Innovation and Disruptive Technology

Every few years, a new product or idea comes out that revolutionizes the industry. The word processor came out and made the typewriter obsolete. The telephone changed communications. The airplane made the world much smaller. The Internet made newspapers a thing of the past. With the anticipation of the next iPhone coming out, and all the news of other competing devices like the Motorola Droid, Google Nexus One, and so one, let’s take a moment to remember when the iPhone first came out.

This device changed the playing field. Phones were no longer considered simply a tool for making voice calls. It brought the Internet into a small handheld device, hundreds of thousands of applications available with a flick of a finger, integrate email, calendar, contacts, and so on. It also played music, movies, and television shows.

Several generations later, this phone continues to evolve. Soon, it will not be known as a phone but a truly integrated device that handles everything.

I’ll simply end this with a simple question that I have not yet been able to answer: why do we still have fax machines?

Prerequisites for Enlightened Analysts

Actual is not normal (a tribute to Edward Tufte)
Creative Commons License photo credit: kevindooley

In my journey to become a better consultant, I’m reading “Now you see it: Simple Visualization Techniques for Quantitative Analysis,” by Stephen Few. Below are a few traits he listed for a good analyst:

  • Interested
  • Curious
  • Self-motivated
  • Open-minded and flexible
  • Imaginative
  • Skeptical
  • Aware of what’s worthwhile
  • Methodical
  • Capable of spotting patterns
  • Analytical
  • Synthetical
  • Familiar with the data
  • Skilled in the practices of data analysis

What do you think?

Source: Daniel Hoang: Life of a Management Consultant

Entrepreneur vs. Intrapreneur: Is it worth it?

My friend Jun Loayza pushed his girlfriend to be an entrepreneur and came up against resistance. Not everyone is cut out to go solo, nor should they. In the tight knit blogging and Brazen Careerist community, you see quite a few that have gone out on their own. The appeal is very tempting at first: work your own hours, blur work/life, be your own boss, travel the world, create a 4 hour work week, ditch the cubical, etc. However, when reality kicks in, here are a few things that don’t sound so appealing:

  • Setting up corporation paperwork, filing company officers, creating shares, board of directors, registration.
  • Building an accounting system to track transactions, and hiring an accounting or CPA to validate the system for tax reporting or to seek funding from venture capitalists.
  • Payroll, if you plan on hiring people, doing payroll (the boss gets paid last), COBRA, unemployment insurance, benefits.
  • Personal liability if you’re not incorporated, and professional liability if the company gets sued.
  • Professional insurance, the company may get sued.
  • Personal insurance, no more health benefits, and ouch, it’s expensive to get your own.

If you take a base salary of say $50,000, add in all the benefits assuming 30% gives you a total of $65,000. Then add in 20% overhead giving you $78,000. Unless you can make well above that amount as an independent business owner, you’ve basically bought yourself a job, with all the risk.

Market Street shops, Fayetteville, TN Fayetteville, Tennessee (1809) pop. 7,166
Creative Commons License photo credit: lumierefl

What do you think? Is going solo all that it’s cut out to be? In my next post, I’ll highlight some of the success factors to being an intrapreneur.

Four New Must Have iPhone Apps for Business

Early, I posted 10 essential business apps for a traveling consultant. Since then, I’ve gotten my hands on several new apps that have enhanced my productivity while mobile.

CardSnap Business Card Scanner ($14.99)
Most of the business card readers on the app store do the OCR (optical character recognition) using the phone’s relatively slow processor. For something as intense as reading and interpreting text from a business card to the iPhone’s contacts, the hardware just isn’t equipped to handle that. To use CardSnap, you take a picture of the business card (must have 3GS or phone with focusing case) and upload it to CardSnap’s servers. Their servers do the work and humans validate the data when the system doesn’t work. Think Amazon’s mechanical turk. I found the accuracy to be acceptable, however, requiring me to manually intervene on some cards.

DropBox (Free)
While many online data storage and syncing systems are available, DropBox continues to be my go to service for its ease of use. I have the software installed on my different laptops which syncs my files to the cloud. Using the iPhone app, I can pull up the files and review them just before a meeting. This is especially useful on a short haul flight where I don’t want to pull out the laptop and only want to do a practice run prior to the presentation. DropBox works with most file types and can open almost anything on the iPhone.

fiOUT
Creative Commons License photo credit: Chris Blakeley

Travel Tracker Pro ($8.99)
This is the all in one tool, better known for their Palm app, but been available for the iPhone. A bit “expensive” but my go to travel tool. It integrates with tripit.com to keep me updated on my flights, flight status, and tracking expenses. There’s a lot of other functionality that I haven’t had a chance to use yet, such as travel lists. I just created a pre-flight packing check list for things like toiletries, ticket, clothes, laptop, etc.

WordPress 2 (Free)
Most of my blogs are on the WordPress platform and this free app allows me to write/update posts, but more importantly, respond to comments. While it’s possible to update a blog (I do for my cat at mochicutie.com), it’s not very practical to write full posts while mobile. Instead, it’s very useful to read new comments and respond back.

GPS
There’s no recommendation here because I have yet to find anything that works better than the standard Google Maps. Hoping and waiting for Apple to approve the Google Navigation app.

Where Do Social Media Policies and Strategic Planning Fit in a Company (Part 3)

This is the third part in a series of posts developing a social media toolkit for companies. When I last wrote my piece on Social Media Policies and Procedures (Part 1), it received a lot of interest and showed up fairly high in the Google Search results. Part two was developing a Social Media Strategic Plan.

As with any agency, organization, company, entity (herein company) mission, vision, and goals, social media is simply another tool in a portfolio of mechanisms to enhance the company’s internal operations and external perception with its customers and stakeholders. Below is an example of a company’s makeup from top to bottom, starting with its purpose down to the lowest level procedures:

  1. Mission, Vision, Values
  2. Goals
  3. Company-wide Strategic Plan
  4. Functional Strategic Plans (IT, Human Resources, Marketing)
  5. Tactical Plans
  6. Policies
  7. Procedures

SDIM2747
Creative Commons License photo credit: thefuturistics

Where Does Social Media Fit in an Organization

Depending on whether you are speaking to a company’s CEO, or a so called social media expert, the answer can be different. In fact, some organizations believe that social media should be the driver while others see it as a nuisance, or just another fad to deal with.

At a minimum, social media should be a part of a functional strategic plan, whether IT or Marketing. Ideally, it’s part of the company-wide strategic plan and integrated into the portfolio of tools that the company can use to enhance internal and external operations. If treated as a grass roots approach, social media will grow from the enthusiasts, although with passion, but without a vision. When upper management treats it as a serious initiative to truly enhance the company, the roll out and usage can be strategic and planned.

When planned, it becomes a part of the company’s goals, and tied into the mission and vision. Rather than hiring an intern or pushing it to marketing, social media should be integrated into the business owners. For example, an architectural firm should have its top architects participating and writing the company blog, tweeting, and engaging with its customers using social media. When that function is shifted to an intern, or marketing, the customers are engaging not with the business, but with a gatekeeper. Eventually, the customers will realize that they aren’t engaged with the company.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Where do you think social media should be in a company, if at all? Who should be the owner? The business units, or the support units? Will there be a social media group, like marketing, or will it just be a part of marketing?

With that, I leave you with a wonderful database of over 100 social media policies.

Tech Support Cheat Sheet – How I Do It

People often ask me how I know so much about computers and how I get all these things done so fast. Webcomic xkcd just figured out my trick and made a flow chart. I rarely know all the shortcuts or where the buttons are in an application, it’s a matter of poking around and just figuring it out. Usually, I succumb to the last box, “Google the name of the program plus  few words related to what you want to do.”

500x_tech_support_cheat_sheet

Here’s a few Google Searches I’ve done before:

  • microsoft outlook mail merge
  • excel vlookup
  • excel macro pulldown list
  • word page numbers by chapter

Tech Support Cheat Sheet <xkcd>

Traveling Consultant? There’s an App for that. 10 apps for business productivity.

There’s an app for everything. As a traveling business consultant, I rely on my iPhone more than most people. I depend on a core set of apps that help me remain productive during down times: waiting at the airport, waiting for a meeting to start, and “shhhh…” while commuting home. My upgrade to the iPhone 3GS include new features that make working offsite much more pleasant, specifically faster connectivity, faster processor, more storage space, GPS, and a camera that can focus. That last feature, a focusing camera, is by far, the most useful function in my opinion. It allows for easier capture of notes and brainstorming sessions.
Below is a list of 10 (technically more than 10 but I grouped them) apps that I rely on a daily basis.
  1. Mail/Calendar/Contacts. The core apps built into the iPhone for mail, calendar, and contacts is a traveling consultant’s dream. The recent 3.0 software update allows for subscribing to CalDav calendars (like Google Calendar), as well as initiate meeting invites in Exchange using ActiveSync. At any given moment, my iPhone provides the same data that I get from my laptop connected to the network. In fact, during this post, I responded to five client emails while at StarBucks.
  2. Maps. Another core app that just functions really well. With the addition of the GPS unit in the newer iPhone 3G and 3GS, Google Maps is essential to finding your way around a strange new town. Street view gives you a graphical view of the location before arriving so you can orient yourself before arriving on site. The routing option also gives you the opportunity to route based on driving or walking/transit.
  3. Evernote. I originally delete this app because the original iPhone’s camera couldn’t focus and made taking photos of documents impossible. With the new iPhone 3GS, I’m back to using Evernote to capture whiteboards, business cards, and anything I run across. It syncs up information I grab from the iPhone to my other computers, as well as making it available online. Also check out Drop Box for syncing files between your computers and having it accessible via the mobile site.
  4. Tweetie/Tweetdeck. Two different apps, one purpose: build relationships and meet new interesting people via Twitter. I use Tweetie for quick tweets, search keywords, and view trending topics. I use Tweetdeck to sync my “groups” between my desktop app and my iPhone app. In other words, I follow hundreds of people, but group them into interest groups to filter out the noise.
  5. Facebook. Use this much less for business and more for personal relationships. Monica Guzman (@moniguzman) said it best, “Facebook is for people you already know, Twitter is for people you will know.” The Facebook app is useful for me to keep in touch with people I already know, mostly on a personal level.
  6. Beejive IM. Although one of the more “expensive” apps on the app store ($15.99 original, on sale for $9.99), Beejive consolidates all your IM accounts (AIM, GTalk, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber) into one. The new push notification lets you stay logged in but still receive messages when your phone is on standby.
  7. Flip Clock. A much more simplistic app but incredibly useful for meetings. It displays a simple classic flip clock. This is especially useful when I’m doing an interview with a limited time. It lets my interviewee know that I’m conscious of their valuable time.
  8. WB Capture. Although the new iPhone 3GS camera captures much better images, I still use this app to filter the scribbles on the whiteboard. The app runs a filter that sharpens and clarifies the writing. Clients love it when I take an image of the board and send it right to them during the meeting.
  9. Google Reader. Google doesn’t have very many real apps, instead, their applications are web-based and access via Safari. I created an icon on my home screen to access Reader to keep up with my subscriptions when I’m waiting in line, waiting for a meeting to start, etc.
  10. FlightTrack, Yelp, OpenTable. Not really one app, but a few of my favorite apps on my “travel” page. I use FlightTrack to monitor my flight status, Yelp to look up places to eat, and OpenTable to reserve a table once I find a place to eat.

One more bonus tip: I use Google 411 by dialing 1-800-GOOG-411 to do the voice directory search. It’s free and fairly accurate, useful when you’re driving (use a headset).

Five ways to automate and outsource life

As a consultant, I put in long hours and a lot of travel. By the time I get home, doing chores and household tasks isn’t on the top of my list. In an effort have more quality time during the weekends, rather than catching up on chores, I opted to engage in some outsourcing services. Below are five ways to automate and outsource domestic activities:

  1. Hire a housekeeper. One of the most cost effective chore to outsource is cleaning. A typical maid/housekeeper service will cost about $50 – $75 per session. The cost and services performed is negotiated. Services include dusting, wipe all surfaces down, vacuum, clean bathroom, clean kitchen, load dishwasher, clean stovetop, wipe refrigerator surfaces, clean baseboards, clean doors, and overall tiding everything up. I opted for every two week (although I would love to have weekly service). By the end of my two weeks, my home is a nightmare and when I return home from work, it’s sparkling clean. It’s the same feeling I get when I stay at a hotel and return after housekeeper comes through.
  2. Replenish supplies with Alice. Almost everything you need can be purchased online, including books, music, movies, and so on. For household supplies, we still get in our car and take a trip to Target/Safeway. Instead, consider using Alice, an online tool that lets you purchase household goods direct from the vendor. They use their sourcing tools to get you the best price, and even apply coupons when available. You can even specify the frequency that you go through certain goods, such as every two weeks for toilet paper. Alice will automatically set up orders to replenish your inventory. Finally, it’s free shipping, making the economics of ordering supplies feasible.
  3. Get fruits and vegetables delivered weekly. Where I live, Farm Fresh To You delivers packages of seasonal fruits and vegetables grown from local farms. During off season, they source the produce from other locations. You can easily stock up on groceries and save money by buying in bulk, however, produce cannot be stocked up. Using this service, I ensure that I get the best produce weekly and reduce time spent at the grocery store stocking up on perishables.
  4. Have your groceries delivered. Remember the craze during the dot com era where online grocery ordering was all the rage? You can still order the bulk of your groceries online. Some traditional grocery stores now offer delivery service. Safeway offers most items, including meats, fruits, and vegetables.
  5. Outsource your laundry. Most laundromats offer some type of fluff and fold service. This typically includes sorting your clothes, wash, dry, and fold (match socks as well). I’ve seen prices averaging about $1.25 per pound (which can add up in cost). Add delivery service to the mix and you have completely outsourced your laundering duties.