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Blog Posts for January 2011

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Cold in the East

 

Evidently, it's getting pretty bad out there.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/1/2011 12:34:28 PM
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Innovative Questions

 

I got my Harvard Business Review in the mail yesterday, and aside from RomneyCare architect Michael E. Porter as the centerpiece of the mag discussing "how to fix capitalism" (spare me), there's a little callout in another article that contains a Drucker quote:

Study what your customers are doing with your product. Be aware that, as Peter Drucker famously said, "The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him."
The callout is entitled: "Four Ways to Uncover Unmet Needs."

Unmet Needs = Vacuum

Your product can be what gets pulled into that vacuum, if you're paying attention to the fact that there is a vacuum.

In this online HBR article, disruption expert Scott Anthony comes up with 31 innovation questions. He too cites this quote from Drucker.

What should I look for? As Drucker said, "the customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him;" look for a job-to-be-done, an important problem that is not adequately solved by current solutions.
That right there encapsulates the difference between a successful business and a soon-to-be-bankrupt business. Some businesses come to the market with an offering already defined, and the business pushes its offering harder and harder at the market. Other businesses let the market shape them by listening closely to the discomfort of the market's unmet needs.

There is no need for pushing the business at people when the right solution is crafted - the business and its targeted solution get pulled into the vacuum.

The more effortless business is, the more sustainable it is. Discern the vacuum, craft the solution that gets pulled in fastest by those needing an answer, and then scale upward.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/1/2011 11:34:13 PM
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Happy Birthday, Steve Neal

 

...wherever you are.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/4/2011 8:45:16 AM
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Gravity

 

The most effortless force in the world is gravity. Once something is at a height where gravity can have an effect, you just let go and - ta da! - the item moves without any more effort on your part. Amazing.

But you have to expend the energy to lift it before gravity can have an effect.

Here in my home office, I generally have a fire burning in the fireplace. Occasionally, I have to get up and manage the logs, but once lit, the fire kind of manages itself. The hard part is getting it going in the morning. It takes some time (I'm an old school fire starter - no cheating here.) But to get the fire going, you have to expend energy to start it before it manages itself.

A lot of people talk about viral this and viral that, catch fire this and catch fire that, and buzz this and buzz that... but consider...

The most natural thing in the winter here in the Midwest is a child's desire to go sledding. Kids won't clean their rooms or put away their dishes, but they'll struggle with snow pants and boots and excitedly scramble to the family van with the trusted sled to have a go at a few moments of fun on a hill. They'll eagerly trudge up the hill, pass after pass, to take advantage of gravity's pull.

When it's all said and done, they're cold and wet and they have a mess of things to put away, but inevitably they utter, "Dad - can we do it again tomorrow?"

Customers are no different.

There's a thin line between marketing and harassment. There's an even thinner line between marketing and sledding.

Business is best when business is sledding.

Inside a company, it's tough to tell between when customers are eagerly lining up to go sledding and when customers are being harangued to show up. Customers usually don't tell you.

Gravity is invisible. But you can tell when it's in effect when objects move by themselves with the smallest of nudges.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/4/2011 12:04:17 PM
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31 Years Later

 

I'm listening to The Wall this morning as I work, and not only is the album still great, but I'm reminded that Comfortably Numb is such an incredible song.

My first real girlfriend was Margaret, and Floyd was her favorite band. We were both stupid teenagers, but she sure nailed her selection in bands.

It's funny where life takes you over three decades in time. It's also weird to write "three decades." As my wife kissed me as she left for work this morning, I marveled at all of the right things taking place in my life, all good and solid.

I've enlisted my son, Aaron, and his skills with graphics to help me set up 247Toolset portals. He did his first one yesterday, and he did a great job.

What's good about demos and sales is that each one ends with "Hey, you know who needs to see this?"

I love sledding.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/7/2011 10:23:15 AM
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Missing Lupi

 

Long ago while in college, I met a girl named Barb, who more popularly went by the name Lupi. She was a grad student in chemistry. It was one of those relationships where we got along famously, but never would have dated. More like brother and sister...

Rode bikes together, listened to similar music, cracked each other up... I remember once that she and I rode our bikes through a park in Ames late one night and I didn't see the wire stretched between two posts and I did the most spectacular header into a gravel parking lot. I just lay on my back staring upward, laughing into the clear sky above. Lupi gathered my bike from its awkward twist and then sat next to me. For the next 20 minutes, we had a beautiful conversation about the things we can see and the things we can't. It started from her wondering if I was unhurt because I couldn't see the wire and its trip took me by complete surprise.

Years later, we fell out of touch, but she found me on the web and emailed me and then called. At this time, we were both married and I learned of her most loved husband. We talked of getting together.

A few months later, her husband emailed me. He told me that she was in the passenger seat as they drove across rural Iowa. Another car ran a stop sign and t-boned them, hitting Lupi squarely. She died instantly. He contacted me after the funeral and just wanted me to know how much she was looking forward to seeing me again.

I miss her laugh. And also racing shopping carts across the Cub Foods parking lot late at night. And then there was that incident of the frozen peas in the cereal aisle.

What made me think of her was listening to Sting's "Why Should I Cry For You." I wonder if she ever found out what the "Stones of Pharaoh" were...

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2011 3:01:22 AM
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Wrapped Up

 

Today was an interesting day. After a long and drawn out fiasco with Hosting.com, I made the decision to try a new host. As I write this, Liquid Web is building my new server. While it's a pain in the ass to move, Hosting.com couldn't have done more to blow their relationship with me. They used to be HostMySite.com, which rocked, and that's why I've been with them for 8 years. But under new management now, Hosting.com simply sucks - hence, the big move.

While the server was cooking, I needed to finish up a big piece of 247Toolset. For a long time, I've had the piece developed where you can search your talent pool for the right resource in a very user-friendly fashion. But as I've been creating the Project Management module with its ability to create Project Roles, you could assign a confirmed resource to the Role, but you couldn't search for available talent via the Pool Search - until now. They're now connected together.

I have a lot more work to do to polish it up, but being able to drive through to solicit your resources to fulfill a Role - it functions as expected. I've done some things to make it easy - such as when creating multiples of a Role, all of the Roles are put into a Role Grouping behind the scenes so that the search you do will be associated across the multiple. If you solicit 8 people for 4 Roles in the grouping, and 5 affirm their willingness, you'll be able to assign the 4 Roles from the pool of 5.

That's powerful, and I think maybe even unique in the world of resource allocation.

One foot in front of the other... and I just got an email that my server will be ready shortly. Gonna be a long night!

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/12/2011 11:51:10 PM
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Faster, Better

 

I just finished the migration to the new Liquid Web server. beatcanvas.com has been running on it for two days, and the other 30+ sites are now moved over and fully functioning.

Whew! It's very much akin to moving from house to another. Gotta make sure that everything is packed up and moved, nothing left behind.

But I did some tests during the migration, and the new server is faster. The six-core machine runs on 64-bit Windows Server 2008 with a ton of RAM. The sites employ IIS 7 and SQL Server 2008 Web, and each site has its own application pool.

Beefy.

Throughout the process, the people at LW were wonderful. Savvy, friendly, quick to respond, and they feel like a partner in my success. I couldn't ask for anything more than that.

When I wake up, I have more coding to do to wrap up this phase of Project Management in 247Toolset; then I'll tie that into Job Orders for my recruiter clients. But knowing that I have a solid basis for my clients lets me launch back into sales, which should be fun with the new capabilities of the 247Toolset platform.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/16/2011 2:48:10 AM
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3 Minutes

 

What if I told you that you could take a phone call, record the details of it, create an action item from the phone call, deftly filter through hundreds of people to find exactly those who might be able to help you, and send them each an email to see who might step forward to make themselves available - all in 3 minutes?

You can.

(You can also track it to see when it's completed!)

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/17/2011 10:54:45 PM
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Today's Beauty

 

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/17/2011 11:05:55 PM
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Rounding Second

 

I'm close...

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/21/2011 7:01:42 PM
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Quality of Life

 

One of my heroes has died at the age of 96.

That's him when he was 70, celebrating his birthday by swimming through Long Beach Harbor towing a flotilla of 70 boats. Jack LaLanne towed the boats with his hands and feet shackled for a mile past the ocean liner, the Queen Mary.

A good man who lived a good life.

(Via Instapundit.)

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/24/2011 12:09:47 AM
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"Functional Brilliance"

 

A well-placed consultant to non-profits just received a demo of 247Toolset. His remark:

"Brett, that's brilliance. It's user-friendly. I mean, sometimes things are brilliant, but you can't see how to use it. But this is functional brilliance."
He then cited eight people with whom he wants to connect so that they can see it too.

It's a good Monday so far :)

ETC: This is a great moment in my product's history. The consultant just sold it to one of his clients. That's the first time that a sale was made without me being there.

And he's setting up a big meeting with another client later this week.

Booyah!

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/24/2011 11:43:00 AM
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Today's Beauty

 

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/25/2011 5:49:38 AM
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State of the Union

 

My buddy’s wife used to regularly put $3,000 a month on the family credit card.

Last year, she doubled her rate, increasing more and more each month throughout the year.

Horrified at where they were financially, my buddy called foul. Adopting a spirit of cooperation, his wife agreed to freeze her spending at the current level.

Problem solved, right?

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/25/2011 11:23:45 AM
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An Idea

 

Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine who owns a business asked my how I would solve the problem of making it easy to verify someone's ID in the absence of a wallet or other credentials, without using biological markers (fingerprints, retinal scan). In other words, easy and without the use of special equipment.

My first thought was to use a cell phone. There's no reason why I couldn't text your number to a special number and have us both receive the same 4-digits number to confirm with each other, along with my name.

It could also be used to get into locked buildings. The phone has a GPS device already, so a simple app could message my location to the number and pulse the lock mechanism for those with electronic access.

No idea if he likes the idea or not, but I forwarded it on.

I looked up a few domain names, which is what I usually do for things like this, and I discovered that idbyphone.com is already taken. By Microsoft. The domain doesn't go anywhere, but they've owned it since 2007.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/26/2011 9:53:02 AM
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Shellackluster

 

shel·lack·lus·ter [shuh-lak-luhs-ter], noun
1. the unenthusiastic state of mind one possesses while giving a speech after suffering a public "shellacking"

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/26/2011 11:44:13 AM
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Word Choice

 

I wish the Right would ditch the words "conservative" and "conservatism."

The founding fathers never said anything foundational using those words, and they mean different things to different people.

"Freedom" and "independence," on the other hand, are less ambiguous and were used by the founding fathers. I mean, if we're really going to talk about getting back to the traditional aspects of our country, then asserting "conservatism" is twisting our origins.

Being free to choose the direction of your own life - that's well established in our nation's history. While I may not agree with your choices, as long as those choices aren't impacting the liberties of others, it's nobody's business but yours.

Liberty, freedom, independence - those are foundational words.

Conservative - not so much.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/29/2011 10:17:50 AM
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Interface

 

Most sites on the web give the user a single thing to accomplish. They're very focused, and they do that single task very well.

Take Twitter... you type in your tweet, and you click the "Tweet" button.

Or Typepad, for blogging. A bit more information, a bit more complicated... but that's about it. Title, article, a few tags, and maybe an uploaded picture.

Now Google, aside from its simplistic (but very robust) search functionality, offers more complicated tools. Calendar is one of their more complicated tools. You can Quick Add an event...

...or you can choose the full suite of event options.

While the market for those who want to manage a calendar is certainly universal, it's estimated that about 25 million people use Google Apps. Compare that to Twitter's 145 million users. With complexity comes a decrease in audience.

How do you take multi-faceted, complex tasks and help the end-user easily manage those tasks?

Interface design is hard. Very hard. Nobody likes to read a user manual. Nobody likes to feel stupid. Everyone wants to look and feel smarter and more powerful through the tools that they use.

Interface design is probably best defined as the attempt to make everyone happy. For those who get frustrated by the exercise of trying to make everyone happy, it's likely that they will give up quickly. For those who persist, it takes several iterations, many discussions, lots of open listening, and rewrite after rewrite.

As I go through the interface of 247 with various people, I'm always seeing how things could improve with simplification and clearer language and presentation. Then the editor in me has to determine what lands on the To-Do list, and what falls on the To-Don't list.

Every decision comes with a trade-off that has an impact on the future of the business. I love the process of the decision-making, of balancing the load. It's a skill with no name, really. It's probably akin to day-trading, but with less, um, drama. And then with each change, it goes out into the package and I learn what my customers think. My chief job then is to help them remain honest with me. Most people steer clear of open criticism, but that's exactly what I need - knowing what didn't communicate.

That too is a skill with no name, but more essential than just about anything else.

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/29/2011 1:04:29 PM
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The Secret to Great Writing is...

 

...rewriting.

When I was an English major in college, I learned that while rewrites are time-consuming, and it kinda sucks to throw away your work, the result that emerges is almost always superior to what you had.

So too with writing web sites and software. A first draft can certainly be strong, but not nearly as good as a second or third draft. And by draft, I don't mean edit. I mean rewrite.

What I found in college is that the scene is broader, more contextual when you rewrite. The first draft is generally about the plot. The second draft is more about the subtleties of the scene and character development. The third is usually trimming the unnecessary from the second draft. It's lean, it's clean, and it moves the story forward in the right way for the reader.

Here's what greeted the user in 247Toolset's administrative backend:

The menu at left is cumbersome and difficult in its organization. For a while now I've wanted to change it, but it was in the back of my to-do list. Yesterday and today, I gave it a lot of thought.

Here's the new version:

Not cumbersome. Clean. And frankly, a lot more expansive without feeling bloated.

Now to get started with converting about 80 pages of backend...

 

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by Brett Rogers, 1/30/2011 8:45:29 PM
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