I discovered yesterday on my holiday in the US that the magnetic strip on my debit card doesn’t work. The experience has me wondering (hoping) about when we will do away with physical plastic cards for payment all together.
In Australia, I rarely carry cash. I use my debit card to pay for almost everything, and when I do use the card it is always tap payment. So when I came to the US, there were some awkward looks when tapping and rubbing my debit card against the readers had no effect. I then watched the clerks unsuccessfully attempt to read my card’s worn magnetic strip.
My card’s magnetic strip had become a barrier between money in my bank account and the object or service of my desire. If there is one thing we know about society, we are good at using technology to remove barriers to our consumption.
Credit cards are a recent and rapidly changing phenomenon. Formally introduced in the 50s, there have been a few advances in card reading technologies as we moved from physical carbon imprints to magnetic strips to readable chips.
Mobile payments however are only a stop gap as we move to embedded technology. Credit cards had a shelf life of around 80 years and mobile payments started around the 90s. Mobile payments can be expected to rise and fall then around the 2050s accounting for increasing rates of technology and time required for generational changes in our society.
In a picture of science fiction becoming reality, I reflect on the premise of the movie In Time. The movie describes a situation where every person is born with a clock embedded into their wrist. They pay for goods and services with time, tapping their wrist against readers and each other.
In a manifestation of the idiom “time is money”, our financial worth is stored in virtual accounts. Like in the movie, we will continue to remove physical barriers of transferring our worth in exchange for value until thought and action are nearly instantaneous.
I am not sure if I will be around for widespread adoption of embedded transactions, but it will be exciting to watch and contribute to the evolution. Until then, I better go order a replacement debit card.
I am in the US for a couple of weeks to see the folks and family in my hometowns of Seattle and Vancouver. Up to a few years back, it had been seven years between visits. This will be the second time in two years, making it almost frequent.
A paradox of our society is that holidays can be perceived as both as an investment and a luxury. Aaron Birkby, CEO of Startup Catalyst and co-founder of the new Peak Personae program, outlined the challenge and opportunity in his recent post “Why founders need to invest in themselves“. A holiday as part of the portfolio of that investment is important.
Not taking holidays is ingrained into my DNA. As an American living in Australia, I align with articles that ask “Why America is the ‘no-vacation’ nation?” and “Why is America afraid to take a vacation?” I grew up in a family-owned manufacturing company. Combined with the US standard of two-weeks of holidays per year, there is a sense that you are “always on” and holidays are an unnecessary luxury when you are starting or running a business.
Holidays break repeated patterns of thinking ingrained by familiar environments and habits. Once broken, space is created for creativity and fresh ideas. This is the same principle seen when I deliver off-site strategy sessions, as the novel environment help leaders think in new ways about the opportunities in their business.
This time off is particularly timely for me. I have come off the back of managing Fire Station 101, heading into a new role supporting measurement across Queensland and in local councils, and building a new startup helping hubs and programs measure outcomes and supporting entrepreneurs. My ten days will be filled with sky-high view of flying to new regions, appreciation of new art forms from galleries to plays to jazz, deep heart connection with family, and physical challenges of climbing snowy mountains.
And food, I expect. Lots of food.
An alternate paradox of holidays is that by not focusing on work, the ideas for work emerge. The neuroscience behind this goes into diffuse and focused learning methods. When we stop focusing on the problem, our conscious makes way for the subconscious to explore and access new ways of thinking about the challenge. By looking at artwork or walking new city streets, the new ideas will come.
Entrepreneur self-care will be a part of the measurement platform we plan on releasing for a few select hubs and programs at the end of the month. Holidays for a sky-high view are a part of that self-care program.
We like to barrack for our sporting teams. We follow the teams through the season. As they get closer to the Grand Finals / Playoffs / Superbowl / pick your sport, we feel invested in their success or failure.
The same goes for startups, particularly social enterprise startups. Most people want to help others, but it can be a challenge to know where to start.
When you find a team that is all-in, demonstrates commitment and capability, and is solving a real need, it is important to get behind them at the early stages and help them give it a go.
This is why I am supporting the Powerwells team, who are both helping reduce ewaste and bringing light and power to remote regions. After an intense Startup Weekend, the team boarded a plane to Papua New Guinea to get customer validation and test supply chains and distribution channels. They returned with a proven model and growing support for stage 2.
Most of us have been in the stands, yelling for our side to get the touchdown, score the try, or hit the homerun. Can you imagine if that goal also brought light and power to hundreds?
Powerwells is running an all or nothing crowdfunding campaign that has 10 days left. For the price of one month’s cable TV subscription or a footy game ticket, you can help bring our team that much closer to their next touchdown.
It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” ~ Steve Jobs
Time is the most valuable resource we own. We cannot make it or earn more. We trade time for money, or build capital that earns money on our behalf. This “frees up” our time, inferring that our time was otherwise held captive. We don’t measure our time, but it can come as a surprise when we discover we are running out.
Facebook ads about fitness and financial management programs tell me that we are in the last week of the New Year’s resolution season. I figured it would be a good opportunity to share an experiment in timesheets and mindfulness.
Around three years ago I conducted an experiment where I completed timesheets for every second of my day.
My relationship with timesheets had been tenuous at best. I had just finished seven years as General Manager of a 60-person digital agency where timesheets were a consistent stress point. Timesheets tend to turn people into products. I didn’t like doing doing timesheets, and disliked myself for asking others to do timesheets.
So I decided to lean into my dislike and conduct an experiment. I was curious how much time I spent in the different areas of my life. My life has always consisted of a portfolio of projects, and I wanted to see which projects were getting more of my time.
As is the way with experiments, I discovered an unexpected outcome. By forcing myself to be conscious of how I was spending my time, I became more mindful, focused, and appreciative of each moment.
The experiment ended after three months when I missed a few days, my workload increased, and the timesheeting tool I built needed more work than I was prepared to give.
Renewing the experiment
Fast forward a few years and my portfolio of projects has increased. I support multiple organisations with innovation management, work on my PhD, and have my own startup in preparation for a national tour planned for later this year.
I have used a number of techniques to keep track of things, from processes like pomodoro and bullet journals, practices like meditation, and systems like Trello and Asana. It can still get a bit of a challenge to know where my time has gone by the end of the day.
So after a 2am wake up with my mind going through my day, I decided to start the experiment again.
Thankfully the app explosion means that I no longer need to build my own. A quick search turned up a few tracking apps.
Three things I was looking for included:
Easy to update and switch between tasks
Ability to assign tasks to projects
Ability to categorise tasks
Many of the apps are focused on billing and invoices, team tracking, and tracking tasks against client work. Some have additional features I was not interested in like GPS tracking and receipt capturing.
After spending a few minutes with each, I paid a few bucks to aTimeLogger 2. It looks like it does exactly what I need.
The app allows me to create groups for the different domains of my world, including my day job work with the Queensland government, support for the local ecosystem, my consultancy work with my company Swich Innovation, my startup code-named Dev30, my Phd, and Personal. I put Commute in a separate group to track transit time for each domain, and sleep is its own category to more accurately represent Personal.
Sub-groups allow for further task categorisation. Goals can also be created to allow time to go against, but I am not using that feature at the moment. Reports can be created at the group or activity level and everything can be backed up and exported.
It is early days again and I will share more after another three months. This is not something I would prescribe for everyone, and indeed have not met anyone else who has gone to this extent. Those who combine Pomodoro techniques with bullet journals come close, while others may have developed internal habits and may not need the extrinsic process.
Here’s some lessons I have re-learned so far:
It’s not that painful
Like seeing a needle at the doctor’s office, the aversion to timesheeting and being ‘tracked’ can be more painful than the actual activity. I have a task dedicated for the act of timesheeting. After a day, that task has 16 minutes against it, mostly because I was taking notes for reference about the task as reminders for follow up.
It takes setting up
I spent a total of 32 minutes setting everything up. Most of that was when I needed to create a new group or task. This will get easier as I repeat common tasks more in the future. It is worth creating unique icons and assigning colours to each group for later review.
It forces you to name your actions
The hardest part can be determining which bucket your time goes into. The process requires you to always know where you are focusing your attention. Social media notifications and emails constantly tap your attention. Office environments are prone to random conversations. The approach does not require you to not be distracted, just to be fully aware and tell yourself “This is what I am doing right now.”
Awareness without judgement for decision making
Like meditation, the purpose is not to judge what you are doing, but to be aware. Just as meditation helps you observe your thoughts, timesheeting allows you to be conscious about what you are doing. Rather than judging in the moment, it allows you to reflect after the fact to make future decisions on what is important and where you want to spend your time.
What you focus on you grow
The process exposes your priorities. If you say exercise is important, it can be confronting if you have one 10-minute workout session after a week and 90 minutes surfing the Internet. Like a form of gamification, knowing you will log the time and add to the chart can be an encouragement.
You become aware of the cost
I may think I am going to pump out a blog post a week, but by measuring I know each effort takes around two hours end to end. Looking at the true cost of commuting can help me make decisions about what else I can be doing on that commute. You can then make decisions on how you spend your time based on data rather than assumption.
It helps you delegate and scale
When I coached CEOs, I occasionally asked them to keep a time diary to identify functions where they spent their time to help identify where best to delegate. I did this myself when running Fire Station 101 to identify functions to split between Operations and Community Management. Once you see where you spend your time, it helps identify where you can get others to help so you can focus on what is core.
Measurement is not execution
Finally, measuring is not doing. Rather than the time taken to measure and even write this post, I could have progressed any number of projects are even just hung out with family. The goal is that by being more aware, it will make other activities more intentional.
If you believe dystopian programs like Netflix’ Black Mirror to be prophecy, the practice described above is a manual approach to inevitable embedded chips and real-time recording of our lives.
We already measure so many things. We have apps to measure our food intake, our workout routines, the number of steps or breaths we take, our finances, our location, and more. We access these apps in ways that are increasingly real time, from phones to watches to glasses. Measuring our time may be the next step.
I expect to continue for another three months and see how I go. I may also incorporate a form of the practice on my innovation tour later this year, as the theme will be around measurement.
My intention in writing this is not as a prescriptive “how to” or to get anyone else to follow the practice, but to capture my thoughts in the moment. At a minimum it may help others briefly consider where they spend their most valuable resource of time.
It also helps explain why I might quickly look at my phone if you come up and chat with me. At least until I get the chip embedded.
The end of the year offers an opportunity to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. Over the past few years my focus has expanded from large organisations to startups, but the premise of strategic planning still holds true.
There are a few approaches to the process of strategic planning. My preference is an Appreciative Inquiry framework, but others can be effective with the right facilitation. It is helpful to allow one to two days, go to a new physical environment to get out of familiar territory, and use an external facilitator so everyone can participate.
Whichever approach is used, it is helpful to get clear on definitions for personal, organisational, and team planning.
As I take time for some personal planning, I thought I would share some definitions I have settled on in the event that help others.
Mandate The reason you are in the room. Your mandate is often given to you by someone in authority. Examples can include “Provide X service is such and such a way”, or “Deliver X product support”. You typically do not influence your mandate. You may be able to negotiate, but at the end of the day you either accept it or walk away.
The light on the hill. The vision is what attracts your gaze when you get hit by the inevitable waves of uncertainty and change. It is what rallies the team and draws the collective focus.
Strategy focuses attention. Out of the hundreds of ways to achieve the vision, strategy focuses on typically four to six focus areas. These areas focus attention of the team and contain the initiatives. Every activity should align with a strategic focus area. If it doesn’t, then the activity is not aligned or the strategy may need to be expanded.
Whereas strategy simply focuses attention, you cannot execute without initiatives. Initiatives have an owner for accountability and dates for delivery milestones.
Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning, often either a fire in your heart or a fire under your ass. This could be survival, money, changing the world, growing an empire, hurting or helping others, and more. A burning ambition can be more sustainable, but a burning platform can be more motivating in the short term. Purpose is individual and organisational. Alignment of purpose within a team is powerful, misalignment is painful. If an individual is changing the world in an organisation that operates to solely make money, there is misalignment.
Principles are the basis by which decisions are made. Again, alignment is important. A principle of “Winning at all costs” may be at odds with “Integrity first”. A list of principles can be shared and tested against decisions. Decisions made against principles provide feedback and an opportunity for realignment.
Values are the expected outcomes from principled decision making. If I have a value of respect, then I would expect to have principles of Collaboration and Consideration of community impact in decision making.
I’m still digesting from yesterday’s Christmas BBQ, and reflecting how innovation and technology slips its way into every day conversation.
My chats over beers are usually at industry networking events filled with tech entrepreneurs and programmers. It was good to unplug with friends outside the scene and not focus on work, while hearing how far my usual day job topics are slipping into everyday discussions.
Some of these can be seen now as business as usual (smart devices into smart cities), while others have morphed into something else entirely (global protectionism, big data into AI, IoT in everything).
Most of these topics were raised by others at the Christmas BBQ, but with a practical concern. What degree would support the last 15 years of a career? How will technology impact a particular profession such as teaching or law enforcement? Is my data safe online? What should I post about my kids?
Three technology trends that came up include artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and augmented reality, but all with a practical application on how they impact current jobs and future professions.
All the while we controlled the air conditioning and music with an app.
Oh, and speaking of future thinking, I went to the theatre to watch the latest Star Wars movie as a Boxing Day treat. I suppose predicting the future of technology is like predicting where the franchise is going when we all learned about the Vader / Luke relationship.
I spend the day like many catching up with family and friends, eating more than I should, drinking enough to make those resolutions in a few weeks stick, and overall relaxing and tuning out for a few days.
Speaking of tuning out, I was enjoying a bit of Pixies yesterday when their song Where is My Mind came up in my Spotify playlist. It takes me back to my Navy days in Connecticut. Spotify has this feature in the app that shows trivia about the song it plays. Up came the note about how lead Frank Black pulled inspiration for parts of the song while diving in Puerto Rico.
As I head into the year end, I am reminded of the need to just tune out, connect with family and friends, and do random stuff that can seem to have no connection to my end goal but provides the creative inspiration needed to get the outcomes. There is a case for periodic sabbaticals, much less vacations, a case I have not been disciplined at making for myself.
2018 is going to be a big year. I am taking things a bit slower for the next couple of weeks, and then heading to the US early January to take a pause and catch up with the folks. Not exactly swimming with the fish in Puerto Rico, but hoping for similar random inspiration to recharge and fuel an exciting New Year. I may even be able to answer the question as to “Where is my mind?”
Some may think setting up a CRM on Christmas Eve sounds lacking in holiday spirit. I can think of few other Christmas gifts I would like better than to get on top of my contacts.
It is one of my big regrets of 2017 is that I did not stay on top of my contact list as well as I might have. For several months in the most active time of managing the innovation hub, I was attending up to four networking events a week plus 20+ meetings.
The number of different stakeholder groups is also pretty crazy, including government, mentors, entrepreneurs, community groups, local businesses, industry partners, investors, schools, and universities. Add in local, national, and global contacts and the mix can be a challenge to manage on the fly.
I am pretty familiar with CRMs, or Contact Management Systems. I have built, configured, or implemented about a dozen systems in my career. I have worked with the likes of SalesForce, HubSpot, Zoho, Microsoft CRM, SugarCRM, and custom platforms.
Through my experience, the reason why CRMs fail is not due to the location of a field or specific functionality. CRMs fail because the people using them tend not to be the sorts that like to track their actions in a system. I include myself in this description.
My need is pretty big as I step fully into a portfolio career helping local and state governments, corporations, community groups, and build out my own startup. So I am giving myself a gift this year of getting on top of my contacts during the upcoming slower holiday period.
After a brief scan, I am going with Insightly for the integrations and based on some recommendations from people I know.
If you are one of the people I have not gotten back to in 2017, you are in good company with some amazing people. I look forward to connecting in 2018 and doing incredible things that will make a difference.
Nothing says a fresh start like a new computer. My Microsoft Surface recently developed a known intermittent screen jitter plus the USB port stopped working, thankfully with a few months remaining on the warranty. So when my kid added a new computer to the Christmas list, I figured it was a good opportunity to pick up the latest hardware and send the old one in for a replacement I can pass on to my next of kin.
I write this in reflection as I spend my Saturday copying files, installing software, and entering passwords. Watching files copy over gives me time to consider how much I view the world through the lens of the screen. Finances, news, conversations, art, and entertainment are all consumed and broadcast through this glass interface.
This is dramatically different to the world a few short decades ago. I learned to program in octal through a large mainframe computer on a nuclear powered submarine in the US Navy. Since then we have seen computing move to desktops, laptops, handhelds, wrists, VR and AR glasses, and eventually embedded technology. Our point in time now is simply a stepping stone in a continuum towards technology embedded direct to our brains.
The drivers of this progression are the same that push most technology advancement: a need for instant gratification. The combination of ease of rapid consumption and exponentially increasing content means we will seek out new ways to get more, faster, at higher quality.
Changing computers at the end of the year is timely. My screen to the world gets cluttered over time. My desktop gets littered with files quickly saved for later reference. Random folders called “To sort” and “Temp backup” litter my file structure from previous attempts to clean my digital house. My Word and Excel programs keep asking of I want to save a growing list of Document Recovery files from various system crashes. Random icons from past trials of productivity programs sit in my Quickstart bar, waiting to be uninstalled when I find time from being more productive.
Like heading into a New Year with resolve, I set up my computer with the intent to keep this one clean. But I wonder how this will work when the computer is inside of us. Will we be able to simply reboot our operating system at the end of the year and do a reset? Will the clutter of our internal desktop files reinforce and reflect the clutter of thoughts?
Anyways, that is next decade’s problem. For now, here’s to a collective clean desktop to reflect focused thoughts and a clear perspective heading into 2018.
Support local entrepreneurship and give the gift of power to homes in need.
The Powerwells team had the opportunity last night to share their story in front of an audience that included Lord Marland of Odstock, Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. The social enterprise is a great example of a team taking an idea from a Startup Weekend, to customer validation, to product in market.
I first met the Powerwells team when I judged the social enterprise-focused Startup Weekend in Logan City Council. Over a few short days, the team had come up with an idea and built a product to use recycled batteries to create power sources for remote communities.
Most teams in a Startup Weekend dissipate as soon as the event is over. The Powerwells team hopped on a plane to Indonesia to test their distribution model and get in front of customers. The product not only provides power but also employment opportunities for local communities.