Quirky.com – Day 1

I have an idea that I didn’t have the resources to create myselfQuirkydotcom, so I decided to give crowdsourcing site www.quirky.com a try. Today is the first day that my idea is visible to the Quirky community where they can vote thumbs up or thumbs down, can give comments and can provide links out to similar products (to help Quirky determine if I copied an existing product).

Flip ItMy innovation is to take a physical product that my sister invented and to make it digital.  My sister’s invention is called Flip It and is used in the office to let your co-workers know where you are – at lunch, on vacation, in a meeting.  The innovation I put on Quirky is a digital version of the product which consists of a personal LED display that is controlled by a mobile app via Bluetooth connectivity.  The mobile app controls the message that scrolls across the LED screen and controls the internal clock on the LED so that it turns on/off at the start/stop of business hours.  Sounds like a great idea to me!!!!  But I wonder if the Quirky community will think the same and find Digital Flip It to be useful?

The Quirky process involves four steps:  1) submit your idea.  There is a 48 hour time frame where the idea is initially reviewed by Quirky staff.  2) The idea is visible to the online community for 7 days where votes are taken and comments are given.  3) If the idea gets enough positive votes, then the idea goes to Expert Review where more critical kicking the tires takes place.  4) The last stage is the live evaluation that involves drinking beer!  Every Thursday night at 7:00 pm EST the lively product debate and beer drinking occurs on www.quirky.com/live.  If my idea makes it to the live evaluation, I will drink beer at home for moral support!

Once a product is chosen to be made by Quirky, the community continues to build the product by providing product name, tagline, color feedback, suggested price and in some cases engineering input.  And you can earn money by helping to influence product details!

Day 1 is almost over and Digital Flip It has 53 votes – 40 are thumbs up (75% – whoop whoop) and 13 are thumbs down.  Most of the thumb downs voters think a similar product exists – like a normal LED display where the text can be changed.  That must be my bad for not explaining how Digital Flip It is different from a normal LED message display.  As much as I like the chance of Digital Flip It becoming a real product, I’m also enjoying the crowdsourcing experience of getting real time feedback from an online community.  Check out Digital Flip It – read about its features and let me know if I need to change my product description on Quirky.  That is my opinion and a survey of one.

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Nudge by Design

Nudge and flyI recently was handed a copy of the book Nudge (reference 1) from a work colleague. Even though this book was originally published in 2008 (and updated in 2009), the main theme that describes the importance of the Choice Architect is still applicable today. The Choice Architect creates an environment that helps people make better choices and decisions. The example of a nudge that has received the most attention from the book was the placement of a fake fly in the urinals at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. The choice to aim at the fly reduced spillage by eighty percent which resulted in cleaner restrooms and easier maintenance on the cleaning staff.

Here are examples of nudges that already exist in our every day lives that help us with choices:

  • Ever forget your ATM card in the ATM machine? That happened so much, the banks made a change that the ATM card is returned before any next step in the login occurs. The Choice Architect helped you remember your card!
  • Our cars are equipped with reminders to put on the seat belt, get gas, time for an oil change or a tire is low; cars also have options that the headlights turn on and off only when they are needed so you don’t forget to turn them off and drain the battery.
  • Gas nozzles have been created so that they only fit in the appropriate gas tanks – meaning you won’t be able to put regular gas in a diesel tank – which will help in car rental situations.
  • Birth control pills are designed to be taken one a day, even though pills 22 – 28 are placebos. This design is because it is easier to remember to take a pill a day instead of take a pill a day for three weeks, wait a week and then start again.

Nudge and keysDo you have a bad habit you need to break?  How about a nudge?  www.pleasurabletroublemakers.com has examples of innovative products that playfully provides you with options.   For example,  if you select the car key, the bike key will drop and you will need to really ask yourself if the car is the best choice for what you need to go out and do. As we go through our day to day routine, we can use a nudge to help us make sure we have made the best choice.

Listed below are the tools of a Choice Architect:

  • Defaults – there must be an option if a person makes no choice at all, and many people take the path of least resistance which will be the default.  The default should represent the normal choice or the recommended option.
  • Giving feedback – provide people feedback throughout the process so they know how they are doing and can make adjustments.  The example given in Nudge is a white ceiling paint that goes on pink so the painter can see what he has painted and areas he has missed, yet it dries white.
  • Expecting error – it should be expected that people will make errors, so the Choice Architect can anticipate the user experience and be forgiving as those errors or made or create an experience that eliminates the error all together – like forgetting your ATM card in the machine.
  • Understanding mappings – make information about various options obvious so that good decisions can be made; examples are calories on menus, credit card interest rates and mobile phone plans.
  • Structuring complex choices – as choices have more options, it is important to structure the options in a clear way.  For example, paints that come in thousand of  colors are more easily displayed in color wheels that show like colors side by side.

We are all faced with choices and decisions every day.  Those that create the choice environment can help by anticipating our error, giving real time feedback, simplifying the decision structure and by making the differences about our options obvious and easy to understand.  That is my opinion and a survey of one.

(1) Thaler, R.H. & Sunstein, C.R. (2009) Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness.  New York, Penguin Press.


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The Analytics Edge by MITx

edx mitxI just finished a free eleven week online course hosted through www.edX.org called The Analytics Edge offered by MITx.  The course content was essentially the same as the normal course offered by MIT along with 8-10 hours of homework each week.

The course covered a lot of information in only eleven weeks. We were taught how to use R (statistics programming language) to perform linear regression, logistic regression, trees, text analytics, clustering, visualization and then we used Solver in Excel (or Libre Office) for linear optimization and integer optimization.

A strength of the course was the real world examples and sample data that was used in the lectures, in the recitations and in the four homework assignments each week. We predicted the quality of wine, looked at the Framingham heart study, predicted Supreme Court decisions, turned tweets into knowledge, looked at sports scheduling and how eHarmony uses predictive analytics to make matches.

And the best (and hardest) part of the course was competing in a www.kaggle.com competition; it was a closed competition with only people enrolled in the class participating. We were given data from a company called Show of Hands that has had over 300,000 downloads of their mobile app and have had over 75 million votes answered on questions that see what aspects of people’s lives predict happiness. We were given training data to 4619 people on 101 different questions like: does life have a purpose? Are you generally more of an optimist or a pessimist? Would you rather be happy or right? We were also given demographic information about each person – year of birth, gender, education level, income level and political party. The dependent variable was Happy – and we had to try to predict the dependent variable Happy. This was the first time MITx worked with Kaggle and there appeared to be some challenges with how the competition was setup because when it came time for the final results to be posted, there was a huge flip flop between estimated final results and actual final results. But the value of having to work with “dirty” (meaning real world) data and having the Forums available to understand how others were approaching the analysis was extremely valuable.

MITx shared some interesting stats about the course – over 25,000 people signed up for the course. By week four, 3300 (or 13%) worked on that week’s Quick Questions (meaning the people listened to the lectures and answered the questions between the lectures) and 2400 (or 9.5%) worked on week four homework assignments. MITx commented that the level of participation in week four was higher than normal for the free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) model.

At the end of the eleven weeks when it came time for course grading and the archiving of the course, some type of technical difficulties occurred and we had to wait an extra week to get our completion certificates. But besides the few technical glitches – the course content, the lecture videos, the homework on real world data – were excellent. The next thing is to decide which free MOOC to take next! That is my opinion and a survey of one.

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Google Fusion Tables

Making Sense of DataI was curious about Google Fusion Tables so I recently completed an online course offered by Google. The course, called Making Sense of Data, consisted of three sections: Introducing the Data Process, Answering Basic Questions with Fusion Tables and Finding Patterns and Relationships in Data. The lessons consisted of examples of how to use the tables, supplemental videos, hands on experience and a final project.

At first glance, Fusion Tables appears to be a simpler cloud based version of Excel, but once you realize what can really be done with Fusion Tables, you can start to see the potential.  Here are some major points about Google Fusion Tables:

  • When using Fusion Tables, all data is stored on Google Drive. To start a Fusion Table, you can load data from a Google spreadsheet, import from your local drive or input manually
  • You can make data public or private (see point below about privacy)
  • Since the data is stored on the cloud, you can have others collaborate on the Fusion Tables
  • You can merge data with publically available data – once you locate it on the web
  • You can publish charts, plots, maps, etc on the web
  • Cards is a cool feature of Fusion Tables where each row of data is aggregated onto one Card.  This is an example of a real estate company using Cards to display listings Fusion tables cards
  • Big advantage of putting countries or addresses in Fusion Table data and choosing a Map option will result in Google’s geocoding service calculating and placing pins on your mapFusion tables map
  • If you have privacy worries putting data on Google Drive, the Google Terms of Service says that you continue to own the intellectual property rights on any data uploaded to Google, but that Google can use what you upload in the spirit of promoting, improving services and developing new services.  This is an extreme paraphrase of the legal speak, so if you are curious about the fine print before you use Google Drive, check out the full document.

The power of Fusion Tables is in having easy to use features – like the Cards that aggregate records into an easy to publish format and in producing Maps that automatically geocodes the data and places it on a Map.  The more features that Google can create that the small business owner can do on his own without the help from web professionals, the more uptake of Fusion Tables will occur. That is my opinion and a survey of one.


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Spritzing – or reading really fast

I have so many things I want to read and not enough hours in the day to read them all.  I read books/magazines on a wide variety of business topics and for fun I just finished Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I’m half way through Insurgent, the second book in the trilogy and I …. just …. can’t …read …. it…. fast ….enough; it is so good!

Spritz screenSo you can imagine my excitement when I saw a new technology that will help to speed up your reading time.  The technology is called spritzing and was created through three years of research and development by Spritz Technology, Inc. (http://www.spritzinc.com/).   The first use of a spritz is on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Gear 2, but if you want to give it a try, go to the company’s website and see how fast you can read and still understand the words flying across the screen.

What exactly is spritzing and how does it work?

  • the slowness of traditional reading comes from the movement of the eyes where the eyes go from word to word and then sentence to sentence.  80% of the time spent reading is the movement of the eyes and the other 20% of the time is spent processing the content.
  • since the human eye can focus on about 13 characters at a time, a redicle (word created for spritzing meaning the special frame designed to show each word) shows a new word at the speed specified by the user in words per minute (WPM).
  • the eye looks for a certain point in each word – called the “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP.  Each eye movement is called a saccade and with each new word, the eye is looking for the ORP.  Once the ORP is found, processing of the word for meaning and context happens.  When the eye encounters punctuation within a sentence or at the end of a sentence, the brain assembles all the words that have been read and processes it into a coherent thought.
  • testing has shown that retention levels using spritzing is at least as good as traditional reading.

When I tried out spritzing on the Spritz Technology website, I started out at 250 wpm and I did manage to go all the way up to 600 wpm and still understand what was flying across the screen.  I think when I tried 500 wpm, I blinked and missed a few words and had to start it over again.

I’m still old fashioned and love to read a hard cover book.  And I also read on my Kindle Fire.  But if I could finish Insurgent tonight by spritzing…. count me in!  That is my opinion and a survey of one.

Spritzp.s. Spritz Technology has created ways for companies to use their technology.  They have created SDK’s and API’s for iOS, Android and JavaScript.  And they have licensing options for integration with operating systems, applications, wearables and websites.

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I thought I had a great idea to create a #readinglist hashtag on Twitter so that I could track the books I had read and occasionally go back and leaf through the books looking for pearls of wisdom.  The ‘going back and looking part’ did not happen and so I decided to summarize important nuggets of information in my blog for easy reference.

There is no theme or link between these three books, but they happen to be the last books I read that made an impact on me in some way.

The AdvantageThe Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni (2012) – an organization is considered healthy when its management, operations, strategy and culture come together and make sense.  Lencioni states that almost all companies are smart in regards to finance, strategy, marketing and technology.  But not all companies are healthy – with healthy meaning there are minimal politics and confusion, low turn over among good employees and there are high amounts of morale and productivity.  One important aspect of healthy companies is the ability to create a sense of alignment and focus and that can be achieved by having a single top priority, or as Lencioni terms it – ‘the thematic goal’.  The thematic goal can be likened to a rallying cry and can be answered by the question , What is most important, right now?  The thematic goal must be singular or the one most important goal of the company.  The thematic goal must be temporary and be achievable within a clear window of between three and twelve months.  The thematic goal must be agreed upon by top executives and understood that it is their collective responsibility for achieving that goal.  As leaders rally around the chosen thematic goal, they take off their department hats to lead and manage and solve problems for achieving organizational success.

Creative confidenceCreative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelley (2013) – IDEO is well known for their innovations and their successful human-centered innovation process which have led to many products that we all use on a daily basis.  The Kelley’s describe four steps to their design-driven innovation: 1) get out into the world to interact with others to put yourself in others’ shoes.  Be empathic and connect with others needs, desires and motivations to help trigger fresh ideas from a human-centered innovation perspective. 2)  Synthesize and make sense of your observations by recognizing patterns, looking for themes and connecting the dots to what you have seen and gathered. This step involves translating what was discovered in research into actionable frameworks and principles.  3) The third step is to generate many ideas with divergent options which results in the most promising ideas going into rounds of quick prototypes.  Users and stakeholders provide feedback for adaptations and iterations that result in workable solutions. 4) Implementation is the final step that will vary by product and varies by roadmap to the marketplace.

thinking fast and slowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011) – our mental life is made up of two systems called System 1 and System 2.  System 1 operates automatically, quickly with no effort (thinking fast) and System 2 is the conscious, reasoning side that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to do (thinking slow).  System 1 will continuously generate suggestions for System 2 in the form of intuitions, intentions and feelings.  Once System 2 endorses information from System 1 then the impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs and impulses turn into voluntary actions.  Most of what your System 2 thinks and does starts from System 1, but System 2 can over ride and have the final say.  The purpose of explaining the mental flow process of the two systems was so I could share Kahneman’s explanation of the priming effect.  The priming effect starts with a System 1 automatic process called associative activation where an idea evokes and triggers many other ideas in a cascading effect.  A word/idea can evoke memories, emotions,  and facial expressions that happen quickly, automatically and effortlessly.  There are different types of associative links: 1) link by properties: banana –> yellow; 2) link by effect: virus –> cold; 3) link by category: football –> sport.  One form of the priming effect is that if you are already thinking about a banana, the first color to come to mind would be yellow.  Words like forgetful, bald, gray and wrinkle that are associated with the elderly have been shown to prime behavior like walking slower – even though the word old was never mentioned.  Common thoughts and gestures can also prime our thoughts and feelings with research showing that a nodding of the head gesture (Yes) results in being more accepting to the topic at hand.  Understanding the prime effect solidifies to me the importance of semantics as we interact with others and the importance of the thoughts that enter our mind throughout the day.

I thought it was going to be easy to leaf through the books I read looking at all my underlinings and asterisks and notations in the margins to quickly find the nuggets of information that I wanted to share.  But the authors had all done a great job of building concepts upon concepts that I hope I have not done an injustice by only presenting single concepts from these books.  Maybe these snippets have peaked your curiosity and have primed you to read the whole book?  That is my opinion and a survey of one.

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Decision Making and Organizational Health

Why have I not been blogging so much in 2013, you ask?  Because I was facilitating decision making workshops – and was pleasantly surprised by what happened at the workshops…….

healthMuch of my free time in 2013 was spent preparing for two-twelve week workshops that were attended by 40 executives in total.  The workshop was based on The Art of Critical Decision Making course by Michael Roberto (reference 1).  The format of the workshop was that two chapters per week were covered and the attendees were required to have already listened to the material and to be prepared to discuss the topics in a one hour collaborative session.

The original intent of the workshops was to create an agreed upon decision making process so that consensus on projects could be attained resulting in a more streamlined project management process.  The pleasant surprise was how much excitement and buzz that came from the participants.  Executives would stop me in the hall and say how much they were enjoying the workshops, how they were learning perspectives from those in other departments, how they liked being heard, how the workshop could positively affect culture, how it could help build consensus and eliminate silos.   This was good stuff!

Then part way through the second set of workshops, I picked up the book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni (reference 2).  And I realized all of the positive feedback coming from the workshops was actually contributing to organizational health.  More good stuff!

As it turns out, there are many parallels between good decision making practices and habits of companies with high organizational health.  Listed below are some of the commonalities:

  • A company with high organizational health has team members that are open to one another and are willing to passionately debate issues so clear decisions and commitment can be achieved.
  • A good decision making process fosters constructive debate where contrarian analysis and counter arguments are encouraged so that all perspectives can be discussed.
  • High organizational health companies do not rely on ‘advocacy’ where people state their case and make their point, but they promote ‘inquiry’ where people are inquisitive and ask questions to seek understanding about someone’s statement of advocacy.
  • Good decision making processes will support people asking disconfirming questions about conclusions, will expect multiple hypotheses, will promote devil advocates to poke holes in suggestions and will look for diversity in the group so that many perspectives can be heard.
  • Organizationally healthy companies have trust among the employees so that it is understood that conflict is nothing more than the pursuit of the truth or an attempt to find the best answer.
  • Strong decision making processes support the idea that conflict enhances the quality of the choices that are made.  Cognitive conflict is task oriented and debate about issues and ideas; affective conflict is emotional and personal and must be avoided.

I wish I could say I knew all along that the decision making workshops would end up positively affecting organizational health – but I didn’t.  I have to believe if you keep doing the right things for the right reasons, things will fall into place.  And that is my opinion and a survey of one.

(1) Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: why organizational health trumps everything else in business. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
(2) Roberto, M.A., Art of critical decision making, course found at www.thegreatcourses.com

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