The end of Credit cards

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.

The next evolution could be considered payment through smart phones. UNSW economics professor Richard Holden published a piece in the Financial Review about “How to make Australia cashless by 2020.” An article in the Financial Times notes an increasing rate of decline of cash payments in the UK (“How long will you have pounds in your pocket?“). An NPR article explains how China is leap frogging credit cards straight to mobile (“In China, a cashless trend is taking hold with mobile payments“).

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 write this reflecting on my current focus of measuring innovation activity. Startups focused on financial technology are creating the future now address all aspects of the sector, including payments, insurance, banking, security, and more. A side question is how fintech can then help alleviate poverty in developing countries and other examples of fintech startups addressing poverty in general.

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.

Holiday for a sky high view

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.

A holiday alone is not the solution. Studies across a range of professions, from 76 clerks, 87 blue-collar employees, to 131 teachers all highlight the same outcome: vacations are effective for around four weeks before symptoms of burnout return. More effective is a deep connection with purpose and an ability to detach from work on a regular basis. Holidays are an important aspect, but part of a portfolio of personal investment.

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. – Support your startup social enterprise team

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.

Please consider helping the team score by donating here:


Productivity and timesheeting life – lessons in mindfulness

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.

The experiment

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:

  1. Easy to update and switch between tasks
  2. Ability to assign tasks to projects
  3. 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.

Lessons relearned

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.

Next steps

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.