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Category Archives: Thoughts/Observations
January 16, 2012Posted by on
Over the holidays my family went on a trip to Costa Rica on our annual family vacation. It was an amazing trip and it was nice to “get away from it all.” Except for one problem, it sees impossible to actually get away from it all. In the old days (old, meaning about 5-10 years ago when smart phones barely existed) when one went on vacation they would do exactly that and go on vacation. Vacation days were taken, and the point was to relax and get your mind of work. On this trip I expected to do the same thing and found it nearly impossible. I had important emails that I was expecting, and would need to respond to quickly. And, of course, why wouldn’t the hotels in the middle of the rainforest, that are only accessible by boat have wireless service? I was able to respond to emails and make sure things weren’t blowing up back home while I’m on a family vacation. And I hate myself for it.
The point I am trying to emphasize is that technology has become so ingrained in our culture that we are almost continuously connected to the point that when we are sleeping is our only break. Even when you sleep is becoming a connected part of your day with sleep trackers and products like Jawbone’s UP. There really isn’t a part of our daily lives that allows us to remove ourselves from technology. Personally, I think that’s a major issue. I am all for technology and its integration into the daily lives of people, to some degree. It makes things A LOT easier. The amount of time saved because of technological advances is invaluable. However, it promotes an overworked lifestyle that prevents people from having time to themselves.
Personally, I make an effort to spend part of every day completely disconnected from technology. What exactly do I do instead?
- Go to the gym and unplug. Instead of listening to my iPod I’ll go music-free…except for the unmotivating Top 40 playlists continuously playing over the gym’s speakers. I focus on my breathing and stay tuned to how my body feels and how it can push itself to its limits. I love listening to music when working out, but there is a degree of separation once the tunes start playing that prevents you from being 100% focused.
- I close my laptop, turn off the TV, put down my phone and have nothing to do with technology for the last hour before bed. I love to read. I will almost always be reading before bed. It allows me to escape into another world and unwind from a stressful day.
- I’ll go for a walk. Self explanatory.
- On more than one occasion I have just laid out on my couch and just stared at the ceiling, thinking. It’s amazing what any form of meditation can do for the mind. It’s almost unheard of for someone to just do…nothing. But it’s actually really nice. I dare you to try it. Don’t look at a clock until you believe 15 minutes has passed.
The thing about technology is that it is stressful. Being connected at all times takes a lot out of a person. Here’s something you should try: the next time you get a text message when you’re sitting at home don’t answer it. I bet you’ll feel at least a hint of anxiety caused by your thoughts saying “who is it?” “what does this person want?” That’s not healthy.
The ability to truly disconnect is becoming more impossible every day. We’re even getting to the point where we’re going to have augmented reality overlays in our contact lenses. Does this not bother anyone? The amount of information we receive every day is amazing. Do we really need that much more? We can’t retain but a small fraction of it to begin with, why overload ourselves even more?
Do you think we’re too connected? When was the last time you truly disconnected from every bit of technology you own?
[UPDATE] I just read this article on Volkswagen. They shut their Blackberry email servers off after business hours to allow employees to disconnect. This is revolutionary and more companies should start embracing this. The stress caused by always being connected can cause real harm and VW is taking a huge step in the right direction to prevent their employees from getting burned out. Way to go Volkswagen!
(Coincidentally I also own a VW Passat so this makes me even prouder of the company)
December 20, 2011Posted by on
At work last week a group of Digital Innovation Group members got together to discuss 2012 and the trends we predict will happen in the approaching year. It was a great discussion, as most of our brainstorms tend to be, and a lot of intelligent and insightful points were brought up. For example, one trend that anybody who works in the digital space, and pays attention to the types of apps, innovations, and businesses that have been created in the last year or so, has seen is the emphasis on personalization online. From the biggest online companies like Facebook and Google, to the smallest startups, the internet is quickly becoming a place that caters to you and your interests. You can log in to online shopping sites and suggestions are no longer based on top reviews, but on your past purchase history and browsing behavior. Most advertisements are catered to what you have shown interest in while surfing the web. Everything is being tuned to what we already enjoy and like which helps businesses (it means we’re more likely to purchase the products we see) and users (because we actually are interested instead of feeling like we’re getting spammed).
However, there’s a big flaw in the personalization of the internet that occurred to me during the team brainstorm: we are slowly moving away from the exploration and discovery that makes the internet so great.
This is really important, because the internet allows anybody access to information and resources that they would never have had twenty years ago. Our ability to find funny videos, end up reading interesting (yet, irrelevant) articles on Wikipedia, or “stumble” onto cool content via StumbleUpon is something that our (read: my generation) parents could barely have dreamed about. But we’re slowly losing the ability to find new content because everything is being spoon fed for us.
Take StumbleUpon: you hit a button and a random webpage is given to you. When you create your account you can choose your interests so that the random webpages will somewhat cater to what you’d want to be shown. I clicked as many interests as possible, even if they are only slightly interesting to me, because I want as much random content as possible. If I had only chosen sports, fitness, food, and advertising I would never see the beautiful pictures, hilarious articles, or original videos that I do end up seeing because I chose so many interests.
My mom brought me up always saying two things “Make good choices” (trying my best), and “Don’t take the easy way out.” Being fed our content is the easy way out. Sure, it makes being online easier if you have a specific goal in mind (i.e. shopping for something specific), but what about when you want to just browse around and explore? There are so many doors that are automatically closed to us. I love to explore and read about anything interesting to me. This doesn’t necessarily parallel with my browsing history or past preferences.
I think the technology to personalize the online experience is great, I really do…for certain things. When I’m going to a specific company to order something, show me what I may like from that company (I’m probably going there for something similar anyways). But, if I am just browsing the web I wouldn’t mind stumbling on to some hidden gems that don’t necessarily go along with what I’m normally interested in. That’s exactly what makes them interesting.
Are you prepared to pay the price of personalization, even if it means sacrificing your ability to explore and discover?
November 9, 2011Posted by on
Have you ever sat in the passenger seat of your own car while somebody else drives it? It feels weird, and almost uncomfortable, right? I recently was thinking about this, as I examined how I’ve approached my professional career, and realized there are a lot of similarities to driving a car and living in the post-graduation world.
When you’re fresh out of college ready to take on the world you think nothing can stop you. You’ll be nervous, of course, but you’ll still have a bit of that “I’m invincible” confidence you get when you’re in college and are able to succeed under most circumstances. The truth is, classes in college don’t prepare you for the real world. They teach you some necessary, and many unnecessary, bits of information that you may or may not need to remember at some point in the future. What teaches you most is experience. That experience can come from internships or jobs you may have held before graduating. When you hit the ground running after graduation and (hopefully) land that first job, you need to understand what you’re getting into. In college you can pass with flying colors just by going to class and doing assignments when they are given to you. You’ll get a “good job” from your professor if you really bust your ass. After college, this passivity will get you nowhere. You need to learn to focus and take the wheel (here’s the driving metaphor now).
When you’re in the driver’s seat of your CAReer (see?) it’s all about staying focused about what’s ahead. Sure, you’ll take a peak in your side and rear view mirrors occasionally so that you’re in control of the present situation, but you always have to be looking for what’s down the road. You need to stay proactive and alert. Do you see brake lights up ahead? Think of those as potential hiccups or obstacles you might encounter. Get a grip, change lanes, and bypass the problem by being prepared. Be sure to flash your left/right signals to let everyone know you’re changing lanes. Keeping people around you aware of what’s going on will keep thing running smoothly, rather than creating a bigger problem.
One thing I’ve learned is that it is very easy to fall asleep at the metaphorical wheel of your career. It’s easy to start drifting out of your lane, and it’s easy to not realize you can be more than just another person stuck in traffic. Don’t set your car on cruise control. It won’t help you, and it won’t get you anywhere faster. It allows you to become distracted from reaching your goals. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn, but an invaluable one.
September 13, 2011Posted by on
The word characteristic is defined as “a distinguishing feature or quality.”
The word productivity is defined as “the quality…of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.”
I have a problem with the above definitions because they imply that productivity is indeed a quality, or characteristic, of an individual. I disagree with that. Rather, I believe that it is a result of a combination of four factors: motivation, focus, organization, and knowledge.
- Motivation: Motivation is the first part of the equation because without motivation, you will not be able to achieve anything. There isn’t an action you perform that doesn’t have some motivation behind it. From big things (starting a new company) to trivial matters (eating breakfast) you are motivated to achieve some sort of goal (to provide a new product/service or to ease hunger). Motivation is what gets you out of bed in the morning and, after a cup of coffee (If you’re a coffee drinker. I’m not.), gets you going for whatever you have to accomplish that day. But being motivated is tough. I’ve learned that to be motivated you have to be happy with what you’re doing, enjoy the people you work with, and be willing to learn and make mistakes. Once you’re motivated, even the roadblocks that you will inevitably run into won’t be a problem because you’ll push through them In other words, act as if YOU are a startup company. Motivation is the spark that gets the engine running for the next three parts.
- Focus: I wrote a post on focus being a key to success and believe that it may be the most important step on the way to productivity. In keeping with the definition theme, focus is defined as “a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.” When you need to be productive you must focus. The biggest problem I’ve faced in my professional life has been focusing. Having multiple projects with approaching deadlines is my biggest hurdle in being the worker I want, and need, to be. If you have too much and try to get them all done simultaneously you will get none of them done on time, and they will be of inferior quality than if you focused on them one at a time. Schedule time in the day to work on a specific project, and stick to that schedule. It is okay to say no to people who ask you for help. Tell them that you can get to it later, and if that isn’t an option, refer them to a person who may be able to help. Put all of your focus into one project and it will be done quickly and done well. Try to please everyone by completing all projects at the same time and you will be overwhelmed. Which brings us to our next step…
- Organization: If you are not organized you will miss things. Emails that should have been sent will be forever lost in your “drafts” folder. That one update you meant to make will go unmade. To be organized you have to be disciplined. Writing out a to-do list, or using programs like Wunderlist or Workflowy, is a great start. Personally my first step when an assignment or task comes through is to schedule it into my calendar. If it’s something that will take no more than a couple of minutes I will do it immediately to get it out of the way, unless it can wait until later. If it will take five minutes or more I schedule it. My calendar has become my to-do list. I check it every morning to see what meetings, projects, and miscellaneous things I will have to do that day. Do something that fits your style and works best for you. But make sure you DO it, and stay on top of it. If you can stay organized, you will be able to rip through things you have to do amazingly quickly. Getting things done ahead of time and getting a surprised look from those waiting for it is one of the best feelings you’ll get in the work place.
- Knowledge: Knowledge is the glue that holds everything together after the first three parts build your foundation. You can be motivated, focused, and organized more than any of your peers, but if you lack the knowledge your responsibilities require then then those qualities matter very little. Knowing the answers to questions you haven’t been asked, and knowing the best ways to optimize your work pulls everything together. You also have to realize that as much as you think you know, there is always more to learn. Never stop exploring. Never stop learning.
These four “pillars” are the basis for productivity. You lose one, and the whole thing falls apart. I’ll be honest, I am inherently an unproductive person in many ways. I am very relaxed, don’t like to feel stress (who does though?), and like to play things by ear and think on my feet. Now that I am part of the real world in a full time job with actual responsibility and other people depending on me, I’ve had to change things. A lot. I’ve had to start going to bed earlier, make to-do lists, and plan out my days and weeks. In a way, I’ve hated it because it’s not who I like to be. But at the same time I love it because it’s taught me a lot about responsibility and pulling my own weight. This isn’t to say I’ve been a terrible person to work with, or a terrible student, but I have definitely learned that I needed to improve in these areas drastically to make it in the real world. Productivity isn’t something that some people have and some don’t. It is a result of a combination of things that you must have.
What makes you productive? Do you have a process or are you looking for one?
September 1, 2011Posted by on
(Cue the “Real Men of Genius” music)
Thank you Mr. I’m-cool-so-I-back-into-parking-spots-guy for making my morning even more enjoyable. Everyone wants to be that guy who is super savvy at driving so they swing by an open spot, pass it, and coolly places his arm on the back of the passenger seat and looks back with a “damn, I’m cool” smirk as you glide your way backwards into the parking spot. I’ve done it, every guy has done it (or tried to). Except you don’t know how to. Cars have doors. And these doors must be opened in order to exit the vehicle. You also took the time to line up your car so that the side mirror got in the way of the door. Thank you. Now please forgive me Mr. I’m-cool-so-I-back-into-parking-spots-guy if you are skinny enough to make Kate Moss look like the Michelin Man, if you are able to squeeze through the gap in your door that is the size of my foot, please go ahead and do so. Most people are not capable of such a feat, unless you happen to be this guy. But you are not that guy.
I’m sure you had your reasons. You may have been bringing that special lady home after a great Wednesday night college shit show and wanted to show her just how cool you really are. After all, what girl doesn’t want a guy who can back into a parking spot? You also left her enough room between the passenger side of the car and the car in the next spot for her to lay down in and take a post-party nap. And of course she ignored the grunting, twisting, and contorting you must have done to exit your side because you are such a gentleman.
Or maybe you are the car-driving brother of Mr. I-see-nothing-wrong-with-standing-on-the-same-escalator-step-as-you that my boss had the pleasure of meeting last week. I may never know.
What I do know is that I had the fortune of climbing through the passenger side of my car this morning in order to being my drive to work. And I owe it all to you Mr. I’m-cool-so-I-back-into-parking-spots-guy. And I thank you. It changed my outlook on how to enter a car. I may never be the same again. One day I may return the favor by parking right next to the driver’s side door of your gray Jetta with the FAMU front license plate. However, I am not nearly as cool as you Mr. I’m-cool-so-I-back-into-parking-spots-guy, so I may park normally. I hope that does not offend you.
So thank you, Mr. I’m-cool-so-I-back-into-parking-spots-guy, for making what was looking like any ordinary morning, extraordinary. Thank you so very much.
August 25, 2011Posted by on
Steve Jobs has successfully CEO’d the hell out of what is arguably the most remarkable company the world has seen over the course of the last three decades, let alone ever. I won’t spend the time going into everything Apple has accomplished in this millennium but I don’t think I need to. Ask ten people a question like “Name the first music player/tablet/phone that you can think of” and I would guess 8 times out of 10 those people will answer “ipod/ipad/iphone” almost immediately. In short, Apple’s market penetration and name recognition is off the charts and by far one of the hottest companies around right now.
With the news of Steve Jobs’ stepping down from the CEO position at Apple, people freaked out to say the least, and the East Coast earthquake became the second biggest thing this week that rocked the world (pun undeniably intended). Already there are countless reports on the magic of Steve Jobs and what his resignation means to Apple, as well as the tech industry. Will Apple change as a company? Will their incredible devices and innovation slow down or stop altogether? Should I update my iPod software now before the world ends?
People can, and will, worry about what will happen to an incredible company when the person who has always been the face of that company decides to step down as the leader. What people need to understand is that Steve Jobs is going nowhere. His title has changed from CEO to Chairman. If you believe he won’t make important decisions or provide input on what Apple does in the years ahead, well you’re kidding yourself.
I’m not worried at all about Apple. What I am intrigued by is what I believe to be the real impact of SJ’s resignation: the effect it has on competition and innovation. Steve Jobs is the man every entrepreneur wants to become: the man who co-founded and molded a juggernaut that became, briefly, the most valuable company on the planet. Steve Jobs is also the man who has caused a level of competition to emerge, in an already uber-competitive industry, that has resulted in some unbelievable innovations. Even with competitors releasing incredible products to compete with Apple, it’s still just barely a competition. The iPod has a virtual monopoly on the music player vertical, the iPad is the leader in the tablet market, and the iPhone is the hottest mobile device on the planet. When devices with incredible specs are released into the market the first question people ask themselves is “is this the iPod/iPhone/iPad killer?” And sometimes they don’t even have the guts to go that far, they simply say “this device can definitely compete with Apple’s device.” Thing is, the devices that may perform just as well as Apple’s version, and possible outperform it, don’t have Apple’s branding behind it. So they lose. And for the last decade or so, every single one has lost. Sure, the products still may sell well, but they don’t touch Apple.
As Steve Jobs removes himself from the driver’s seat of the Apple bandwagon, I can see the greatest impact being felt in the areas of innovation and competition. Steve Jobs has affected how we view our gadgets and gizmos whether we like it or not. I am sad to see him go.
August 23, 2011Posted by on
Just a month ago a campaign was introduced for the California Milk Processor Board that focused on milk reducing out with the symptoms of PMS. Nothing wrong with that right? WRONG. In order to provide the necessary humor that’s needed (or at least helpful) in getting something to go viral, the agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners decided to make men the “target” of the campaign. One thing that I’ve learned in life is that you never, EVER joke about PMS and what causes it, etc….when there are women around. However, this campaign is funny. I find it a stretch in terms of how it will help boost milk sales since there is no man in the history of ever that would go to his wife, girlfriend, mistress, or friend-that-is-a-girl with a carton of milk saying “Hey babe, I know you’re PMS-ing so drink this…it will help you, and everyone around you, get through the next few days alive. Naturally, women flipped and the reaction was strong enough that the campaign had to be pulled.
While I understand the reasons for pulling the campaign, this blog post by my father illustrates a great point that got me thinking: “You have to be evocative to be viral.” This is true in many cases. But what it got me thinking about is that it is next to impossible to be evocative in today’s world without having to pull down whatever it is you’re being evocative with. And herein lies my biggest issue. Well, two biggest issues.
1) Social media is great for creating conversation, but is easily exploited by people wanting to make an issue bigger than it is. Case in point: Nivea recently was forced to pull their “Re-civilized” advertisement because people viewed them as racist and offensive. This became a big deal. I can obviously see where people might get offended by this advertisement, but only because it’s easy to know how those people think. They will see a black man, then the word ‘re-civilize’, and see the unshaven head with the afro and immediately start an uproar. What they have to understand is that when they are crying racism because it’s a black man (they wouldn’t have made a sound if the exact same ad feature a white man) they are the ones distinguishing race here and making it a racial situation. I will go out on a limb here and say that there are African Americans working at Nivea, and that, if they had a problem with this they would have mentioned something. These advertisements go through an approval process that is pretty intense and the legal issues are examined…racism is definitely considered. I try to understand people who think that it’s racist, but I personally don’t think it is at all. When I look at it I see a man throwing out the unclean version of himself and choosing to be well groomed. That may be offensive to the un-groomed types, but I don’t see this as a black man throwing that version of himself out. That is my opinion. I see no racial issues here until people bring them up themselves.
This shouldn’t be a big deal. Nivea responded very well to the issue and pulled the ad and placed a prompt response thanking their customers for being concerned and giving them feedback. Great move on their part. But it was a move they wouldn’t have to make if it wasn’t for people making a huge deal out of something that should never have been a big deal to begin with. Social media allows people who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice to voice their opinions, and it leads to a lot of wasted effort and extra money/time/stress that definitely isn’t needed.
2) If you try to make everyone happy, you will end up pissing them all off. There are too many beliefs, opinions, and idiots out there that it is impossible to make everyone happy at one time. The two campaigns I’ve described above are examples of things that may be slightly offensive to some, but won’t be for a lot of people. One great example of “trying to do too much” is Facebook in the early years (and some of the not-so-early years as well). Facebook tried their best to make all of their users happy, and still does, and how does that help them out? It doesn’t. They have a sub-70% user satisfaction rate…the lowest of all the social networks. They try to update too many features too quickly and it ends up making everyone mad because their are too many changes going on to keep track of. Google+ comes out with their group chat Hangouts and Facebook prematurely released their video chat feature and it’s relatively useless.
Google+ is in danger of hitting this point too. They release a super sexy social network after many failed attempts to join the social space, and they tried to make everyone happy. Grabbing aspects of Facebook (site design, news feed) and Twitter (great for real-time updates, lists (G+’s ‘circles)), Google released a social network that does everything, except entice users to use it. I’ve had issues with Google+’s ability to succeed since the beginning, and it looks like we’re out of the honeymoon phase and heading in that direction. Google needed to release something that made a difference in how people experienced social media, yet they released something that isn’t integrated into their other services (including search!), have actively told brands to not join yet, and have deleted accounts of users not using their real names/are underage (which blocks them from all other Google services as well, including Gmail for which you don’t need to specify age). They are making a mess of a situation in which they are trying to make everyone happy, and have only succeeded in making a majority of people either angry or indifferent.
One company that has done a great job of sticking to their guns? Apple. Apple consistently releases quality products to rave reviews, how do they do this? They start in a vertical, and perfect it. They started their success with iPods. For years they perfected the handheld mp3 player and that’s what they did. After owning that market, they brands slightly out by making a phone. It was one of their iPods with phone capabilities. After phones they’ve moved on to tablets. But what have they consistently done? They stick with one type of product and dedicate themselves to it and branch out once they have reached a high level of success. That’s a huge difference compared to other companies who try to do too much.
There will always be people unhappy with what happens, and there are people who are only happy when they can complain about being unhappy. If everyone in the country won the lottery today there would still be people complaining that they could have won MORE money if not everyone else had won, even though they are being given money for free. It is the nature of people to disagree, compete, debate, and argue. It is this that allows us to be creative and evolve and innovate. But along the way we have to understand that we can’t back out of what we do just to make people happy. Sometimes we have to take a risk and stick by it. Whether that’s altering an ad to make it less controversial rather than pulling it down, or simply defending your position, we have to grow. Otherwise, the ones holding us back will keep winning.