Brainstorming dead end? Try doodling

Brainstomring

I keep a stack of legal sized paper, a pencil, and a couple different colors of pens on my desk at all times. When people first walk into my office and see the set up I’ll sometimes have people laugh at me but there is a reason for this. Whenever I have people in my office and we’re talking through a problem, I like to take a sheet of legal paper and just start drawing. I think part of the reason I’m getting laughed at is because I’m sitting at our high technology company and I’m pulling out a piece of paper to draw on instead of my computer; but I really think it’s one of the most powerful brainstorming tools at your disposal.

A pencil and paper gives you so much more freedom to make mistakes, to throw things away, and to just start over. The classic pencil/paper combo is also a timesaver across the board.  Being able to quickly sketch something out gives you that sense that remaking, erasing, crumpling up and starting over isn’t the end of the world because you’ve only lost a few minutes. I think there’s something to that. It triggers something subconsciously where you’re simply not as afraid to make mistakes and because of that, it encourages you to think outside the box.

If you insist on using your computer I’ve come to favor free form drawing tools such as Omnigraffle for building presentations. The best thing about this software is that it doesn’t come with any preconceived notion of what you’re going to put on a slide.  It is a tool that really allows you to have a blank slate and there’s lots of nice drawing tools at your disposal. Again I really believe that it keeps you from putting boundaries on yourself when you’re in the middle of brainstorming.  So the next time that you’re faced with a tough problem or you’re trying to do some brainstorming, maybe try writing on a piece of paper before you crack open that PowerPoint deck or start typing into Word. I really think your eyes will be opened to something new if you’re just willing to give it a shot.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

The danger of always swinging for the fences

Swinging for the fences

I loved playing baseball as a kid.  I ended up playing all the way through school and up into college. I had a great time, helped cover some of my costs going to school, and in general it was a good experience.  Most of that time I was a swing for the fences, all or nothing, hit a home run or strike out kind of guy.  When I finished playing I was about 270 pounds and so if I didn’t hit it really far, there’s a good bet I wasn’t getting on base.  I always used to say that if you hit it far enough you don’t have to run around the bases, they let you jog. Unfortunately that approach might have semi-worked in baseball but it certainly didn’t transfer as well to the work a day world.

There’s a lot to be said for hitting singles or making bite sized progress every day. One of the things that’s really hard to come to grips with, whether it’s in working your way through a  project, developing a business, or quite honestly most things in life, it’s rare to hit the home run and have instantaneous success in something.  More often than not, you sort of have to grind away at it and string together singles, if we’re going to stick with the baseball analogy, in order to be successful. I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from thinking big, but I think you’re more likely to get those big dreams if you can see a path to get there that is built on a steady stream of incremental success that are easier to attain individually. When you put them together they can take you someplace great.

All that swinging for the fences in little league, in high school, and college didn’t necessarily get me where I wanted to go with my baseball career but it did teach me that when I stepped out into my professional career, I ought to try a different approach. I adopted some of the more grinding approaches that comes from the age old formula of just hard work and good ideas.  So the next time you’re thinking about how you ought to approach something, it’s always good to brainstorm around what the really big idea could be. I think sometimes that gives you a vision of how far something could go. From there you can try to come up with a path that gets you there with maybe a few more steps involved; but with those few more steps it’s probably a lot easier to accomplish.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Long hours at a desk: A quest for the cure for “Office Back”

Office Back

I’ve found the cure for lower back pain, or “office back.”  Well maybe I didn’t find it, but I did hear about it from a chiropractor, use it in life, then made it my own. As somebody who has a spent an awful lot of time sitting at desks I’ve had lots of problems with lower back pain. I’ve tried just about everything under the sun from massages, to chiropractors, to all different types of stretches, and while a lot of things worked a little bit, nothing worked all the time. Luckily, I’ve finally found something that works.

I’ve started using a lacrosse ball to deep tissue massage the muscles in my lower back and it’s been incredibly effective for me. First you take the lacrosse ball and pin it between yourself and the wall. From there you almost do a sort of wall squat up and down the wall and use the lax ball to dig into the muscles that are getting knotted up from sitting at a desk for 8 to 10 hours a day. It’s the type of thing that you should probably do alone because I speak from experience when I say you will be made fun of if somebody sees you doing it. Squatting up and down the wall while trying to dig the lax ball into your lower back does not leave you looking very dignified but I have found that it makes you feel a lot better.

So in the face of some funny comments from friends and family who have seen me do it, I will continue.  I’ve even caught a few of them trying it out. It’s definitely one of those things that it doesn’t matter how you look its how you feel and it has certainly made me feel a lot better.  It’s very similar to a lot of what people are doing with foam rollers on their hips to release some of the tension from their muscles. I keep a lax ball with me at work, I’ve got one at home, one in my home office, and I keep one in my car. Whenever I start to feel a little bit tight I take it out, spend 3 to 5 minutes using it on my lower back where the muscles feel knotted, and the next thing you know I feel much better.

So it’s worth a try for all of you that spend a lot of time at a desk. There are a lot of other things that I’ve tried that are helpful including making sure that you get up at regular intervals. This is another one that if you just get up a couple times an hour and get a quick stretch you’ll find that at the end of the day you’re not nearly as miserable as you could be; but if you do end up with that horrible set of knotted muscles the lax ball is a really good way to cure “office back.”

Photo credit: Eugenio “The Wedding Traveler” WILMAN

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Everybody’s selling something: Perfecting your pitch

Satellites_For_Sale_-_GPN-2000-001036

I had a really interesting meeting with a marketing manager at Troux Technologies the other day and I’d like to share a bit from it. It really highlighted how much marketing and sales has evolved over even just the past few years. If you read some of the books that are out there like, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, which I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot of crossover techniques from what would traditionally be considered sales and marketing approaches. These are now being currently applied to everyday business writing, meetings, and tactical approaches.

One of the themes of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others is the idea that most people, in their day to day lives, are working on sales on some level. By that I mean that you’re constantly trying to convince people to take your position on something, to do certain things, or to engage on projects. To ignore that is to set yourself up for failure. If you just present people with raw information without any attempt to help them see the message, then you’re doing yourself and your project a disservice. You’re likely to fall short just on the basis of not having presented your ideas well enough.

One of the things that was brought up during our conversation was a discussion on how important it is, especially with really complex messages, to correctly identify the thought train that is going through the person’s mind. You need to be aware of what pieces of information will they need at what time so they can grasp the whole idea. I guess on some level you’re always doing that when you create an executive summary, a long paper, or you are working through a slide deck for a meeting; you’re always working through that process and I’d never heard anyone explicitly put it like that before. I thought it was a really good way to think about it, particularly when you’re trying to communicate complex things. By putting it out in bite sized chunks, you make it easier to enable people to grasp the big picture at the end of it.

He brought up another idea that I think is good practice to bring into your day to day marketing of your ideas and projects. It’s the idea that you should always be focusing on your stakeholder community’s big values. I think on some level that should be pretty obvious but it’s still worth mentioning and reinforcing. I know that I’ve found myself many times writing something and what comes through on the page are the things that are really important to me and not necessarily to my audience. So I’ll have to go back through, reorder things, and rephrase them to make sure that I’m capturing what is important to the person that I’m writing it for and not just for me.

I really believe that is a worthwhile exercise anytime you write something or pull together communications pieces. By making sure that you take a step back you can really see whether you’ve captured what’s important for your intended audience and not just what are the things that you believe are important about it. So I realize some of what I said is fairly obvious but I know, at least for me, the conversation was a great reminder of:

  • How important it is to think about what the customer or consumer of your information is going to need
  • What order do they need that information in in order to understand it
  • To constantly focus on the areas that are going to be of interest to them as you communicate your big idea.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Salesforce.com: Flexibility, scalability, and security

EXAM logo

Today is a pretty big day for Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates. As many of you know, we have been doing a lot of work in Salesforce and in the force.com platform. Almost all that work to this point has been on behalf of other organizations as part of developing our privately listed app. We’ve been working with these various organizations to extend it to help them make better decisions to support data calls, help people get to enterprise value out of data calls and data collection efforts, and to help organizations re-platform low to medium complexity applications to reduce costs. Those are the big three use cases.

As of yesterday, we’ve now taken our privately listed application and made it public and we are officially in the app store. Any organization can begin to embed our unique value proposition into their organization. We are joining 450 other independent software vendors including very large organizations like BMC and their RemedyForce application as well as other small boutique businesses. In fact if you look at out of the more than 1800 enterprise class apps that are in the app store, the top ten are a really mixed bag of very large vendors and very small vendors. I think that in and of itself highlights the power of the platform.  That is what attracted us to it.

Building a truly enterprise application is very difficult and we’ve done quite a bit of work in that area. We were amazed at how quickly we were able to build a secure and truly scalable application that could meet the needs of our largest clients, which include some of the largest private sector companies and public sector organizations in the world. So it is a proud day for us. We’re very excited about what we believe this is going to do for organizations when this is global.

Public sector or private sector, everybody is facing a budget crunch. Fortunately we’re at a really unique point in technology where almost every organization has the ability to significantly reduce costs.  I’ve talked extensively about using things like the Troux enterprise portfolio management capability to find those areas of savings, look for redundancies, and look for things that can be re-platformed. There’s a whole bunch of work done in that area with the right approach. From there you need to take action because without acting on your findings there will be no savings. So you have to figure out a way to retire those applications in your portfolio that don’t make sense, find a way to re-platform the things that do you have, and find a way to reduce costs and this is a really great way to do it.

I think that a lot of organizations are coming to the same conclusion that we did, which is that if you’re going to build a new application that’s for resale and add it to the marketplace like we did or a custom application for your organization, you absolutely have to look at Salesforce or force.com as a possible place to support that application. Without it you don’t have the server and infrastructure spend that you’d otherwise have. There’s almost no organization that can get the type of economies of scale that Salesforce is getting on your behalf. It’s almost impossible to have the type of scalability, security, and flexibility that you can get with the software as a service application on top of force.com that you’re going to be able to get on your own because you are simply not buying things on that scale. So I’m curious where others see their organization moving, re-platforming to save money, or building out solutions. If you haven’t taken a look at it it’s really worth taking a look at Salesforce and the force.com platform. I know that we’ve been amazed at the ease of use, scalability, and flexibility that it has provided us.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Stay active, stay interested and stay young

Bruce wilis stay young blog

My grandmother is not old.  She might have a lot of years on her but when you talk to her you realize just how much you can do if you live life to the fullest.  I was talking to her last weekend and she was planning on a long trail ride in the Black Canyon down in Gunnison National Park. She’s doing a bunch of pre-rides so that my cousins who don’t get out on horseback very often didn’t have problems with some of the horses. She wanted to make sure that the horses had been ridden enough so that these folks who don’t get out much would be able to handle it and I definitely got kind of a kick out of that.

Whenever I think about my grandmother I associate her with somebody who is young and vibrant and is just making the most out of life. I think a big part of that is that every time I talk to her on the phone, for my whole life, she’s always been on the go or doing something.  She’s always been riding horses, working in her garden, on the go to the next thing, or planning her next big adventure. This has made her stay youthful and I think there’s a real lesson in that for everybody.

I hear people say things like, “I’ve been going so hard I just want to spend a week on the couch” or “I just want to do nothing”  all the time. Maybe you’re dong the wrong things in your work life or I guess the ultimate takeaway is that finding the things that get you excited about in your day to day life, whether that is things at work or things that you do outside of work, are a big part of the key to staying youthful. You may not be able to change the passage of years but I think most people know somebody who is in their 70s, 80s or 90s and hasn’t quite seemed to realize it yet.  They’re still going like they did when they were much younger and in a lot of cases they’re outpacing people half their age.

That’s the person I want to be when I get older; somebody who is excited about every day, who is still finding new challenges, and has found a way to be excited about the things that they do. So I think important parts of that are:

  • Figuring out what makes you excited
  • Making sure that you try new things so that you don’t get stuck in a rut
  • Finally, part of it is just attitude, finding the silver lining in anything that you do, and either making it a game or figuring out how it ties into the bigger picture

Slogging through things just to mark the time isn’t going to do much for your quality of life and probably doesn’t do much for the quality of things that you’re doing. I’m curious what other people think.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Leveraging performance metrics for your community

Alexandria_Assessment_Performance_ExAM (1)

I’ve recently been talking to the group, ACT for Alexandria, based in Alexandria, Virginia about a project they’ve been working on called the Community Indicators Project.  This concept is essentially the idea that community stakeholders should have a set of performance metrics, indicators, and dashboards that help the community have a conversation about itself. Covering topics such as:

  • what it means to be a member of the community
  • fostering fact based discussion about how to improve the quality of life across the community
  • how to better leverage services
  • generally how to improve Alexandria community citizens’ quality of life

I think it pretty closely parallels a lot of the work that we do in large organizations where we also have complex stakeholder organizations, groups, and people. One of the things that’s so interesting about the Community Indicators Project is that it really shows just how interconnected organizational, or in the case community, indicators can be. You’ve got citizens, charitable organizations, politicians, government, official businesses, and there’s a whole broad swath of organizations that need to be able to access and feed information into the Community Indicators Project for it to work.

In this first release of the project, they’ve identified 120 different indicators that they believe drive the health or performance of Alexandria at large. Now 120 is probably way too many for any one person to focus on the performance of any one indicator so they have taken some time to group them into 11 themes. The themes are topics like health, the community, and other things that are a little bit easier to understand. From there, those indicators are split roughly half and half between information that comes from existing systems like Alexandria government systems and outputs from things that they’re doing within the community right now and community oriented indicators.  The community indicators are actually manually input by people out in the community. They are either harvested off the web or in some other way from that broader community. At the end of it, the idea is that this is going to be the central place for people to have a conversation about the performance of the community at large. I’m really interested to see how it turns out. I’m curious if other folks have been involved in efforts like this, what their experiences have been, and if you have any advice. I’d love to learn more about what works and what doesn’t.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.