Thursday, July 31, 2014

How To Future-Proof Your Technology Choices

Future Proof Your Technology ChoicesWe all know that technology is improving faster than ever before. That's usually a good thing, because it means we can do more with our tools for much less effort and cost. But how do you choose the right technology now that will serve you well in the future? If you don't choose well, you might be constantly having to change to something better, or being stuck with something that keeps falling behind.

If you're constantly frustrated by the need to keep changing your technology because there's always something new around the corner, use these three guidelines to future-proof your business.

You've probably heard me say that the Internet has made our world "fast, flat and free" (and, in fact, that's the title of my book). This is a big topic, but if we narrow our focus to look just at future-proofing your technology, it boils down to three things: Cloud, Open and Subscription.

This is what I mean:

  • "Fast" means instant access to everything we want, and that means our technology should be in the Cloud.
  • "Flat" means we've broken down barriers between stuff and people, and that means choosing technology that's Open, so it can be extended and expanded by anybody (not just the original supplier).
  • "Free" means we pay less for more, and that means choosing technology that's either free or available via Subscription.

Let's look at these things in more detail, and I'll give you some specific examples ...

1. Cloud

Having your stuff in the Cloud means you have instant access to it whenever you need it. This is much better than the olden days, when you either had less flexibility or had to copy important files to a disk or USB drive if you wanted to use them in different places.

For example, if you use Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, the "master copy" of your e-mail is on your PC, not in the Cloud. So you can only work effectively when you're at your PC.

On the other hand, if you use Cloud-based e-mail like Gmail or Apple Mail, the "master copy" is on the Internet, so you can access it from anywhere and whenever you have an Internet connection.

Another example: If you use MYOB for your bookkeeping, the master MYOB file is on your PC, which makes it impossible to use when you're away from your PC, and inconvenient to share with your bookkeeper or accountant. But if you use a Cloud-based system like Xero, you can access it from anywhere, and selectively give access to others as needed.

(Yes, I know MYOB now has a Cloud-based option as well)

2. Open

Having your stuff in the Cloud is a good first step, but the real power comes when it can be shared and accessed easily by others. Some technology makes this easy - and in fact encourages it - and other technology doesn't.

For example, if you use Gmail, you can increase its power by adding a whole bunch of extensions that make it work nicely with GoToMeeting, Salesforce, Twitter, Facebook, MailChimp, and many other tools. Google didn't have to build all of this into Gmail; it simply provided the ability for motivated developers to do so.

Similarly, when choosing a Web browser, use Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome, because they are designed with an "open" philosophy, so they have a lot of extensions and plug-ins. That's a far better choice than Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Apple's Safari, which weren't designed with openness in mind.

3. Subscription

This is the old "rent vs buy" argument that's been around for a long time. When you're talking about assets that appreciate in value - like residential property - it can make sense to buy outright. But that's rare, and it usually makes far more sense to "rent" - in other words, to pay a subscription rather than an upfront fee. This means you never own it, but ownership is overrated.

You already pay a subscription for your mobile phone access, Web hosting, electricity, magazines, and cable TV. And you might be doing it for your phone handset, your office, and your laptop. Now consider whether you can move even more of your stuff to a subscription.

This means you not only pay less initially, but you often get automatic upgrades and support. So set aside a monthly budget for your subscriptions, and use it to finance the many subscription options now available for software, hardware and associated services.

Is your technology Cloud, Open and Subscription?

I should caution you that these aren't hard-and-fast rules! Sometimes you'll look at your technology and decide that Cloud, Open or Subscription isn't right for you for some reason. That's OK - just make sure it's a conscious decision.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Knowledge is no longer power

This weeks sparkenation.

Today trust is power. We tend to trust people who genuinely care for us.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What standards are you accepting?

This weeks sparkenation.

Lieutenant General David Morrison, Chief of the Australian Army doesn’t mince words in this video. And rightly so.

His message is a key for us all in every aspect of our lives.

"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept."
Lieutenant General David Morrison

What standards are you accepting?

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

More sparkenations here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Too Many Interruptions? It's Your Own Fault

Too many interruptions?When I was a middle manager in corporate Australia in my mid-twenties (quite a long time ago!), I read every people management, time management, and leadership book I could get my hands on. And one of the most useful pieces of advice I got was about avoiding interruptions, while still being available to my team when they needed me. In brief, you use some sort of signal that you don't want to be interrupted - closing your office door, putting an object on top of your monitor, or turning your chair at a certain angle.

That worked, but I still needed some extra time to myself, so I used to arrive at the office early, to get some productive time before everybody else arrived. It was the perfect way to avoid interruptions.

Even that doesn't work anymore.

The world won't stop for you.

That might have been OK in the 1990s (yes, now you know how old I am), but even that doesn't work anymore. Now, with social media, smartphones, BYOD, and globally dispersed teams, you might have no quiet time at all. We live in an "always on" world, where it seems impossible to get any peace and quiet.

The good news is: It's not impossible.

After all, you could switch off all your devices, stay inside, and only go out when you want to! But that's not practical. What is practical is to set up your own rules about how, when and where you are willing to be interrupted.

Here are five broad guidelines to help you set those rules ...

1. Set goals.

Start each week by setting the important goals for the week, and start each day by setting the important goals for the day (or do this the night before, if that works better for you). If you get interrupted by something, consider whether it's more important and urgent than these goals. If not, get back to your goals.

2. Interrupt yourself.

When you're working, work! Use something like the Pomodoro Technique (look it up in Google) to work in short bursts, and then switch off with a short break.

Take short breaks during your work, but treat these as breaks between work tasks, so it's very clear when you're working and when you're taking a break. Otherwise it's difficult to focus on work when you should be working, and it can be difficult to keep your mind off work at other times.

3. Switch off.

Some of the interruptions you get are entirely under your own control, and are easy to eliminate - for example:

  • Facebook notifications on your phone (turn off notifications)
  • e-mails from social networks (turn them off; they are usually stored online anyway)
  • e-mail newsletters you no longer read (unsubscribe)
  • notifications from phone apps (disable notifications or uninstall the app)

4. Pick and choose.

Not everybody in your network should have equal access to you. So decide who gets priority access, and create a system to coordinate it (just like airlines do with their frequent flyer programs).

For example, you might choose to only give out your mobile number to family and friends; and everybody else gets the office number. Or you could set up a different ring tone for your immediate family, and ignore all other calls when you're busy. Or use a special e-mail address for all your newsletter subscriptions, and set up a rule to automatically file them in a Reading folder.

5. Get it right next time.

I'm not asking you to fix everything at once. But it's useful to pause after every interruption and ask yourself, "How could I prevent this from happening again?" Sometimes you might decide you don't want to prevent it, because it really is important. But you'll find plenty of opportunities to avoid future interruptions - for example:

  • Delegate more to your team
  • Document something better, so they don't need to ask you again
  • Use checklists, templates and forms for common tasks, so things don't get overlooked
  • Hire, outsource or contract staff to handle things you shouldn't be handling
  • Stop being so reactive to everything

How can you use this?

Don't expect the rest of the world to sit back and wait for you. If you don't create your own systems to channel the chaos, you'll continue to be frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed. So take charge. Your life, your rules.

Folding Time: Getting Things Done in a Connected World

In our highly-connected, “always on”, 24/7 world, the old rules of goal setting, productivity and time management don’t work. Our goals become meaningless when the environment changes, it’s difficult to stay productive when we’re constantly interrupted, globally dispersed teams make meetings impossible, and the 9-to-5 workday just doesn’t make sense anymore. That’s why we need new rules for higher performance and greater productivity.

Find Out More

Monday, July 14, 2014

Can you hold opposing views in your mind at the same time?

This weeks sparkenation.

F.Scott Fitzgerald, regarded as one of the great American writers of the 20th century, once wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

How intelligent are you?

Your willingness and ability to embrace this kind of maverick thinking is a key to your personal happiness and the success of your business.

It’s also a forerunner to the key factor in all success - shared-view

Without shared-view ultimate success will forever allude you.

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

PS Holding opposing views in your mind at the same time and discovering and maintaining shared-view often means suspending your beliefs (temporarily at least), particularly those of a religious/spiritual or political nature.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Who do you think you are?

This weeks sparkenation.

“Who we think we are is why we do what we do.” says Tom Asacker

I highly recommend watch Tom's TEDxCambridge 2014 talk 'Why TED Talks Don't Change People's Behaviors.'

Be the difference you want to see in the world.

More sparkenations here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Are You Serving Your Clients WHEN They Want It?

Are You Serving Your Clients WHEN They Want It?If you deliver any conference presentations, training workshops or seminars, it's no longer good enough to just provide a single one-off experience. Clients and audiences want more flexibility, not only in how they learn but also when they learn.

Think about a rocket going to the moon, coming apart in planned stages along the journey. Do you deliver your training material the same way, or is it all in a one-off event? The one-off event (like a conference presentation, workshop or seminar) used to be the only practical option. But the Internet makes other delivery methods possible, and if you don't offer them, you're not respecting your clients and audiences.

Let's look at four ways of delivering in multiple stages ...

One-off Event

This is the typical workshop, course or seminar, where people turn up to the event, get all your material, and leave.

It's good for specific chunks of material, and where the entire audience is at a similar level (and wants to reach another, similar, level).

But it has some drawbacks as well:

  • If there's a lot of material, it can seem overwhelming
  • Participants need self-discipline to put the material into action
  • Even with the self-discipline, they don't necessarily know how to learn it in the right sequence or time frame

Calendar Events

You break up your material into a logical sequence, and deliver it in stages over a number of dates.

This can be done with training courses and workshops, and also with some online learning (such as a webinar series).

Because everybody is on the same schedule, they can work together on material. You can also create group interaction for participants - for example, a support group or a discussion forum.

But again it has some drawbacks:

  • People who miss the starting date miss out until the next time you run the program
  • Just because you're delivering material according to a schedule doesn't mean participants are consuming it the same way. E-mails might get backed up for later reference, people miss the regular webinars, and so on.
  • The schedule you choose might be too fast for some participants, who will feel overwhelmed and might even quit
  • It might be too slow for others, who are impatient to continue

Rolling Events

Again, you break up the material into a sequence, but this time they receive their instalments depending on when they begin the program. The best example is an e-mail course, where they get e-mail messages at regular intervals from the date they sign up.

This method has the advantage that people can join at any time, so nobody misses out, even if they start later. But it still has the drawbacks of the calendar events - e.g. too fast for some, too slow for others.

On-Demand Material

With this model, you still break up your material into pieces, but the participants choose their time frame for consuming it. Sometimes you don't even decide on the sequence, so participants can dip in and take whatever they need at the time.

This applies to one-to-one teaching (such as coaching and mentoring) and to online learning that's presented as a "resource centre" (such as a membership site, or an online university).

This means participants get exactly what they need, when they need it, and at their own pace.

This is the most flexible option, but it too has some drawbacks:

  • Some participants don't know exactly what they need, or when they need it
  • Even if they do know, some need the external discipline of a structured sequence
  • Giving everybody access to everything can be overwhelming

Can you combine these options?

As you can see, there are pros and cons to all four approaches. The best option for your clients and audiences is to provide a combination of these methods, so they can choose what's best for them.

This isn't as difficult as it seems. For example, with the right membership site software, you can provide all four options in one place - for example:

  1. One-off: Individual items, such as e-books, audio, video, and slide shows
  2. Calendar: Monthly mastermind group, monthly webinar, weekly newsletter
  3. Rolling: Online courses, either delivered automatically to new members, or they can enrol themselves
  4. On Demand: All the resources available for members to "dip into" at any time

Even if you don't have a membership site, do consider how you can offer your material in different stages. Your clients and audiences expect it, so be flexible enough to give them what they need.