through is your agenda? Do you follow it or allow others to dictate the tone and pace of the meeting? How do you follow up afterwards? Are you treating your meetings as one-time events or part of the process of getting something larger done? Essentially – how do you enable the customer experience around meetings?
Interface and Experience. How we deal with others and how they experience that interaction. Often we are the event that is the centerpiece of the interaction and directly influence an outcome. Are you thinking through everything that goes into it?
One of my favorite websites is Clients from Hell. They run quotes from many freelance developers and designers who deal with smaller companies and clients (for the most part). It is one of those great glimpses into the world we are all collectively part of. The other day they ran one that hit home particularly closely.
“My website, and the list of my products, should be a top Google result. But I don’t want my competitors to be able to see it.”
We all come across the people that want us to innovate but are terrified that those innovations get “stolen” by our competitors. Ideas have no mass or constraints so there is no “cost” to their “theft.” Problem is, it’s not innovation if no one ever sees it or experiences it.
Ideas are special things. They actually perform better in an open world with open feedback. This is why market competition works so well – we are all chasing the best ideas and trying to make them better. An idea that isn’t out in the marketplace is less than useful – it’s actually harmful because it makes that one idea seem special or sacred.
Never fear putting ideas in places where even competitors can see them – that’s called advertising. Never fear that a competitor will steal it – that’s called competition. Never fear that it will be your last, best idea – that’s not how ideas work. Throw caution to the wind and see what works.
Steve Ballmer famously once said about the iPhone:
There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60 percent or 70 percent or 80 percent of them, than I would to have 2 percent or 3 percent, which is what Apple might get.
His forecast couldn’t have been more wrong.
Now we get to see Apple returning the favor after Microsoft’s new Surface Book was released:
From the ergonomic standpoint we have studied this pretty extensively and we believe that on a desktop scenario where you have a fixed keyboard, having to reach up to do touch interfaces is uncomfortable. iOS from its start has been designed as a multi-touch experience — you don’t have the things you have in a mouse-driven interface, like a cursor to move around, or teeny little ‘close’ boxes that you can’t hit with your finger.
There’s a chance that this may turn out to be true. But the essence of the quote is no different than Ballmer’s. It’s a straight dismissal of an idea simply because it doesn’t match the current business model of the company. Business models need to change over time.
Is this where Apple begins to start stumbling?
I was in a cab headed from an airport to an office I hadn’t been to before. Gave the driver the address and then sat back and had to make a few phone calls. About 3 minutes into the drive he passes me back his phone to type my destination address into. I thought this was a bit odd but went with it. About 15 minutes into the drive I pull up the location on my own phone to double check where I’m going. I happened to notice we had passed the exit. Autocorrect had struck down my address input into a strange phone.
This situation got me thinking about the power of Uber. When I call a car they have the same information that I have. I see where they are planning to go and the route that they are recommended to take. There is symmetric information between driver and passenger. In a traditional cab I am full of uncertainty: Did he understand my address? Does he know current traffic conditions? Am I taking the most effective route?
Asymmetric information is useful for legacy, incumbent industries. They get to hold data back and leverage it however they see fit for their customers (I’m looking at you CRE). Symmetric information opens up new fields and ways of delighting the customer. It removes the big concerns, allows for instant evaluation of performance and puts more power back with the customer to make judgment calls.
Moving from asymmetric to symmetric information access is by definition a disruptive change. But one that some competitor will eventually do if you don’t.