Moving out...

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I'm hoping to see you around in my new digs!

September 18, 2009

Marketing in the Time of Cholera

Just finished reading a book by a friend of mine, Mark Gaydos, who’s chosen the provocative title, “Marketing in the Time of Cholera: : 6.5 Fundamentals for Thriving in a Toxic Economy.” cholera_marketing Mark’s an industry veteran in marketing, as well as a university instructor on this topic, so he really knows his stuff.

Mark’s premise is that you don’t have to create some wild, crazy, Kanye West-like incident to stand out in the market, and that “marketing fundamentals” can guide you on where and how to invest for maximum success and revenue influence from marketing programs.

The book is very instructive regarding how to view your marketing programs from the customer’s perspective, and what kinds of metrics and indicators you can use to measure your success.

The book include sample analyses of marketing programs, examples of effective & ineffective web sites, banner ads, newsletters, etc. which help illustrate how to take a customer-oriented marketing approach.

The best news?  The book is free, and Mark doesn’t even ask for your email address (I guess he’ll make it up in volume…) 

You can download your free copy at the Marketing In The Time of Cholera book site, where you’ll also find a couple of videos in which Mark discusses how the book can help you.  Enjoy!

September 17, 2009

Focus – is yours helping you or hurting you?

focushorizon Some of you may know that I do some guest writing on the Joyful Jubilant Learning (JJL) community site.  If you don’t follow JJL, just wanted to let you know that my latest post, “Where are you focusing?,” went live a few hours ago.

Today’s post was inspired by a Johnny Cash song (which was a remake of a Nine Inch Nails song), which got me thinking about focus, and whether my current focus is making my life better or worse. 

In essence, the thinking is this:  When things aren’t going your way, it’s easy to get into a negative spiral.  You can’t control things around you, but you can control your focus and the way you frame your world.

Anyway, check it out (there is even a Johnny Cash video, which I highly recommend you watch). While you’re there, check out some of the other great thinking going on at JJL.

September 14, 2009

Get your Outlook Tasks directly on iPhone

When I jumped into the iPhone pool last year, one of the big surprises was just how hard it was to sync my Notes and Tasks from Outlook (our company uses Exchange, and I use the heck out of Outlook).

Version 3 of the iPhone firmware solved the Notes problem, as it will now sync Outlook Notes directly into the Notes app on the iPhone.  Not so for tasks (No task app on the iPhone?  After 3 versions?  Really?)

Taking the iPhone to Task

imexchange_screensIn searching for a way to automatically sync tasks to the iPhone, here were my requirements:

  • Must offer the ability to sort / group tasks by Category (for GTD) and due date.
  • Solutions should be as simple as possible (the fewer moving parts the better, no re-entering text, etc.)
  • Must support offline viewing and updating of tasks, through a native iPhone app
  • Reasonably priced

The most popular apps (I sampled systems like Remember the Milk, ToodleDo, Nozbe, Google, and several others) had (at least for me) show-stopper issues: 

  • Some apps required syncing from Outlook to a service in the cloud, then from that service to my iPhone, and many of these required me to pay an additional fee for a subscription account.
  • Some apps required me to run a separate desktop app alongside Outlook.  Yuck.
  • Some apps provided only web-based viewers (not iPhone apps), which meant I couldn’t get to my lists on the plane or in areas with no data coverage.

Luckily, I have found one solutions that works quite well, and meets or exceeds my requirement.

My favorite task solution for Outlook and the iPhone [so far]

imexchange_sortMy favorite solution so far, is an app called iMExchange (available in the App Store for $7.99).  iMExchange syncs directly with Microsoft Exchange, and can bring in your Tasks and Notes (for those of you still running a pre-v3 iPhone OS). 

iMExchange also creates a local, cached copy of your Tasks and Notes so you can access them even when you aren’t connected to the internet.  Once you’ve synched (over the air), this means you can access your tasks, add new tasks, update the status of existing tasks and so on from the iPhone.

I’ve found that the flexible sorting options (see screen shot at right make it easy to work within the Getting Things Done methodology from my phone).

As an added bonus, since the app connects directly to your Exchange Server, you can edit your Out Of Office message and adjust your Out Of Office status directly from your iPhone.  Pretty cool bonus.

Bottom line:  If you use Microsoft Exchange / Outlook and the iPhone, I think you’ll like iMExchange for managing your tasks while on the go.

September 09, 2009

Heroes, supporting casts, and management

front_man About 15 years ago, I was involved in a management situation that I still think about from time to time, because it made me so uncomfortable at the time.  Here is what happened:

As a call center manager in a large software company, I was tasked with finding a solution to a problem that was impacting customer satisfaction and increasing our support costs.  At the end of the project, I was to present my findings and recommendations to the company’s Operating Committee for their approval.

The project was a blast, and I pulled in several managers that reported to me to help with data gathering and analysis.  I also pulled in people from the product team to determine the feasibility of my product-related recommendations, and some financial analysts to help crunch the numbers to create a cost/benefit model.

At the end of the project, I was really proud of our results, and the Operating Committee funded us to act on my recommendations.

OK, sounds like a happy ending so what’s the problem?  In a word, the issue was “credit.”

One neck to wring?

You see, when I prepared my findings document and presentation, my first draft had a list of all the people who contributed to the research.  When I reviewed it with my VP, he told me to take those names off the report. 

“You own this – you’re the one throat to choke,” he said.  “I know they contributed to this, but you drove it and you are accountable so your name is the one that should be on there.”

I did what I was told, but it still bothers me to this day that they didn’t get their props in front of the Operating Committed.  If I had it to do over again, I’d probably add a section in the report listing the contributors and/or outlining the process I followed so I could mention them by name.  At least the VP knew who contributed, and most of them were in his division…

Remember the supporting cast

From this experience, I learned that I am uncomfortable taking credit for other people’s work.  Maybe it’s my desire for “fairness,” or perhaps it’s rooted in my own ego – I don’t like it when people take credit for my ideas, and I don’t want them to feel like I’m taking credit for theirs.

The “star” gets the limelight (and the big paycheck) in movies, but the people behind the scenes are still listed and recognized. I think that’s a good model for any team.

What do you think?  Are you a manager who’s cracked the code on this?  Share your secrets, please.

September 02, 2009

How Did That Happen?

HowDidThatHappen I got an advance copy of a book called “How Did That Happen? (Holding People Accountable for Results The Positive, Principled Way),” and am pleased to see that it was released recently.  That means there is nothing stopping you from picking up a copy, right?

Roger Connors and Tom Smith, the book’s authors, have done a very effective job of grappling with some of the key issues that inhibit accountability, and provided some practical, prescriptive methods to help increase the level and consistency of accountability in your organization.

A lot of books about accountability are hard to act upon unless you are the “king of the world” – the head of a company, division, team, etc.  This book isn’t like that.  Sure, you can wield more might if you’re in charge, but there is a lot of advice in here designed to help you improve your own accountability, and to insist on more accountability from others – whether they are your peers, bosses, or even friends & family.

Rings of Accountability

AccountabilitySequenceThe authors use a model that consists of an Outer Ring, which deals with setting appropriate expectations; and an Inner Ring that deals with managing unmet expectations.  This is all about having an effective “Accountability Conversation” that keeps people clear and aligned about what’s been committed, and what’s expected.

One of the things I really like about this book is the large number of “tests” you can use to determine where gaps exist that may negatively impact Accountability, each accompanied by specific processes and techniques to address any gaps.

There are also a number of stories of accountability in action, which help illustrate the points.  These stories helped crystallize the concepts for me throughout the book.

For example, I enjoyed the discussion of the difference between Complete Alignment, and “Complyment,” in which people aren’t fully bought into the mission.  I must say, I’ve seen the symptoms of Complyment far more than I should.

Likewise, there are tools to test for “Hands & Feet” and “Hearts and Minds” so you can gauge the level of buy-in and commitment to the things you feel are important.

My favorite new concept:  Phantom Reality

Of all the concepts in this book, the one I keep thinking about over and over is “Phantom Reality,” which is “an inaccurate description of how things really are.”  This is caused by things like misreading the situation, refusing to believe / acknowledge facts that don’t fit your world view, and poisoning your outcomes by expecting the worst.

I really want to get better at recognizing and dealing with the trap of Phantom Reality, since this is the phenomenon that causes you to get blindsided by things you should have seen coming, but chose to ignore.

It’s not easy to see your own blind spot, but this book provides some tools to increase your chances of catching yourself believing a Phantom Reality.

Customize the tools to fit your style

Before I wrap up, you might be wondering if these tools will work for you.  After all, each of us has our own style, preferences, and ability to tolerate ambiguity.  You’ll be pleased to know that there are also tools in the book to help you analyze your own management and accountability “style” and preferences, and that you can adopt and adjust the tools differently based on how you work.  For example, if you are a micromanager, there are tips to help you tone it down a bit and give people room to breathe; if you’re a hands-off manager, there are tips to help you exert a bit more active control.

I’ve just scratched the surface in this review, but I can confidently recommend “How Did That Happen?” to anyone who wants to up the level of accountability in their world – whether that’s by improving your own skills, or helping others work together in a more accountable way.

September 01, 2009

Work The System - for free!

Last year, I reviewed Sam Carpenter’s excellent management book, “Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less,” (read my review of Work The System here).

wtsbook_127x206I found this book to be very practical, partially because it was written from the perspective of an entrepreneurial business person who has been able to create a sustainable, vital business.  But the real “hook” for me was Sam’s personal stories about the challenges he faced as he built his business, how he got through the challenges, and how he “codified” his learning into things the rest of us can use.

The book has been very well-received and won “Best Non-fiction Book of 2009” at the New York Book Festival.  Sam has also recently found a new publisher, which should really help in sharing his experience with even more people.  That’s good news.

And I’ve got even better news: YOU can get this book for free!

WTSOfferYou heard me right - Sam’s been kind enough to allow me to offer each of you a free PDF copy of “Work The System” for the entire month of September. 

Getting your free copy is pretty easy:

  1. Go to the Work The System book site.
  2. Find the “Special Book Promotion” link and click it.
  3. Follow the instructions, and enter the password “Dwayne sent me”
  4. You’ll get your link to download the PDF of Work The System.

Once you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you think – and whether it resonates with you as much as it does with me.

August 26, 2009

Go with the Flow to get into the zone

I was chatting with my friend Matt the other day about productivity and how hard it was to get started on some tasks.  He pointed me to a model called “Flow,” which was developed byChallenge_vs_skill Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  According to Csíkszentmihályi, “Flow” happens when you are engaged in a highly challenging activity, which is also an activity at which you are highly skilled.

When I read about “Flow” it seems analogous to the feeling you get when you are “in the zone” and performing in what seems to be an effortless way.

Diagnose what’s happening

I’ve printed out a copy of the “Flow” diagram at right and have been using it to help diagnose why I’m avoiding certain tasks.  For example, I don’t really like doing my expense reports.  I find them to be time-consuming and tedious, so I procrastinate like crazy.

There is no “tedious” zone on the diagram, but my feelings most closely match the “boredom” part of the diagram.  That makes sense, since that indicates an unchallenging task that I have a reasonable ability to do.

In a case like filing expenses, there isn’t much I can do to make the task more exciting, so I just batch them together and get them done through sheer force of will (combined with threats from our Finance team that I’d better get them in by quarter end if I want to get reimbursed).

In other cases, when I’m avoiding tasks because I don’t have sufficient skills to be competent at a challenging task, I have two dominant paths I can take:

  1. Increase my skill level (which could be through practice, study, or asking for help from someone more skilled), or
  2. Alter the task in some way to make it seem less challenging.

Intersection with productivity best practices

In the past, I’ve often gone for option one, but that can be time consuming. 

In my recent “meditations” on the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, I’ve found that option 2 is more achievable than it seems at first glance.  By breaking the difficult challenges down into less daunting subprojects, then translating those into discreet next actions, I can take some of the difficulty out of the work.

I’ve tried this with a number of challenging projects lately, and I’ve managed to get them unstuck through this method.

If you’re interested in more thoughts on this topic, there are a couple of good resources that I know of:

August 21, 2009

Teams – the 'me to we' way

Kare Kare Anderson (that’s her, at right) commented on my post about teamwork the other day, and I wanted to bring that out of the comments because I think she has some great advice.

She describes some of the aspects of how Obama built teamwork in a post on “Moving From Me To We” (which, by the way is only one of her excellent blogs).  Here is an excerpt from her post, called “Build Strong Teams The Obama Way.

1. Be specific about the top, actionable goal of the group.

2. Identify what needs to be done to reach the goal, then recruit individuals who have the specific talents or other resources to get those tasks done.

3. Approach each person by describing the goal, the specific way each one can help achieve it and why it would benefit that person; then describe the Sweet Spot of mutual benefit for all teammates to participate.

4. Review above 3 items with everyone when first meeting together; ask for improvements in the goal and if others should be recruited to accomplish it; then agree on who should facilitate the group.

5. Seek agreement on the Rules of Engagement by which your group will operate and on the timetable.

6. When the goal is met, de-brief on what worked and what didn’t, then discuss other possible goals for which some or all team mates may want to work together again. Why not start now where you face a problem or an opportunity? 

Excellent advice.  Thanks for sharing this, Kare. 

Be sure and click through and spend some time on Kare’s site – I learn a lot from her.

Category sprawl and GTD

I’m in the process of doing a “reset” on my GTD system.  Basically, I ripped out all of my categories, printed out all my list and deleted them, and am starting from scratch.

Why? I found that I let my lists turn into “junk drawers” which meant that I was a) afraid to open some of them, and b) couldn’t find anything useful when I did force myself to open them.

One of the culprits was what I call “category sprawl,” which meant that I created so many granular categories for my tasks, and so many goofy ‘contexts’ that my lists really weren’t all that useful any more.

Basically, I acted like I was “special” and made a bunch of changes to the recommended GTD method.  It was fun for a while but turned out to be not such a great idea.  And now I’m paying the price.

Preventing the sprawl – my strategy

outlookcategories I’ve taken a number of steps to try to get back into a clean place with GTD:

  1. I have reverted to the recommended, default contexts as recommended by David Allen (those shown in the screen grab at right). [Note:  I am about to add one additional category called @ONLINE but will try not to add any more].
  2. I turned of automatic categorization in ClearContext so that I have to manually assign categories to tasks.  (This wasn’t an issue for the GTD Outlook Add-In)
  3. I am “forcing” all of my next actions to fit into one of these categories.

There are (obviously) a lot of other tweaks I’m doing to my process, like getting back into the discipline of truly identifying physical next actions, moving all projects I’m not actively working on to SOMEDAY/MAYBE, and more.

If you’re a GTD person and you find yourself with category sprawl, this kind of a clean-slate approach might help.  Let me know if this resonates with you, or if you’ve got any best practices for a GTD reset.