Category Archives: Productivity

MindJet adds Gantt charting to its mind mapping software

I’ve been an advocate of mind mapping for years, and have recently talked about my preference for using MindJet.com’s mind mapping product, MindManager. I even demonstrated its power, while leading a discussion about rich digital media, at an UnGeeked Conference in May. I find the system a huge time-saver. Now MindJet has upgraded their software to include a valuable way to share project roles, deadlines and milestones: Gantt charting.

Since the 1990s I’ve appreciated the ability of Gantt charts to bring teams to agreement on project roles and deadlines. It’s an equally valuable way to show clients how any delay in supplying crucial content or sign-offs can push web launch dates out. Below is an example:

The detail is intentionally too small to make out, because I’ve used live client details. From left to right, this chart shows the task name, and start date, end date, and duration in days. After that is the chart itself. Milestones are the green bars. Every task within that milestone must be completed before the milestone is reached and the next milestone and task set begins.

My web development team would “own” some of the tasks, and the client would own others. At a glance, everyone knew what they needed to do and when. They also knew the effects on the project as a whole if they missed their deadline. Great stuff.

Now, the just-released MindManager 9 includes this feature. Below shows a simple Gantt chart, from MindJet’s introductory video:

Needless to say I’m eager to give the Gantt charting a test spin. What’s especially exciting is it takes the collaborative strengths of building a mind map as a team and fairly quickly converts that shared map into a full-blown project plan.

The time wasn’t right for Google Wave

One of the first adding machines was created in the mid-1600s. It took another two centuries before they were common in the workplace. Did adding up figures suddenly become more difficult or error-prone after two centuries? What exactly about numbers changed in the late 1800’s to make this new technology so suddenly appealing?

Of course the answer is that it was us who changed, not the fundamentals of math. To say we changed slowly is an understatement — in spite of the major economic improvements and workplace enhancements that came from their adoption.

It’s hard to imaging myself being one of those poor office clerks who added figures in his head all day, back in the so-called Age of Enlightenment. What I can be pretty sure of is this: A machine that does adding for you must have initially seemed far-fetched; even comical. How on earth could a machine do the work of the human brain? There must be some sort of catch.

Of course you know where I’m going with this.

Many writers of obituaries for the soon-to-be-euthanized Google Wave have said it was a slick solution lacking a problem. It therefore died of neglect.

I agree that it lacked a critical mass of users, but I disagree with the “lack of problem” assertion. Google Wave did real work, and it did it in a way that was flawed but thrilling for the vast potential it represented. At least, it thrilled me.

Ever since the mid-1990s, when I read the book of a very young Michael Schrage, No More Teams!: Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration, I realized that there were many barriers to good workplace collaboration. Chief among them was technology. Especially back then, personal computers were isolating machines. They forced us to relate with a small screen and a single keyword.

One of his observations was that before we could take the next incremental leap in teamwork, we needed a revolution in the technology that supports us. Of course he was right, but his pronouncement overlooked another barrier: We might be handed the technology we need to collaborate in a networked age and its environment so unfamiliar that it is almost universally rejected.

A year ago I predicted that we would be working within something like Google Wave “in two years.” I seem to have missed in that number by a factoring error of 10 — maybe even 100.

That would put adoption of the Wave at 200 years from now. In the meantime, I guess we all continue to add up columns by hand and grouse about our dreary workaday lives.

Twiducate concept is too good to stay in the classroom

Yesterday Naomi Harm give a keynote address at the Lake Geneva Schools Technology Academy, an educational event for elementary, middle school and high school teachers. Although I wasn’t at the event, word reached me about a social media-inspired educational platform called Twiducate. Similar to Yammer (“Twitter for intra-business communication”), Twiducate does not use the already overtaxed Twitter platform, but instead uses many of the principles that make Twitter so useful.

I took a test-drive of Twiducate last night, and two things struck me. The first revelation I had became the title for this post; The developers of Twiducate will be hard-pressed to stop work groups other than classrooms from using the tool. The other revelation is about education reform. Yes, reform won’t happen on its own. But certain facets of it will happen naturally, “seeping in” from the emerging social media zeitgeist. Avoiding new teaching environments like Twiducate will be like holding back a rising tide.

Here’s a video:

So: Will the subversion of this tool be harmful?

I think asking the question is moot. This type of thing will happen regardless. I’m thinking of at least two other examples of where a social network is forced to morph because of the unintended uses those pesky members decide to put it to.

  1. Fotolog.com started as a primarily photo-sharing site, similar to Flickr.com. But its meteoric growth in the last decade — especially in Chile, Argentina and Brazil — was due to users hopping on to connect and generally socialize. Sharing favorite pics became secondary.
  2. If the above sounds like dumb luck — like simply being in the right place with the right product (read: social toolset) — you’re right. And you’re also probably thinking of my second example. Although Mark Zuckerburg might posit that Facebook’s growth was all part of some master plan, we shouldn’t forget that he built it in his dorm, six years ago, as merely a “Harvard-thing” — primarily an easy way for him and others to organize study groups.

Check out Twitucate. Do you agree that it’s more than education’s new “Moodle-killer?” Does it have “legs” beyond academia, and is that a good thing?

Dashboard liberation: Excellent Analytics moves Google application to Excel

Although it’s easy to bash Microsoft, over the years a handful to tricks have made me an avid fan of Excel. Pivot tables and relational look-ups (all hail VLOOKUP!) are two arrows in my web analytics quiver. I’ve just added another. If you work in Google Analytics a lot, you should too.

Excellent Analytics is a free Excel add-in that truly lives up to its name. It allows you to run queries to Google Analytics’ API right from Excel, and publish its results there.

Say goodbye to many of the “Save to Excel” hassles that used to come with wishing to share and chart Google Analytics results beyond its powerful-yet-limited dashboard.

Go to Excellent Analytics now and give it a try. You’ll need Windows Vista or greater, Microsoft Office 7, and Windows .NET Framework 4. Give yourself a couple of hours to install and learn the system. Then start publishing, charting and sharing. You’ll fall in love the way I did!

Voice recognition was done first and best by humans

Back in 2008 I theorized that it would be just a few years before voice commands revolutionized marketing and commerce. Not necessarily for everyone, mind you, but most significantly for people who wouldn’t dream of using a keyboard, or even a smartphone!

My post, Leaping the chasm to a plugged-in construction site, predicted that voice recognition isn’t that far away, and is the only way that many professionals would benefit from the utility of digital networking and cloud computing — ranging from the “safety glasses and hard hats set,” to offshore oil technicians (were you listening BP?), and even to surgeons.

One Million Years BC was a very cheesy movie about life before history. Original voice was mostly simple words and grunts. Heavy breathing was also involved -- at least, I'm imagining, by certain audience members.
In the beginning, even before we had a written language with which to record history, our original form of communication was voice. The problem with voice, however, was that once the words were spoken, they were gone forever. HarQen was launched at a time of technology convergence, when original voice can be turned into an asset.

That was as an outsider in the digital voice space. After spending time “inside,” with my friends and co-workers at HarQen, I’m realizing that voice recognition isn’t the only way to make a big difference with these types of phone users. I’ve discovered that you can derive value simply from people talking into their phones and having these snippets turned into sharable assets.

In other words, I hadn’t considered original voice. Original voice can be thought of as voice “captured, stored and shared,” pretty much as-is.

HarQen believes The Original Voice Matters. I recently talked about their view, of how voice is the “original rich media,” at Ungeeked Elite. Here’s a post from last week, on the VoiceScreener blog, that helps to explain why the best voice recognition software still resides between our ears — and how HarQen is using voice asset management to give clients an impressive competitive advantage.

So I was wrong. But I’m even more excited now than I was then. I cannot wait to see what happens when voice asset management is commonly adopted. Although it might not be powered directly by voice recognition, there may be a plugged-in construction site after all, using speech in the way it was used in the days when the only construction sites were in barely habitable caves!

Voice: The original rich media

I had a fun time talking to the group this morning at UnGeeked Elite. I spoke about the power of voice asset management. If you’d like to know more, here’s a post recently on our VoiceScreener blog, by our CEO, Kelly Fitzsimmons, describing Voice as an Asset (VaaA).

I promised to post a mind map of the post-presentation discussion. Here it is (click to expand):

Also, if you want to check out that TEC video, here’s my original post about it, Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens. I was wrong in that it’s more slanted than vertical, as I had said in the presentation. I had seen another video of him demonstrating the screen somewhere else, and that one was more vertical, and shot more at a distance.

Finally, Jonathan Brewer, (@houseofbrew) of FirstEdge Solutions had dared me to show him that super-comfortable office chair I work on. Here’s the photo I just posted of it on TweetPhoto (click to expand):

Why I joined HarQen

Today was my first day as a HarQen team member. Although my title is Director of Client Services, I’ll be wearing many hats. What, you haven’t heard of HarQen yet? You can be excused. During its young life, the members of this lean start-up have built from scratch a set of web-based services in an entirely new category: Voice Asset Management (VAM). It is ambitious in the extreme — and leaves little time for a focused PR effort.

That’s one place where I come in. I’ll be wearing many hats here, but two are social media “ambassador” and PR leader. I’ll be helping HarQen clients share their stories about these astounding services. Chief among those offerings is VoiceScreener, a way to vastly improve the quality and speed of hiring.

I know from personal experience the value of the VoiceScreener VAM system. (Yes, VAM. There’s that acronym again. Here’s another for you: VaaA, which stands for Voice as an Asset.)

In a previous life I was the defacto recruiter for the digital marketing team I led. One of the most grueling searches was when I was looking to hire a truly stellar project manager. VoiceScreener would have helped me, by inviting the dozens of applicants to answer a few guided questions over the phone — all at their convenience, talking to an automated “interviewer.” Answers are turned into the voice assets that can be quickly reviewed, sorted and forwarded — all as easily as processing emails.

One VoiceScreener client brags that the application dramatically accelerates the preliminary phone interview process. He contends it literally doubles the odds that any given applicant is going to be hired. He’s with a large recruiting firm, where twice as many high-quality applicants means, over time, twice as much revenue for him and his company.

Follow me and you’ll likely hear him tell you about it. All I’ll be doing is providing the megaphone.

I’ll be posting fewer entries here, at DigitalSolid, as I focus on the blog at VoiceScreener. I hope you follow me over there. The category of VAM is about to heat up and I’d love to share my experiences in this exciting new adventure.

What was sorely missing from yesterday’s iPad unveiling was … Graffiti?!?

The iPad, unveiled WednesdayYesterday’s unveiling of the Apple tablet, which we now know is called the iPad, showed a device with a larger surface than the iPhone / iPod Touch. It allows for a better reading and video experience and provides improved ways to do things like manage emails and photographs. Largely unaddressed with this release is a far more important question: How will this multi-touch make me  better at thinking and creating?

Rocking the PDA old skool with Palm’s Graffiti

Return with me for a moment to a simpler time, before smartphones got “smart.”

It was a time when the handheld device du jour was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In the 1990’s, Palm released their Pilot PDA. These Treos, sans cell phone required a stylus for text entry. There was no QWERTY keyboard, and not even a cell phone number pad.

The user needed to learn a type of stylus script called Graffiti to get text into the thing. Some people got good enough to write with something close to the speed of traditional longhand. Personally, as a lefty, I found it more comfortable to use Graffiti than to write in longhand. I didn’t have to think about the angle of the paper in relation to my contorted left hand. Smearing ink wasn’t an issue.

This was many people’s introduction to a computer user interface beyond the keyboard. There was a lot wrong with it, though. Styluses are a pain to use. And many Palm users found Graffiti so difficult to use that they simply called up a hunt-and-peck keyboard. Here’s a YouTube demo of it in use.

For me the golden promise of multi-touch monitors is not the ability to flick through photo galleries or zoom into a map — as cool as those functions are. Ever since the first mass market multi-touch keyboard was made available with the invention of the iPhone, I was waiting for a faster way to record thoughts.

I was hoping yesterday to learn of a gestural script — a Graffiti without the stylus.

What’s so wrong with QWERTY keyboards?

Whether displayed on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or now the iPad — old-fashioned keyboards simply don’t free the user to quickly jot something down and get back to work.

Instead, these devices force users to leave the fluid, intuitive work of (let’s face it!) grown-up finger painting. The appearance of the QWERTY keyboard sends them marching back indoors like a recess bell. Ugh! The taps of fingers on keys — even ultra-modern keys, projected on slick glass iPad surface — still evoke the drudgery of an oppressive cubicle farm.

I know this sounds a little glib, but think about it. Our speed of productive output are in many ways limited by our office supplies. Give someone a soul-crushing keyboard to think with and you’ll be producing something constrained by that medium. If their work soars, it’s in spite of the keyboard, not aided by it. In 2003, Jeff Han demonstrated to cheers the full effect of a multi-touch experience. I predicted then that this technology will quickly change the very nature of our work experience.

Apple knows this.

There have been accounts of Apple applying for and receiving patents on what would be the building blocks of a new gestural interface. New Scientist recently recounted the patents Apple has applied for to tap into “touch or hover” and “gesture dictionary.” That day may arrive with a new version of the iPad. It cannot come soon enough.

Related post:

  • Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens
  • Want to know how you’ll be working in two years? Watch this video

    I’m finding how we’ll be working in a progressively networked future a fascinating topic. Online collaboration has always been difficult. Computing — a decidedly solitary activity — isn’t easily turned into a communal experience. But after watching this video I see a glimmer of a long-distance working community that’s truly more productive than one sitting in adjoining cubicles. It’s a preview of the open source Google Wave.

    Google describes a wave as, “Equal parts conversation and document, where users can almost instantly communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.” Here’s the video:

    This video is a full hour long, so let me help you with a couple pivotal features.

    The developers who will be taking and running with this new system will be setting the limits for how we all work together in the next decade. Just as apropos to Online Community Month, they’ll be doing this development in a spirit of true collaboration: open source and forever free to be tweaked and refined.

    Internet killed the conference

    The reasons we attend a conference haven’t changed since the 1990s. Much else has. Will conferences survive the squeeze? Ross Dawson, Chairman of Future Exploration Network and CEO of Advanced Human Technologies, has some thoughts. I do too, but they’re more from a marketing technology perspective. That means I’m more interested in the environmental changes that are stressing conferences and trade shows. And how we might adapt to these pressures in a win-win for sellers and buyers alike.

    I’ll get to those shortly, along with the insights of Mr. Dawson. But first, let’s recall why we bother to attend them at all:

    • Education — What are our industry best practices and recent developments?
    • Community — Can we reconnect with existing colleagues and friends?
    • Networking — Will we find new colleagues and other resources or business opportunities?

    I’m sure I’m missing some, but if you can agree on these, let’s look at the changes that have pushed conferences in the direction of the dodo.

    Time and money — If the decade since the 1990s is an opera, the Overture was the Dotcom bubble bursting and Act 1 was the World Trade Center attack and the start of two wars — wars that are still droning on through this end of Act 2. We’re entering Act 3 and dealing with another burst bubble, one dragging down the world economy. Need I explain why productivity is down? We all have to get more done with less resources. That means national or international conferences may have to be crossed off our calendars.

    E-learning and online collaboration — We discovered during the first strain on our airports, post-9/11, that we could meet virtually and not suffer unduly. Some things are missed by a Skype or Go2Meeting session, but hey, life isn’t perfect. And in this iterative, speed-to-market economy, imperfect is perfectly okay.

    LinkedIn introductions — Most of my colleagues don’t use LinkedIn every day. But all of them have a profile there. And combined with Facebook and other social networks, they manage to meet new colleagues, vendors and even clients by tapping into their network of trusted connections.

    likemind, BarCamp and The Unconference

    Yes, we still have to physically meet each other. Thinking otherwise is a particularly dangerous form of technological hubris. But meetings of this type have evolved. I first learned about — and then attended — Milwaukee’s BarCamp. This is a free “unconference” that has to be experienced to be believed.

    Then came likemind, the concept too brilliant and hip for uppercase letters (along with e.e. cummings and k.d. lang).

    I won’t prattle on about the monthly event, except to say that, similar to BarCamp, it’s free of charge to attend here in Milwaukee, and it’s held at BucketWorks. Here’s the latest on this “un-networking” event. (The next one is in two weeks!)

    Finally, there is Ross Dawson, who discusses the Un-Conference:

    “There are many forms of unconference, however the basic idea is that participants create the agenda on the day,” says Mr Dawson.

    This leads to highly interactive discussions, and the topics reflecting the interests of the people there.”

    To date, the unconference has largely involved technology and creative industries, and can incorporate both traditional discussion panels, which then become the launch pad for breakout groups where ideas are more directly exchanged between participants.

    Does this sound like echos of both BarCamp and likemind? It should! But Dawson goes on to talk about presentation formats. “Lightning Talks, Ignite, and Pecha Kucha [such as Milwaukee’s Pecha Kucha nights] are a few of the names given to this new breed of presentation night that brings together a range of presenters to share their ideas in an informal setting, energising attendees and promoting networking around the themes being discussed.

    “At the recent Ignite Sydney event, 12 presenters were each given the chance to present 20 slides, with each slide automatically advancing after 15 seconds,” reports the online article on Mr. Dawson. He explains it this way:

    In a world awash with information, it is critical to be exposed to many diverse perspectives and insights.

    A very few speakers and presentations merit 45 minutes. Most other ideas can be highly condensed with little loss, creating a far more dynamic and stimulating experience for the audience.

    Has the internet killed the conference? Perhaps not. But let’s watch it evolve, bending to the demands of a workforce hungry for utility and starved for time.

    Next week I’ll explore how marketers might morph their behavior to better resonate with the new business consumer. In the meantime, I invite your comments. Also, meet me and many of your peers at 8 AM on May 15, at likemind!

    What are your thoughts on batch processing as a way of getting things done?

    This is my second day back from an extended vacation, and as I get back into the groove I’m using my recharged batteries to once again retool how I allow work to flow through my office. Over my career I’ve looked at many systems and applied a couple stand-outs: Stephen Covey’s First Thing’s First and Steve Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). Both have their merits, and I’ve especially benefited from GTD.

    Which is why I saved a bookmark to this Problogger.net post on Batch Processing. It is really a variation on Allen’s GTD approach, and reflects the fragmented workdays for which this industry is known. Grouping like tasks makes sense. What post author Darren Rowse brings to the table that is fresh is the idea of setting up these focused batching processing sessions, timed around queues of tasks.

    Have you tried this technique? I’d love to know your thoughts. If you’d prefer not to comment here, feel free to direct message me on my Twitter account.