Posts filed under ‘innovation’

I get Twitter now – finally

About two weeks ago we saw one of the longest running threads on an ASAE listserve topic – about 4-5 dozen posts regarding Twitter. It was fascinating to watch and be a part of. It’s why I’m an ASAE member. As that discussion was starting I was sitting down to write an article to explain why I didn’t ‘get it’ and why I’d stayed away from the ‘stupid, silly, time wasting fad’ for more than three years.  A few weeks later, with some 250 ‘followers’ hanging on my every word (yeah… right), I can honestly say that I now ‘get it’ – and thought it might be useful to share what this ASAE member now ‘gets’.

First thing worth mentioning? I have no way to prove this, but I suspect that more than a few readers of this infrequently updated blog have just bypassed this post because they saw the word ‘Twitter’ in the subject line.  I did the same thing for three years. Twitter? Not interested. Nothing there for me. Nothing to see here. Move along…


First? It is perfectly, totally, 100% true – there’s a lot, an awful lot, of banality on Twitter. There’s a fellow I know – a rather good cartoonist and podcaster  – who’s on Twitter. Follow him (ie. Subscribe to his Tweets (ie. Postings)) if you want to know what flavour ice cream his kids have dropped on the floor, what colour T-shirt he’s wearing or whether or not he arrived at the Mall yet. I Followed him for a day or so, had a small brain freeze as a result, and then removed him from the list of people I was following (you can do that – it’s allowed)…

Why mention him if I’m trying to build a case for an association getting involved with Twitter? (and yes, that’s what I’m doing here) Well, for starters, as many Assns would like to have,  he has a ‘personal’ and a ‘national’ brand… each month he has about 50,000 people download his podcasts. Raise your hand if 50,000+ of your members (you have 50,000+ members… correct?) download your Assn podcast each month. (You have a podcast… correct?)

Of those 50,000+ people, 6,899 (just checked) people follow him hourly on Twitter.  Why do they follow him? I have no idea. All I know is that they do. They get some value from this – he benefits from that. Seems like a reasonable deal all round.

One of the perennial questions posted on the ASAE listserves is, “How often should we be e-mailing/contacting our members.” Because we’re concerned that sending them mail ‘too’ often (more than once or twice a month) might be problematic in some way. Yet? There is a segment of our membership, and our potential membership (more on this in a second), who are ready, willing and able to receive information from us continually, every hour of the day… And our ‘stretch goal’ is to bump our frequency of communication to once a week?

Sometimes, not always, solutions to existing problems stare us in the face as we blindly step over them.

Another perennial concern shared by most, not all, associations is declining membership. We’re getting older and the retirees at the top aren’t being replaced with youngsters at the bottom. Add to this, the effect of a shaky economy (is it okay to say we’re in a full blown recession yet?) and we have a recipe for ‘interesting times’ ahead of us. Two questions are always on the table, “How do we attract new members?”, and “How do we communicate with the alphabet soup of Generations?”

Who’s on Twitter? Mostly 18-24 year olds… mostly college and college grads.
Google {Demographics of Twitter} for a slew of recent sources for detailed stats.

Who were we looking for again to join our organizations?

One of the most fascinating (to me any way) uses of Twitter, that’s directly applicable to Associations of all shapes and sizes – is how it’s being used in conferences. People are blithely Tweeting away the nuggets of ‘wisdom’ that sometimes fall from the mouths of speakers. They’re also creating a strong sense of community and a ‘Wish you were here” mentality — what’s THAT worth in future attendance numbers?

I can immediately hear some objections to this. A) How could we charge for this? B) How do we restrict this flow of Assn generated content to Assn members? C) How do we control this?

Short answer? We can’t. – But we can be more active in our participation of this phenomenon. Want REAL feedback about your conference? Want to build community? Want an organic way to encourage people to be more of a part of what’s going on? Encourage Tweeting.

The thing is… Tweeters are already doing this at the conferences of Associations who want nothing to do with this new fangled way of communicating – gosh darn it! And while you’re at it? Get off my lawn you young Whippersnappers… The things kids get up to these days… why in my time we used to…


If you’d asked me a month ago what I thought of Twitter – I’d have told you. You know me well enough to know I would not have pulled any punches in my assessment that Twitter was an absolute waste of a professional’s time. I would have been perfectly, totally, 100% wrong. That happens from time to time. I find those occurances educational and informative. Even useful.

Truth is, Twitter, like all tools, is what we make of it.



April 2, 2009 at 4:30 am Leave a comment

Problem Solving Webinar – Today – August 14th 2008

Tricks, Traps and Tips for better Problem Solving

Cost: Nada!
Although you’re more than welcome to send me a note of appreciation and/or order some books as a way to support the costs of providing this service.

Where? Head here for all the details.

If you work for a living, then you solve problems of all types.This session will explore some simple PS concepts and explain how we can use formal, and informal, PS techniques in every day Life.

Peter believes very much in the idea that we learn by doing, more precisely? That we learn by failing at doing.

So??? This presentation WILL be interactive.
1) Make sure you have a deck of playing cards handy.
2) Peter will take ‘questions’ via e-mail as he presents.

Feedback from a similar live session:
Peter … We reviewed the feedback forms this week – of the 90 collected for the Problem Solving sessions, overwhelmingly the ratings were 5s (highest) We summarized the feedback as follows, included member quotes:

‘Over the top’ successful. Very dynamic, excellent speaker.
Members wanted more from Peter; many felt his sessions were too short.
“..energizing & interesting. Very helpful.”
“..too short – was enjoyable & thought provoking!”
“Fabulous, awesome presentation. Great interaction & exercises.
Could have spent the whole afternoon in his session.”
“Excellent session, extremely dynamic presenter! Useful for any level of team member.”
“Peter was the “BEST” part of the day.”
“Please bring Peter back to talk to us.”

August 14, 2008 at 9:10 am 1 comment

Baseballs, Mars and Strategic Planning

My interest is in the Future, because
I am going to spend the rest of my life there.
Charles F. Kettering
1876-1958 American Inventor

At the foundation of most Strategic Plans there rests a simple question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years, and what must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”

That question looks like a good one. The answer will have all the attributes of a sound objective. Asking, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?” entices us to paint a picture of what we want to achieve. We can call this picture our “Vision” or “Vision Statement”, in either case it creates a target worthy of our attention.

Since these things don’t happen by accident, “What must we do, and when must we do it, to get there?”, outlines our footsteps towards a rudimentary project plan. Since we know what we want to achieve, we now define the “what” and the “when” of our “To Do” list for the next few years.

Most strategic planners would agree that this question lies at the core of the strategic planning process. It is certainly the most common approach, and while sometimes the objectives we choose are overly simplistic, perhaps even ambiguous i.e., “We want to be the world leader in ‘X'”, they provide something to work towards.

And that’s the issue. Unless the next problem is addressed by some hidden assumption, this type of planning cannot succeed other than by luck, no matter much effort is put into that project plan.

Here’s the problematic snag, we cannot answer the question, “Where do we want our organization to be in five years?”, unless we first answer a bigger and more complex question, “Where will the World be in five years?”

Crafting a Strategic Plan is sort of like trying to get to Mars, or running to catch a baseball, you don’t go to where it is now, but to where it will be, when you finally get there.

Obvious? Of course it is. Yet most Strategic Plans make no attempt to determine where the World will be, they plan as if the World stands still in time, when in reality it is rocketing off in some unknown direction under the influence of Moore’s Law, politics, demographic trends, diminishing resources, new opportunities, aging populations, shifting alliances and a thousand other trivial and humungous forces.

If we do try to target the future, we plan for it based upon our understanding of the past. ie. Transactions have been growing at a rate of 10% per year, so we will plan for similar growth in the coming years.

New developments, “wild cards” if you wish, can erase all credibility from this type of reasoning. The rise of digital music and the ease, with which it is shared over the Internet, eroded the relevance of all historical sales figures for the music industry.

Of course, our real problem is that answering the question, “Where will the World be in five years?” is a challenge… as Yogi Berra, the great Philosopher King and sometime baseball player said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Tough? Yes, definitely. Impossible? No. Even if we choose to ignore them, there are developments we know will affect us in the future. Here are a few worthy of consideration;

The Collapse of Constraints: (The result of Moore’s Law)
Computer and telecommunication technology is going to get more powerful, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, smaller, cooler (in more ways than one), better and more convenient.

The Implications?
What technologies would you like to implement in your organization today, but can’t because of some limitation? Chances are that within the next five years, the natural advance of technology will collapse those constraints. Then what? Here are some reminders from our recent past, imminent future, their impact and possible implications;

Digital Music => Copyright => Music Industry Sales?
Telecommunications => Offshore Outsourcing => Local White Collar Work?
Voice over IP => Personal Communications => Phone Companies?
RFID => Inventory Costs => Privacy & Security?
Flat Screen TVs => Redesign of living space => Furniture Sales?

(An off topic question we might ask ourselves, “Which solutions implemented a decade ago, are the wrong solutions considering current technology?”)

The Passage of Time: (Demographics)
We’re getting older… all of us, soon the elderly will outnumber the young whippersnappers.

The Implications?
No secret here, as we get older we change in predictable ways. How do you differ from your parents? Imagine their buying habits and lifestyle rolled out as the norm. Imagine the bulk of marketing targeted at something other than teenage tastes, how does that affect your business… more importantly, the business of your clients.

Not to mention of course, the financial impact on poorly designed, naïve and idealistic Social Security programmes.

New Markets & New Competitors: (The Third World is no longer Third)
One word: China. Okay… two words: India.

The Implications?
According to some statistics, America makes up 5% of the world population and consumes 30% of the world resources. Imagine a new nation (or two), with the buying power, consumption, resources and production capability of 5-10 USAs.

Now… Can you imagine a Future where these new juggernaut nations do NOT affect your business?

These are just three of the many developments you might choose to incorporate into your strategic plan. Which ones do you factor into your planning? That depends on how far you choose to cast your attention. What could provide a threat or opportunity to your business? Or are you convinced that tomorrow is just today, plus another day?

How exactly do you factor in these future forces? There are no easy answers, yet there are lots of different approaches, tools and methodologies; from generic Scenario Planning, to Joel Barker’s Implication Wheel; from simple ‘What If’ sessions to more involved Brainstorming. The goal is not to do the impossible, we cannot predict with great accuracy what tomorrow will bring, but we can get a sense of what tomorrow might have in store for us and put together a Strategic Plan which will perform well against a handful of likely future possibilities.

No matter how we factor them in, the sooner we do it the better. As the quote at the start suggested, we’re going to live in the Future; we might as well look forward to it.

July 17, 2008 at 10:35 am 1 comment

An Exercise in self observation

Can you watch yourself think? It’s a useful skill. Useful enough to spend some time trying to learn, and since we learn by practicing… here’s an exercise.

The internet is filled with a new form of ‘magic tricks’ – a particularly good one is located here:

So… the challenge here is – watch yourself ‘solve this’ and post the running commentary that went on in your mind as you puzzled your way towards understanding what’s going on. It’s ‘obviously’ not magic – but what is it?

If we get a dozen responses – then we’ll have a nice little collection of problem solving thought. Good luck.

January 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm 3 comments

Six Billion Nation States

When Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world”. I’m sure he knew he was right in theory only; that his vision of “world moving” was forever beyond the physical reach of individuals. Yet he was perfectly correct in another sense. Individuals, by applying the right technology in the right way, can move the world.

In many ways this is an observation of the obvious, or at least it should be. The category of human achievement we label as “technology”, is nothing more than a collection of tools leveraging every aspect of human ability: Cars, trains, planes and ships, leverage our ability to move; Microscopes and telescopes leverage our sight; Hydraulic pumps leverage physical effort; Computers leverage every aspect of the mind, from reasoning to memory … The list goes on, yet people are continually and genuinely surprised when individuals achieve what was once achievable only by corporations, industries and Nation States.

Technological progress continually increases personal ability. It makes us more capable than those who went before us. Even more powerful than the companies, infrastructures and governments they erected to increase their capability.

A transportation example: I’ve visited more than three dozen countries, crossed the Atlantic at least 200 times, and traveled a great global circle twice. A century ago, I would have been the envy of Presidents and Kings. Today this achievement is practically without merit. I barely qualify as an elite frequent flyer.

Immersed in capability, we lose sight of what technology has made possible. Constant acquaintance with the amazing, immunizes us against awe.

Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt; because contempt requires conscious recognition. Familiarity breeds apathy, even ignorance of the wondrous. Once upon a time, only governments and big business could send a message around the world. Today the most disadvantaged of us, the homeless, own cell phones. Ho hum.

Because of this dramatic increase of leveraged ability, individuals can now compete with corporations, even industries. The almost exhausted example of Napster… an application developed by two students in a dorm room on a personal computer, placed the multi-billion dollar music industry at the edge of a precipice in less than a decade.

Even the loosely organized Fourth Estate is challenged by an individual’s ability to communicate on a global scale. Matt Drudge and his Drudge Report was as much a legitimate news source during the Clinton scandal, as the New York Times or the Washington Post. Personal Web Blogging by individuals has awoken and is considered as much a reasonable source of news and opinion as the major distributors, by a generation disenchanted with these traditional media channels.

This ability to leverage is not restricted to the domains of commerce. The world’s largest military machine is at war with an individual and his relatively small network of like minded ‘ associates’. Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, and author of “Losing Control – Global Security in the 21st Century” (Pluto Press), acknowledges this shift in power when he recognizes: “the capability for relatively weak groups, whether states or sub-state actors (italics mine), to be able to exercise political violence against advanced urban-industrial states.”

There is a growing awareness that through their increased ability to wage war, individuals can demand equality with the Nation State. Given the current world stage, it is difficult to argue they haven’t already succeeded.

Our shared fear is that these individuals will gain control of WMD. This acquisition immediately elevates them to the status of world powers. The military experts have even coined a perfectly appropriate term “Asymmetric Warfare”… while it was meant to describe those situations where smaller forces apply their strength against the weakest defenses of stronger forces, it aptly describes any situation where governments must devote their full attention to the attacks from what were once considered gnats.

Nor is the ability to wage war totally dependent on mere acquisition of ready made WMD. We now have the ability to create WMD in the back room. Specifically the weapons of biological, and chemical warfare. Germ warfare has always been an option, it’s nothing new. Poisoning a well, contaminating a food supply or distributing infected blankets are all low tech, historical versions of modern biological warfare, accessible to anyone with malicious intent, but technology has once again, raised the ante.

A team of researchers, at the University of New York, led by Dr. Eckard Wimmer have assembled a viable Polio virus from tailor-made sequences ordered from a supply house. Their ‘blueprint’ came from the Internet. According to one of the researchers, Jeronimo Cello, “It was very easy to do.” While the more dangerous viruses we know of are more complex, and therefore more difficult to assemble, the researchers admit that constructing such viruses is a distinct possibility.

As stated in the beginning, none of this should surprise us; these developments merely echo the trend of democratizing political power. Kingdoms once concentrated the power to shape and change the world in a single individual, now all individuals can move the world. Today we’re all Heads of State.

Archimedes’ lever, much to his eternal surprise, is now a common reality.

January 10, 2008 at 9:22 am 1 comment

Why do we GO to work?

One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles on the phenomenon of ‘commuting’ and how some people spend 3-5 hours of their day travelling to and from ‘work’. While the focus of the series was mostly the ‘human interest’ angle the question that kept intruding into my thoughts was ‘Why?’… Why are we still flowing into small geographical areas in the morning and then flowing out to find our beds in the evening? An alien looking down from on high would be very curious as to the our reasons for the daily migration

Thankfully, I no longer work in a corporate cubical, but I have taken the time to reflect on what I used to do day in and day out, and as a white collar worker there was VERY little I did, that I could not do from a desk located on the other side of the city – if not the other side of the world. This was true as a regular grunt in the organization and as a high mucky muck.

As a white collar worker – I moved nothing from one location to another, I did not physically manipulate the world, I really had no good, persistent reason to physically travel from my home to the ‘office’ on a daily basis.

This is driven home today where my reality is that as long as there is electrical power and internet access, my office is wherever I, and my trusty laptop, are ensconced.

While I’m a card carrying techno geek, I’m not one of those who believe that all meetings are replaceable by ‘virtual meetings’ – that wouldn’t be much fun – I speak for a living – there is something about sitting across the table from someone that pixels on a screen cannot replace. More is communicated in a handshake (or a hug) than is possible to transmit on a 50gb optical cable. That said, It is possible to shift all those types of meetings to a single day each week, allowing most people to remain at home, in a properly equipped office, most of the time.

As I’ve discussed the topic of telecommuting with people over the years, the #1 objection/fear that I’ve heard (the one that is the real reason IMO that Telecommuting hasn’t taken off) is that we don’t trust our employees to produce if we aren’t looking over their shoulders all the time. That’s it in a nutshell. We don’t trust either our employees to produce at a distance OR we don’t believe our managers are competent enough to manage remotely.

There’s an irony here – and that is that management usually lets people work entirely on their own for weeks at a time. All too often managers have admitted to me that they don’t have regular 1-on-1 meetings with their staff… in fact they rarely meet with their staff.

Sometimes other reasons for not moving into telecommuting are raised, cost, security, privacy, etc. but there are more ‘excuses’ than they are legitimate objections. Many of these, possibly all of these, are solved via technology.

And then there’s another irony in the resistance towards telecommuting… any time we ‘outsource’ something – not to mention ‘offshore outsourcing’ then we are making a decision to do the work generated at this location in a remote location… ‘outsourcing’ is nothing but telecommuting on a grand scale.

So? Why the post? I’d like to ask two sets of questions…

1) What is it that you do at the office that you cannot do at home? Assume you have access to power, internet and a phone at home.
What % of your time in the office are you engaged in that activity?

2) Has your organization even considered the possibility of telecommuting?
If you have… what’s the status of that thinking?

Contribute if you wish, either in the comments (preferred) or off line (happy to start a few conversations –

I’ll assume that the benefits of Telecommuting are well known… let me know if listing a few would add value to the conversation.

January 8, 2008 at 12:46 pm 5 comments

Capability in Context

Many years ago I was handed an assignment which would cause any technologist to drool over their keyboards. At the time I was working for a retail company with about 100 stores spread across Canada. The question raised by management was “should we install personal computers into the stores to improve store efficiency?”

The motivation for the question was obvious. PCs at head office were delivering huge gains in productivity. If this was possible at head office, was it also possible in the stores? If it was, then it would reduce store workload allowing store management more time on the sales floor.

To answer the question, a consultant – yours truly – was sent into a store for six months. The rationale was that there was no better way to gain store experience/knowledge than by assuming the role of a store employee. I was given no other responsibility but to observe the store, identify all store activities that might benefit from a local PC. Once the six month sojourn was complete I was to present a report and a conclusion. Oh… I also had regular store duties. I offloaded trucks, did inventory and sold goods.

The in-store experience was invaluable. It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding of how your company operates, and something else entirely to be a part of that process. To put it very bluntly… there’s a very good reason why the ‘field’ nearly always believes that ‘head office’ is populated by fools. This isn’t readily apparent until you are given totally contradictory prime directives… sell more… and always complete the paperwork.

It convinced me, beyond all reasonable doubt, that to intelligently integrate computers into an environment, one must be more than casually acquainted with that environment.

To that end we did something rather unusual. Stores received information in the form of memos, updates, shipping lists, inventory sheets, sales figures, employee schedules etc. etc. from every department in the organization. Since nobody at head office had an accurate sense of how much info was being sent out, we had to correct this. The solution was to identify the CEO’s office as store #999 and everything sent to the stores was also sent to his office and piled on a desk. The CEO had only to ‘read’ everything sent to him. That alone reduced the flood of info being sent to the stores, as he began to complain there was far too much junk in his growing store pile.

The final report concluded there was no question that PCs, properly used to manage store activities by properly trained store managers, would significantly reduce store work load allowing managers to work the floor and increase sales…

BUT… far greater and more immediate gains were achievable, if we reduced the amount of paperwork sent to the stores. Conclusion? Do not automate anything until what you’re already doing makes sense.

To my great surprise, this conclusion wasn’t embraced. There was a covert belief that we could find the solution to the problem of overworked managers in technology, and not in changing existing management practices. It was perceived that spending money to put PCs in the stores was an ‘easier’ solution than changing the existing Status Quo.

Here are the prime highlights of the ‘context’ into which we’d have catapulted the PCs:

i) Store employees, including managers, were not hired for their technical expertise. The effort necessary to bring a geographically dispersed group to the necessary level of technical competence, while taking turnover statistics into account, would be huge, expensive and ongoing.

ii) The development time necessary to create a system capable of supporting all the existing, and rapidly evolving, paperwork would take at least 2-3 years.

iii) Store managers motivated to sell would ignore our efforts to achieve that objective. They would ignore/resist the automation project.

These issues by themselves, were sufficient reason not to introduce PCs into the stores.

Regardless of how capable technology is, the readiness of the users to take advantage of the technology is the determining factor of the final result.

January 4, 2008 at 10:33 am 1 comment

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