Hit Escape Three Times

Escape out of projects that don't make sense anymoreTake a look at all of the things you are involved in, doing in your work, or at your organization. Which do you need to hit the Escape button on? About what do you tell yourself, “Times have changed…this doesn’t make as much sense anymore.” I like to ask professionals what their #1 problem is that is limiting them in their organization. The most common answer is not enough time and resources. They dedicate their time and resources to doing certain things, then they add new things on top of that, the next year they add more new things on top of that. Three years ago they had 4 projects. Last year they had six. This year they have eight. They have the same amount of time in the workweek, same amount of resources to work with but are now trying to do twice as much with the same amount of time and same amount of resources. Some are trying to do it with less resources.

I applaud people wanting to do something new. What doesn’t work is adding something new on top of everything else. You do everything with less quality. A point has to come where you hit the Escape button on what is working the least well or is the least needed to be able to make room for something new. You need to make time to think up what that something new could be and to give it a fair shake. You can’t do it if you are operating so many things at once that you can’t give proper focus or quality devotion to any one thing. Perhaps this could be the year of Escape for you. You back out of or even cut 3 things that are not needed as much now as they were before. You use this new space to develop something new that is even more relevant.

Commit yourself to hitting escape on 3 things this year. It is a liberating experience to gain those hours and resources back. It is motivating to develop something better and new for the future with those reclaimed resources and hours. Make a list right now…what 3 things could you cut? What 1 new thing could you add in if you freed up the time to think it, develop it, and launch it well?

Move faster in the morning with a time management assessment

Lately I have been most passionate about helping people to innovate their own lives, solve their own problems, respond to change, and transform themselves at a higher level. This begins with identifying a challenge. A common challenge I see many people face is not having enough time. A similar specific challenge I have in my life is waking up early and getting somewhere early enough without being rushed. I love sleeping and I need an intervention to help me get up, moving quickly, and energized without being rushed. This is a challenge that if I could solve it it would improve my work and life as a whole. So I decided to zero in and keep asking what the problem is.
What is the problem? I’m rushing in the morning and just getting to early appointments in the nick of time. What is the problem with that? I don’t have enough time to get ready in the morning?

Now we have an opportunity to turn our observations into quantitative data. What is the quantitative or numerical measure associated with this challenge. It is time, specifically measured in minutes. I decided to keep track of the order that I did things in the morning and how many minutes each took. This was in order to arrive on time for an 8:15am meeting.
1. Wake up (usually woke up right away but did a 10 minute snooze sometimes). 7:00
2. Brew coffee 7:00-7:20 (20 minutes before it was ready)
3. Check all of my various email accounts while the coffee was brewing. 7:05-7:25
4. Bathe 7:25-7:45
5. Groom 7:45-7:55
6. Get Dressed and prepared to leave 7:55-8:00
7. Leave for meeting 8:00
The problem was that by the time it came to get dressed I was rushing and wasn’t happy about that. I only had five minutes to get dressed, gather everything up, and head out the door. This needed to change. I was waking up early enough…I had always been able to get ready in one hour…so something was different now. I needed to get to the bottom of it.
I reviewed my time list above and I saw two items that I was spending a lot of time on that I judged to be too much. I didn’t have a problem with 35 minutes for bathing, grooming, dressing, and preparing to leave. I did have a problem with what happened right after I got out of bed…the coffee and checking of email. When I focus on that part of the morning routine I notice the email checking happens because of the coffee brewing time. I have to wait for the coffee so I go online and sometimes linger there even after the coffee is ready. So that problem would go away if the coffee problem could go away. One problem causes another. So, I will next zero in on the problem that matters most…coffee taking 20 minutes to brew:

You now have to ask what is the problem with the problem.
Why was coffee taking 20 minutes to brew?
1. The coffee machine is small and old. It drips really slowly.

What are potential solutions?
1. Get a new coffee machine. This seems like a waste since the coffee machine works fine.
2. Brew the coffee and then bathe. Not a good solution because I want the energizing effects of the coffee early. Plus it is a nice reward when waking.
3. Clean the coffee machine with vinegar so that it is less clogged and brews faster. Great idea!
4. Delay brew the coffee so that I hear it 20 minutes before I wake up and it is ready the moment I step out of bed! Great idea! This will help me wake up more energized. The delay brew has two great benefits.

I implemented the innovation. It was simple. I loaded the coffee machine up at night and programmed it to start brewing at 6:40am. I decided to give it a difficult test the other day. I had the 8:15am meeting the first day after I arrived back from a trip to Chile and Argentina. It was a long flight and I hadn’t slept much so I knew waking up would be really difficult that day. I heard the coffee machine kick in at 6:40. I was up before the alarm. I enjoyed that first sip of coffee at 7am and started getting ready. I was ready early and had time to check emails before I headed out the door at 7:55. People were surprised to find me at the meeting early after my long trip and even commented about it. We talked about using data to innovate and I shared the story. The innovation worked!

All of this started from a challenge or problem…I’m rushing in the morning.
The solution was rather simple. What was needed though was the quantitative data to help me “get it.” Many times we cannot see what is most obvious. I couldn’t see that coffee was taking 20 minutes to brew or that I even had a delay brew function on my coffee machine.

An IBM executive gave advice to graduates. He said to develop the skill of figuring out how to do something with data. This can be finding it, gathering it, organizing it, generating it, analyzing it, interpreting it, making meaning of it, communicating it, and innovating from it. I bet he means quantitative data (numbers). I enjoy taking qualitative data (observations, what people say, etc.) and turning it into quantitative data so that you can more easily do something with it. Innovation can be more successful if it is grounded in data. This was an example of how to take stuff and turn it into data and an innovation.

What is a challenge you are having in your life? Is there a way to observe and assess it and turn it into data that is quantitative…like time, dollars, a 1-10 rating, etc? Doing this will help you compare in relation to other things and see what the problem is so that you can focus in on it and develop innovative solutions that may be simple once you have awareness.

Step up the ladder: A visual infographic to help you start innovation

A metaphor and visual model can help us get started with innovation and the important, frequent, and necessary conversations with others about what we are working on. I’ve whipped up an innovation ladder model infographic to help you think about how to have your conversation with others regarding the innovation you are working on. The goal is to be able to move to a higher level in the innovation process…keep moving up the ladder with our project. Conversations with others can provide you with different valuable insight at each step of the ladder. Think about this. Where on the ladder are you with the project you are working on? Are you just getting started with thinking about the challenge or are you higher up with some ideas already? How can you share with others where you are at with the project in a way that they can give you feedback that can help you move up to a higher level of the ladder?

Use the repeat button with care in your life and work

Are you hitting repeat in your life and work?When I listen to music I love the repeat button. I especially love the “repeat 1” button. I love to hear the same song over and over again. It drives most people crazy. After a while, admittedly about 5 times, it even starts to drive me crazy. I want something new. I need something new. It is hard to deactivate the repeat button and stop the same song from playing again and again. Actually it isn’t hard, we just think it is hard but actually it just takes a click of action, and then some searching to find a new song to play.

For many of us we just hit the repeat button in our work. It seems safe, easy and effortless but too much repeat with the wrong things leads to rapid decline. You’ve seen a lot of examples of businesses that have gone out of business because they didn’t change, they just repeated. For many of us, we do the same things year after year. We run the same program again, the same event, use the same strategy or system. It becomes less engaging, less challenging, less rewarding, and the returns and results diminish. Before we know it what we are doing becomes obsolete because someone else stopped hitting the repeat button and what we offer is no longer needed.

In thinking about this Repeat button metaphor, let’s use the example of people that create products that deliver our music to us. They didn’t repeat how it is delivered. They produced an Ipod, or Grooveshark instead of the same CD player again. Lucky for us though, they still kept the Repeat button in the new devices and software because it is good to listen to the same song a few times in a row now and then. The music deliverers repeated that Repeat button feature/benefit but did not repeat the way the music is delivered…that is now different and better. It saves money and is far more effective to have digital music files on your computer or IPod instead of a stack of cassettes. Some things are worth repeating (like the Repeat button with music players), others aren’t (like producing cassette players). This year check yourself before you wreck yourself. Are you hitting repeat again or doing something better and new that saves time and money? What are you hitting repeat on that you should reconsider?

Survey says: The 4 most critical skills to develop due to the rapid pace of change

The American Management Association (AMA) surveyed 2,115 managers about the most important skills needed in our organizations. It is not the 3Cs but now a different set of 4Cs: Critical thinking/problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity/innovation skills. Why are these 4Cs skills the critical skills? According to the survey of 2,115 managers, 91% rated the pace of change in business today as the leading cause, followed by global competitiveness (86.5%), the nature of how work is accomplished today (77.5%), and the way organizations are structured (66.3%).

According to the AMA Report, “Proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic has traditionally been the entry-level threshold to the job market, but the new workplace requires more from its employees. Employees need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively and at every level within an organization. According to the AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey, many executives admit there is room for improvement among their employees in these skills and competencies.”

NEED to do something about this and advance your culture to one of more innovation and collaboration? Learn from my experience conducting innovation projects for over 10 Fortune 500 companies and teaching innovation skills to universities like Dartmouth and Wisconsin. Let me guide your group through engaging, simple, and best practice activities so that you can learn and practice these 4C skills at higher levels to save time and generate better results.

I can customize one of my trademark programs to your organization and launch it as early as this month. I’d recommend starting with the 3Cs of Innovation workshop where I facilitate your staff through their own innovation challenge where they continuously are COLLABORATING, CREATING, and COMMUNICATING. Your group generates and develops needed ideas and catalyzes development of critical skills. I even have a 10 module video program complete with collaborative activities that groups can do on an ongoing basis to keep the collaborative innovation action sustained.

Visit DarinEich.com/workshops to see more and start the conversation. The innovation opportunity bus is leaving…get on now!

The innovation opportunity is to improve your technology literacy

This sixth grader, Thomas Suarez, gave a TED Talk. For me that alone stands out. How many 6th graders do you see doing TED Talks? He develops IPhone apps. His most popular one is called “Bustin Jieber.” He created it because a lot of his classmates disliked Justin Bieber. He knows how to develop ideas (from what your “people” or users suggest or want), and he knows how to name the apps he creates in sticky and catchy ways. Also, he is pretty good on stage public speaking! Sounds like he is putting himself on the fast track to tech entrepreneurship. Funny quote: “These days students usually know a little more than teachers.” Thomas is an example that there are opportunities for younger and younger students with the web/apps/social media, etc. Yes indeed, innovation and entrepreneurship isn’t just for college students anymore.

The real opportunity I feel is for, should I say, “older” people (especially those generations older than Gen Y) to increase what I call their technology innovation literacy. This means not only using widely adopted technology like IPhones, IPads, Apps, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Social Media, etc., but to also create some things with it yourself. It is much easier than you think. Search Youtube for a video about how to do what you want to do. If you want to innovate, technology has to be a key question and key idea generating tool for you to use. You have probably thought up most of the ideas already that don’t deal with technology. Most of the opportunities and new idea raw materials come from what is currently being developed and launched that is changing our world and how we live and communicate. This is technology…the web, mobile devices, social media. These are the opportunities. The first step is to improve your technology innovation literacy. Build a blog with WordPress. Add Google Analytics. Install a plugin. Add a widget. Create a Facebook business page. Embed a video. HootSuite in your status updates. So many opportunities are out there to innovate with new technology (or at least technology that has already been widely adopted). You can learn it, improve your literacy, and innovate with it. You don’t need to be a 6th grader like Thomas.

Resource: Student Leadership Programs Knowledge Community from NASPA

As we’ve been spreading the word about the pre-release sampler version of my leadership development book, I’ve been identifying many of the social media resources for leadership educators. NASPA has a couple of resources on Facebook for people interested in the student leadership program focus. The Student Leadership Program Knowledge Community Facebook Page from NASPA has over 300 likes and includes many postings about jobs and upcoming conferences and events. They also have a Facebook Group that is not as active as their page.

Leadership Development Professional Resource: Association of Leadership Educators

Many leadership development association members have helped me to develop my upcoming book, Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices for Leadership Development Programs. I have built a sampler version for leadership educators that myself and some colleagues have been sharing with various groups. This process has led me to identify many of the great social media resources that these associations offer. I’ll be posting some of the sources I’ve encountered for leadership educators in higher education.

The Association of Leadership Educators has two good Facebook resources. Here is what the ALE Facebook group looks like. There are currently 143 members and some active discussions.

Association of Leadership Educators Group

They also have started growing an ALE Facebook page that you can like. I have found some helpful resources posted there lately, especially this Leadership Development Program Ranking pdf from Leadership Excellence.

Association of Leadership Educators Page


How to Find Keywords or Themes using an Online Word Frequency Analysis Tool

I’ve been looking for a free online tool to help identify keywords, tags, or themes in text. I discovered an amazing website called Textalyser that helps you to analyze the frequency of keywords. This is a great tool for starting to interpret qualitative data. I am working on a research and assessment project where I am trying to identify the themes amongst 70 different documents where people are writing on the same question. I need a starting point or catalyst that tells me quickly what key words are showing up the most in the documents. Knowing this will allow me to dive deeper and see what themes exist. Luckily, Textalyser is amazing. You can either just copy in your text, upload a document, or share a webpage link and it will analyze it for you in what appears to be a split second. I did it for my ProgramInnovation webpage. I would say the keywords and frequencies that Textalyser pulled up in seconds exactly summarize what the site is about.

The words that appear most frequently being the most general descriptors of the site content and the next most frequent being more specific, almost in oder. Incredible. I couldn’t have tagged it better myself in hours. Give it a try. Would you say this quick method is pretty accurate in describing what the text is about?