Back in Training

After a full six months off training and a full year off of competitive cycling, I’m getting back on the bike. I’m weighing in at 200 even, a full 30 over my TT race weight, and 35 over full race weight. My goal is to be back to 170 in 14 weeks, or by December 21st. At 2 pounds a week that should be achievable without being too painful. Portions cut in half, no more beer, and a gradual increase in training will put me there. Just to keep me honest, I’ll post here every Monday morning what my weight was, that should put enough pressure on me to follow through.

Aside from a public commitment to a goal, what’s the point of posting this on a leadership and innovation blog? Well, my brain is moving like a slug for one. So’s the rest of me for that matter. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic gives reasons from keep weight off to live longer. I’ll give two others. First, I think much more clearly after I’ve been busting my ass for 2-3 hours. Second, I usually train in the morning, around 4:30 AM. It’s a great feeling to know that when I walk into the office I’ve already done more than just about anyone else. The result is more confidence (because I really need that) and a wide awake, rockin’, creative brain. Those things together put me in an entirely different state and one that I’m far more comfortable in and produce my best work.

It’s Relative.

And relate is the key word here – if you’re discussing new ideas then you need to find an existing concept for people to relate the new idea to. When I discuss SEO to small business owners they usually know that they need it but they’re not always sure why they need it. So I relate it to them like this:

You open a new store on a busy street. On that busy street is a sidewalk with significant affluent foot traffic. Do you have a large clean window on the side of the building facing the foot traffic? Of course because it shows off your merchandise. If you didn’t have it then people would walk right by not realizing what you’ve got for sale.

No business owner I’ve ever met has not understood this concept. I then change the “busy street” with “the internet”, “sidewalk” with Google and the window is SEO. You don’t need to know the mechanics of how a window is made, hung, and cleaned, but you do know what the outcome should be.

Your Audience

When presenting new ideas and concepts, nothing else is as important is knowing who your audience is. The phrase “know your audience” is an obvious cliche yet people still don’t consider it when they put a presentation together.  Ask yourself this: what’s the reason people will want to sit in front of me for an hour and hear me speak? If you think it’s because you’re a great presenter or the topic is riveting, you’re wrong. People attend for two reasons:

  • Kill time until something more interesting comes along
  • Find something they can use to their advantage later on

That’s it. Every other explanation is crap. You can’t do anything about the people who just want to kill time but you can put a hook out there for the rest of the people watching and listening to you. From here, you just need to figure out how to put your thoughts and ideas out there in a way that people will relate to.

The next time you’re asked to give a presentation try this – ask a few of the attendees what they’re most interested in and what they want to get out of your topic. Summarize those responses and address them in the first ten seconds of your presentation. Give people a real reason to listen to you.

Presenting Ideas

For the rest of this month I’ll be putting together a series of posts that focus on presenting thoughts and ideas in a way that people will understand and gravitate towards. If you’re a seasoned presenter then nothing here will be new. Much of the posts will be based on Garr Reyolds books Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design. Additional ideas come from How to Prepare, Stage, & Deliver Winning Presentations by Thomas Leech. Each of these resources help you identify your audience, your subject, your message and your desired outcome. They also help you focus on adding content and context that supports your idea rather than detracting from it. Hopefully by the end of all this we’ll all be invited to present at a local Pecha Kucha event. That’s my goal anyway, your intentions my vary widely. As always, feel free to contribute in the comments section.

A Common Innovation Language

One major challenge to any innovation effort, especially one where people from different parts of the organization are involved, is that of conveying ideas clearly and consistently. Although communication skill sets may vary widely across an organization the results can be reached more effectively with some straightforward  strategies. One of my favorite books in this area is The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. He describes how conveying complex thoughts and abstract ideas can be accomplished by just about anyone, artist or otherwise, through the systematic use of pictures. I’m a huge fan of white boards, the bigger the better. Multiple people can contribute – erase, change, rename, or start over completely with very little effort.  White boarding is of course nothing new, but the way in which Dan Roam approaches it is. He presents new ways of looking at problems and new ways of describing ideas. However, I also think that he’s tapped into a more efficient way of cross-functional teams to hit the ground running and quickly get their arms around a problem. It makes things much easier if everyone understands what the others are trying to represent and becomes a major advantage the more people you have collaborating. With just two people on a team the communication is easy to control, if something isn’t clear then it’s simple to ask a couple of questions and get some clarity. Becoming more and more common (I hope) is the situation where you have larger innovation teams working together – some of which may never have met each other. The problem of communicating ideas through pictures becomes ever more important then.

So here’s what I propose… The book focuses primarily on problem solving with others based on the concept of “visual thinking” or solving problems with pictures, so pick up four or five copies and hand them out to people you routinely ‘ideate‘ with. Then find a nice big wall and paint it with IdeaPaint or RustOleum’s Dry Erase paint. I’ve used RustOleum on a 13’x9′ textured wall, with a minimum of sanding and 2-3 coats [and] it worked pretty well. Next, have everyone read the book, pick a previous problem that some or all of you had worked on and go through it again after learning the concepts from Back of the Napkin. The first couple of passes through will be rough as you get your feed feet under you but it will start to make more sense as you go. You may even find a couple of different solutions that you hadn’t thought of along the way. Whatever. Once you and your team is comfortable, start teaching it to others. Slowly. Pick one or two people to try it out on. See what happens. Obviously you really can’t test it until your heads down trying to solve a problem or generating new ideas.

If you try this, tell me what happens. I’m interested to see how others deal with cross team communications through abstract mediums.

ideate – I despise this word. It sounds like something we just made up along the way to make it sound like we were working. But since it’s been around since 1610 I guess I just need to accept it. I promise to use it as infrequently as possible.

How to Solve Your Most Difficult Problems

I learned this trick a few years ago and I believe it was a tip that Brian Tracy suggested, however I can’t find it and over time I’ve refined it a little bit. The first step is to clearly define the “problem” and I find most people don’t take the time to do this. A well defined problem creates a focus that helps ensure that you’re fixing the right problem. I hear many people say “this doesn’t work” but they don’t take the time to really understand what “this” is and can’t really describe what “doesn’t work” means. There’s a big difference between “People just don’t buy from us online.” and “People are finding the online purchasing process convoluted and has too many steps, therefore they’re not buying from us.”

Now here’s where things get interesting. Restate the problem along with some assumptions like “we only have $5,000 to commit to this effort” or “we need to be launched in four weeks.”  I tend to keep people resources out of the equation as you can usually figure out how to get people to pitch in on a really interesting problem. I also tend to keep most process oriented assumptions out of the restatement of the problem. I’ve experienced that existing processes were sometimes the root cause of the problem anyway and assuming that you can’t change the process is like chewing tinfoil. It hurts and in the end you can’t digest it anyway. Now, with the problem restated, set aside about 2-3 hours that you will not be disturbed. Go off-site, disappear, turn the phone off and book your calendar because you’re going to need this time to focus. If you know yourself well enough then you should know at what time of the day you’re most creative and imaginative. For me it’s usually around 10-11AM and from 2-4PM. With your time blocked out and your phone off come up with 20 answers to the problem. If it’s truly a difficult problem you’ll start to stumble after about five answers, struggle at ten, and come to a complete stop at fifteen answers. Your true breakthroughs are going to occur in the last five answers so keep pushing. This should cause true brain-pain and if you’ve got any connection with the outside world you’ll be tempted to stop and just go with answers 1-15. If you do that then you’re truly going to miss an original thought – a true innovation that begins to solve your most difficult problem. Once you’ve got 20 you should know what to do by now. Pick the ones that seem most likely to succeed and run with them.

If you try this then let me know what your results were. If there’s any suggestions you can add to this then by all means leave a comment.

Driving Local Business Through BarCamp

Last year I attended my second BarCamp and was introduced to Sean Carey from HD Interactive. He was working on building augmented reality applications using FLEX and his demonstration consisted of the GE Smart Grid as well as a couple of things his company was working on. I was attracted to the demonstration because it lined up perfectly with what I was working on at the time for print based products. All I needed to do was figure out if we could shrink it down it a 1″x1″ image and see if GE’s app could still render. Sure enough, after a number of reductions through the copier a 1×1 image successfully showed GE’s Smart Grid. Although the render was significantly smaller it still had the detail and the interactivity necessary to push forward. After a couple of presentations with the 1×1 image taped to an existing product I started to get a lot of interest. With the ball rolling I invited Sean Carey in to present what they could do. Their presentation was pretty good and eventually led to a nationwide campaign that launched in March of 2010. If it wasn’t for the connection we made at BarCamp neither Sean nor I would have been able to bring this opportunity forward. He wasn’t pitching a product back then and in so doing was able to land a contract with national exposure.

So, even though “pitching” a product or service is banned, it is still possible to establish business connections in the local community. I think that’s one of the great benefits of BarCamps, local talent making serendipitous connections with local companies. Both benefit greatly and both become stronger because of it. If you have similar experiences, let me know or add it in the comments section.

Kindle Proliferation

I have a number of books on my Kindle for iPad and while I was writing on the Mac I thought I’d refer to them for research. It was a bit clumsy to have to go back and forth to the iPad, there should be an easier way to do this. Sure enough I searched for Kindle for Mac on Amazon and found this…

It’s a little poor on features you’d expect from an application but it does have a tab for Notes & Marks. I thought this would show other readers markups as well, just as the Kindle. Not quite, apparently it’s only for my own notes and bookmarks. Still, it’s not bad and makes things much easier than using the iPad and the Mac at the same time. Through a quick sign in with Amazon I was able to sync all my books without an issue.

The presentation is a bit awkward for everyday use but works well for what I need to do. It’s still in beta and they have pc versions as well. Hopefully this will save somebody else some time.

Speaking at BarCamp

If you’re planning on attending this year and you’re deep in the tech side of things – please take a moment and consider presenting. This might be a stretch for a lot of people but consider this… You’ll get more people to talk to you after your topic then ever. And people may be coming to you for advice if they don’t already.

Speaking at BarCamp isn’t really public speaking. It’s talking. Put it this way, what subjects are you most passionate about in technology or new media? What subjects do you know so well that you can discuss them at length with others? It can be as straightforward as using UIAlertView or you can discuss API changes to Android 2.2 and how they’re affecting your app. Wherever your expertise takes you.

Here’s a quick process to get started…

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What do you know pretty well and can carry on a conversation about?
  3. Find a starting point – in the first 10 seconds tell people exactly why they should be listening.
  4. Craft an ending – summarize what you covered and why it’s important.
  5. Now fill in the middle.

The middle can get a little tricky. If you’re on an advanced subject you’ll have to assume that your audience has a good background in the overall area. If it’s introductory you’ll need to assume that people have ‘heard’ about what you’re discussing and work up from there. You’re going to need to pick which audience you want to attend. Once you’ve got the middle do a test walk through and time yourself. Shoot for thirty minutes – if you’ve got a subject you’re passionate about you’ll probably end up sixty minutes worth of material. Also keep in mind that if this is your first time talking in front of a group then you’ll speak twice as fast as usual. That’s normal, don’t worry about keeping yourself composed as you’ve got enough to focus on. Make your modifications and then walk through it again.

I’d recommend that you take brief notes for your talk, just a sequential list of topics you want to cover, nothing too detailed. Don’t try to memorize your talk, just put the topics on a piece of paper. If you want to use 3″ x 5″ cards to make notes on, make sure you number them, because if you ever drop them…

Do NOT say you’re nervous or a bad presenter, or that this is your first time speaking publicly. Just don’t do it. If any of these things are actually true the BarCamp audience will ignore it as long as you’ve stuck to bullet #1. As long as you’ve met that one requirement then the audience will be on YOUR side. And definitely don’t wait until the last two or three days to do this, you’ll know you’re not prepared and you’ll bail out.

If you want, you can reach me at @sean_davis, I’m more than willing to help you get started. The more presenters we’ve got with great information (not necessarily great presentations) the better the BarCamp experience is.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2010 – Updates

Great organizer’s meeting last night at The Grape to get BarCamp Tampa Bay up and running. A lot of great folks are working to bring this together this year. @gavinstark has now got the sponsor’s page up so if you’re in the Tampa area and looking to get in front of 300 -400 local developers and small businesses then take a look. One of the biggest questions we had walking away from this was how can we make people more comfortable with speaking in front of a group. Even though it’s mainly an audience of peers at BarCamp it’s still a major fear for people. Any suggestions in this area are more than welcome!

Also, don’t forget that the Front End Developer’s Conference is next Friday. I met the founder last night and I really like what they’re doing with this.