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.

SMC Tampa Bay

Social Media Club Tampa Bay will be restarting soon. It’s been some time (way too long!) since the last chapter meeting, even though there’s been a lot of local http://socailmediaclub.orginterest. See the Facebook page for latest updates. We are currently re-forming and booking venues. Please feel free to post recommendations for discussion topics on the FB page as well. For those of you that are new to Social Media Club and looking to contribute, all you need to do is show up. Anyone is welcome to contribute, you don’t need to be in the Social Media industry, and you don’t need to be an expert. In fact, very few people are experts, although many will try and sound like they are or try to convince you that they are by other means. I am not a social media expert but you’ll find a lot of people who are and are more than willing to help.

BarCamp Tampa Bay 2010

This year BarCamp Tampa Bay will be at KForce Tampa, dates are September 25th and 26th.  Last years event was a tremendous success and we’re looking to improve on it again this year. The 25th will be Media Day which explains blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to local businesses. We may even have someone explain how to measure ROI when using social media to market your company or yourself. On a personal note, I met Sean Carey from HD Interactive on Media Day in 2009. After watching a one hour presentation on what his company was working on, I saw an opportunity for both HD Interactive and Cox Target Media. This resulted in a national promotion in March of this year. So yes, you can make contacts and close business – you just can’t pitch a product or service. But if you’re passionate about what your company is working on then by all means, please show the rest of us what you’re doing. Who knows, you may even get some business out of it.

The 26th will be Developer Day with presentations on PHP, Java, mobile and who knows what else. This year we’re also strongly pushing for the Microsoft developers to come out and participate. So if you have MS technologies that you’re using or experimenting with then please come down and sign up. Everyone’s welcome!

Sponsors! Although you can’t actually ‘pitch’ a product at BarCamp, you can help sponsor the event. If you want to get in front of several hundred local developers, business owners or social media pros, BarCamp Tampa Bay is a great way to do it. Room sponsorships are available as are smaller packages. You can reach me on Twitter @Sean_Davis or contact Gavin through email. His contact information is on the BarCamp Tampa Bay site.

Innovators and Operators

The July-August 2010 edition of Harvard Business Review has an article called “How to Stop the Innovation Wars” which discusses a common misunderstanding that the ‘innovation’ side of the house must be separate from the ‘operations’ side largely because innovation is something done by a few people and without accountability or a solid process. In my opinion, if you’re a part of an on-going business then you simply cannot innovate in a vacuum, you must involve the people responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company, involve them early on and solicit their feedback. If you want to make progress with your concepts then you’ll need to come up with a rough, repeatable process that shows how things move through your innovation pipeline. For example, how do you know where and when to innovate? A simple response of “We field suggestions from the rest of the organization through a standardized process…” is fine. So is “When we sit in meetings we listen for unspoken problems, that’s where we start to look.” You might get some funny looks, be prepared to explain what you’re listening for. Specific phrases like “We spend a lot of time/money…” are excellent ways to see bottlenecks in the organization and begin to innovate new business processes or product improvements.

Once you’ve dealt with the “Where to look” question, you must next deal with the “What’s the impact…” question. “When we heard it took a lot of time and people to accomplish X, we looked into the process and found it could be streamlined without impact to other areas of the organization. There are many questions still open but based on a very simple cost/benefit analysis we’ve discovered that we could potentially save $50,000 per year for three years.” Now, if you’re on the creative side of the thought process, PLEASE get someone from the accounting side to help you with the cost/benefit. This is where cross functional teams really come into play, you probably don’t want to get near the financials and accounting probably doesn’t want to sit and listen to other people’s problems. That’s fine as both groups have their strengths. Make full use of them.

You’re going to have to deal with the “How do you come up with new ideas to solve for…” at some point. I’ve worked with IDEO Method Cards but frankly, that’s overkill for a lot of what I’m doing. An appropriate answer might be “We followed the team around all week and found…” or “We conducted interviews with the entire staff, confirmed our original assumptions and are coming up with a detailed plan to address it. We also found two more potential time savers but we will address those after this project is completed.” Either response should work but be prepared for someone else to ask the same people what you did. Their answers and yours had better not differ by much. By the way, we all know that once you find someone who says “That’s how we’ve always done it” you’ve found a gold mine.

If you’ve done your homework and were convincing you’ll probably be asked to proceed. From here on you need a plan. If you can prevent it, don’t give up ownership – you saw the problem, you potentially see the solution, so you run with it. This might be a great time to enlist a project manager. Try to find one that leans toward the creative side if you can. Good luck, I’ve met just one in twenty years. You will need someone on your team that can lay out all the steps and put a general time line together. If you keep ownership then YOU need to report on where you are in terms of that schedule. Be prepared to explain what progress you’ve made, what your next steps are and what is still left to be resolved. Be prepared for the infinitely inept question of “When will you figure out how to…”  If you knew the answer to that you’d already have the answer and you wouldn’t be reporting that it was still a problem, right? A tactful response to this might be “It’s a complex problem, we’ve made headway, we’re confident we’ll figure it out.” If you’re really stuck on a problem, now’s a great time to ask to borrow someone for a few days. Do not get bogged down trying to fix one serious problem – get as many people across the organization involved trying to fix it as possible. Do not make it look like you put the project at risk because you didn’t ask for help early enough. Also, if it looks like you can’t fix it, then friggin’ say so.

If you generally follow these suggestions then you should be making some progress easing people’s tension with innovation teams. And that’s all you’re really trying to do at this point, especially if you’re just getting things off the ground. In my opinion an innovation team that is just starting shouldn’t have a complete methodology. You can develop that as you grow. But what you need to avoid is the perception that you work without accountability and structure. Hopefully this gets you started, if there’s things I’ve missed (definitely) or you can add something you’ve learned, by all means please leave  a comment.

Idea Pipe Line

Critical to any organization that is attempting to grow is a flow of ideas through that organization. This first hit me when I was reading “One Up on Wall Street” by Peter Lynch several years ago. Somewhere in there he describes that if he made 1000 investments, ten would break even. Of that ten, only one would perform well, so well in fact that it would pay for all of his other investments. It’s a Pipeline Constructionsimilar situation for innovation, you generate thousands of ideas but only a few will pan out. Of those few an even smaller percentage will perform above expectations and pay for everything else. The problem is that you can’t predict where these ideas will come from. Flashes of brilliance can come from anyone and at anytime, you just can’t predict either. Therefore you need a process to enable these ideas to progress through the organization while along the way they are supported and enhanced by other disciplines such as Finance, Marketing, Sales and IT.

If today you don’t currently have a systematic process (having a suggestion box doesn’t count) to allow ideas or suggestions to move through your organization, here’s how to start roughing one out. First, what objectives do you want to accomplish; process improvements, new products, cost cutting measures, or all of the above? Second, what are these ideas worth to you and the organization? If you can’t put a dollar figure on them then the chances are your employees won’t value their own suggestions either. If however you’ll cough up $1,000 or more for each idea that gets to production you might be getting somewhere, especially if that idea becomes a new line of business worth several million in annual revenue. Place your highest rewards on what you considered to be the most important objectives you wanted to accomplish.

The suggestion process – this is where things can get bogged down. If it’s made too complicated then the level of effort will be to great for people to take the time to submit the idea. If it’s too simple you’ll get ideas like “let’s start making beer” which is fine if you’re a brewery, a bad idea if you’re an insurance company. In my opinion the submission should be two sections:

  • What’s the general description of the product, product enhancement, cost cutting process, etc.
  • How does it benefit our business or is it a potential new business

Keep the financial data out of it for now. Yes it’s important but for reasons I’ll cover in future posts, you don’t want to start there.

One of the most critical components (probably the most critical!) is the team reviewing the ideas. If you staff it fully with operationally oriented people, any new ideas you get will be met with ‘what about…?’ questions. This will kill new ideas. If you staff it with ‘what if…’ people then you’ll get some very off the wall stuff.  Instead staff it with a mixture of ‘what if…’ people and ‘what about…’ people to balance each other out. This will be covered in future posts here as well but the important part is that ideas (aside from “let’s make beer”) do not get killed off. They are put ‘in the parking lot’ for future review, they are re-submitted with more information, they are placed into the queue with the rest of the business changes, or they are fast tracked. For any of those, let the submitter know immediately, preferably along with a small cash reward, or time off, or whatever you’re using to compensate people.

Next is the actual process to get vetted ideas moving. This is another critical juncture and one where you may start to see the ‘not invented here’ syndrome preventing things from moving forward. It’s where ideas and suggestions start getting some structure and where financial models are applied, product development plans are impacted and infrastructure changes start being recognized. Weekly status reports should help the ideas continue to progress through the organization, I’d recommend them highly.

Let’s try this with an example.

Say someone in your organization had the idea to stop buying paper towels for all the bathrooms and replace them with Dyson Airblades, where would that person start?

First, answer two questions

  • What: The Dyson Airblade dries hands in 8 seconds, is faster than our current air driven hand driers, and is more sanitary.
  • How: The Dyson Airblade is 50% more energy efficient than what we have today, it’s more sanitary because we don’t touch anything, and is probably cheaper than all the paper towels we go through every year.

Next, this idea goes to the Review Team. For this example the team should actually assign it to someone to figure out how much is spent every year in paper towels. At that point you can’t reject the idea, compensate the employee based on how you rank cost savings suggestions. It’s probably not feasible to figure out how much power is used by regular air driers but Dyson does state that they’re 80% more energy efficient and gives you a quick web interface to estimate your cost savings. Each Airblade is about $1,200 so if you need six that’s $7,200 without installation. If you’re spending $6,000 a year on paper towels then you’re looking at a two year ROI. Sounds like there’s something here so put it in someone’s hands to oversee, demand weekly reports and push it through the organization. Once it’s installed I recommend additional, and larger compensation for the employee that suggested it. Don’t kill your ROI (unless you’re trying to make an example!) but If you’re saving $4,000 in your second year you can probably afford $200-$300 this year.

That’s it. Although this is a simple example you can probably extrapolate to larger efforts and larger benefits. Future posts will cover compensation options, refining the submission and review process, recognition for your best idea people, as well as teaching the rest of the organization to look at everyday things with a more critical eye.

The Chemistry of Teams

DerailmentOften overlooked when putting people together, the ability of individuals to communicate and cooperate often times determines the success of a venture more than  their work experience. In many environments ‘teams’ of people are assembled with the assumption that ‘team work’ will carry the day and something useful will come out the other end. My own experience has show that this produces random results, you need to hand-pick a small cross-functional team from a cadre of volunteers to increase your potential for success. Not everyone gets to participate but one disengaged or confrontational personality in the team will be disastrous. An entire chapter, ‘The Chemistry of the Creative Team’ was dedicated to this subject in  ‘Making Ideas Happen‘ by Scott Belsky. In that chapter is a particularly important sentence “…strike a balance between flexibility expectations, idea generation and execution, and helpful disagreements and consensus.” The team needs to be composed of equals – each has their own specialty but must be comfortable expressing themselves and their own opinions without being in a position where they feel they need to support the boss.

In my opinion, ‘how’ people interact is often a better predictor of outcomes than ‘what’ they have worked on as individuals in the past. For innovation teams this can be even more of an issue as you’re often times working in ambiguous circumstances with tight deadlines. In these times an individuals character will show it’s flaws and it’s brilliance. Teams like this do not just fall together, you need someone that understands the relationships between the team members, as well as how to get the best of them when the shit hits the fan. If you end up with a bunch of individuals or an overbearing ass, results will be poor and the innovation projects and team will come off the track.

How do you start building these teams? Within almost any organization there are usually clumps of people who are involved in outside projects. Some may be working with non-profits or some may be working on the next great thing. You may also have stealth groups working within your organization that were formed to bypass the bureaucracy and just want to get things moving.  Don’t kill these! Put a fence around them, protect them, fund them and put ’em on the spot to deliver a proof of concept or a full blown model. Most will be more than willing to produce results, that’s why they went underground in the first place.

Sometimes you get the bear…

And sometimes not.

In 2008 I was at Caeser’s in Vegas, sitting at one of the roulette tables. I sat down just before 10AM and had the entire table to myself. For the next three hours, whenever we’d hit red, red, red, the fourth spin would always be black. I’d started off with $100 and probably worked my way up to $2,500 until it was time to go. Lucky for me the table hit red, red, red and I put about $500 on black so I’d walk away with an extra grand.Bear. Big Bear. Red. Shit. Ok, well it will hit black this time, so I put $1,000 down on black. Nope. Red. Son of a bitch. Ok, well, I’m WAY up (and I knew I should run!) so what am I going to lose? I put the rest on black. Not happening. Red again. I pulled another $100 from my pocket and this time it hit black and I ended up even. But that’s how life goes at times too. You may have everything figured out, you see exactly what’s going on, you’re connected and producing great stuff. Sometimes you just land on red. Not always your fault. Your best bet is to grab your chips and move on, but unfortunately just enough of us claw our way back to the top to make it tempting to stay. What’s more, you truly believe in what you’re doing which makes it even harder to walk away. This is where a key attitude, resiliency, comes in to play and your character either grows or collapses. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a numbers game – play enough times and eventually you’ll win. But you have to be resilient, bounce back, and as long as you’re staying true to your beliefs and not selling yourself out, you’ll succeed. Hopefully.