Archive for March, 2010

iPhone and Android news from last week

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Here are some random iPhone and Android news from last week. Enjoy!

iPhone News

iPad News

Android news

When in danger or in doubt…

… run in circles, scream and shout (Robert Heinlein, “The cat who walks through walls”)

The temptation to run in circles presented itself earlier this week.  Let’s just say our street developed a small water problem after a three-day downpour.

I was ready to scream and shout after my neighbor called me at work and told me about this.  Fortunately I got horrifically stuck in traffic, and was thus saved from rash actions.  I had plenty of time to calm down and to work out a rational course of action with my husband on the phone.

Everything turned out fine in the end – the street got over a foot of water, and the field across from us became a lake for several days,  but our house was ok.  My heart goes out to all the folks I know who had significant water damage in their yards and basements.

Lesson learned: even in the face of a real emergency, take a couple of minutes to think about what to do.  I find that I almost always get a better outcome that way.

“We’re not curing cancer here”

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Apologies to those of you who ARE curing cancer – more power to you! I only wish I can get to work in your field!

I picked this title for my post because those exact words came out of my mouth 3 days in a row.  The context was to help add a bit of perspective.

In an intense work environment, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up over the crisis du jour.   Everybody lives and breathes those issues continuously.   We wake in the middle of the night obsessing about stuff.  We work so late we miss putting our children to bed.   We start going to pieces physically and mentally after a period of continuous obsession.  We burn out.  Yet is this particular crisis worth the cost, knowing there are 6 more crises like that right on its heels?

If one only takes a step back and looks at the situation, 99% of the time the perceived crisis is really not a life and death issue that must be resolved either that day, or on a compressed schedule that requires superhuman stamina and 16 hour work days for 5 weeks for the entire team.

We aren’t curing cancer here, or bringing clean water to all the children in developing countries, or bringing about world peace. It really isn’t important enough to risk burning out.  Once you do burn yourself out, it takes a very long time to undo the damage, if it can be done at all.

Don’t get me wrong – anyone who knows me knows that I am a complete nut regarding sticking to my commitments and being accountable for my deliverables.   I expect the same of people I work with.  But one must apply judgement to what one should promise to deliver, and by when. Most of the time, it’s best to diagnose a situation, then come up calmly with a mitigation plan that contemplates human limits when projecting a target due date for associated deliverables.

I believe in keeping the work load at an intense but sustainable level, so that we have reserves to draw on when that real crisis does appear (e.g. if our servers come down, cutting access to all our customers).  We must learn to breathe a little the rest of the time, or we wouldn’t be in top shape to act effectively when a real need arises.

Boomers and technology – an opposite opinion from the AARP

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Yesterday I posted some statistics in my post on baby boomers and smartphone adoption. This was inspired by several scintillating conversations about smartphones with a good friend who is a young baby boomer.  The gist of it is that most boomers adopt technology slowly, and only when they see the benefit.  I ended my post hoping boomers would adopt smartphones, which I dig.

Today an alert coworker pointed me to a piece of research that appears to paint an opposite picture.  The AARP and Microsoft organized focus group like discussions for 60 people in four cities to share their insights on technology with author and futurist Michael Rogers.  The resulting report had several astonishing key takeaways. It states that boomers are enthusiastic about technology and are adopting in every area, including social media, leading edge technology like projection cell phones and computer goggles for augmented reality, reading news on smartphones and the like.

My eyebrows went higher and higher as I read this report.  This goes against everything I understand from studying, working with,  and socially interacting with baby boomers.  They are definitely not anti-technology; they buy good stuff when they do buy something.  But the vast majority of them fit the late majority stereotype more than they fit the vision put forth by the report.  And the statistics support this as well.

I eventually realized I wasn’t framing this correctly.  This was a discussion about cutting edge technology with forward thinking mavens, led by a technology lover.   This was not a discussion with “average” boomers who are in the middle of the bell curve.  When I re-read it in that context, it made much more sense.  In each demographic segment, there are technology enthusiasts, and those are probably the people in the roundtable discussion.

So all those insights hold.  I just have to remember these insights are representative of a small fraction of the entire baby boomer demographic.

Will baby boomers adopt smartphones?

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Analyst reports keep predicting that smart phone market share will explode in the next few years. Pyramid Research forecasts that smartphones will comprise 60% of all new handset sales in the US by 2014.   Pretty soon it would be difficult to buy feature phones, simply because mobile stores won’t stock them anymore.  Operators are all about maximizing ARPU (average revenue per user), and it is in their interest to push smartphones to consumers.  Smartphones come with data plans,  and that’s where the growth will come from in this nearly saturated mobile market.

However, baby boomers are famous for being slow to adopt technology.  They buy only what they need, and only after the benefits are thoroughly demonstrated by other early adopters.  This behavior extends to their adoption of smartphone technloogy.  According to Emarketer, baby boomers are slowly warming to smart phones, but they still lag far behind their Generation X and Y peers in smart phone ownership.  Baby boomers are the largest demographic segment in the US right now, yet they comprise only 21.1% of all smart phone owners.

So how would smart phone ownership and usage play out for baby boomers in the next few years? Things can go one of two ways:

  1. Baby boomers finally “see the light”, realize they will reap productivity gains from using a smartphone for business, and will finally jump on the bandwagon in the next year or two.
  2. Baby boomers will adhere to their preference for a feature phone that looks and acts like a phone.  They will continue to be slow in adopting smartphone technology.

Interestingly, the diminishing availability of feature phones doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be forced to adopt smartphones.  This is because you can buy a bonafide smartphone, like the Nokia C5 below (to be released in Q2 2010) and use it only for voice and texting services. It would be a complete waste – but it can be done.

So what do I personally think will happen?  I personally believe #1 will come to pass much sooner than we might realize.  The parallel I draw is SMS.  Five years ago, when I first started watching the mobile industry, text messaging was a newfangled phenomenon that largely belonged to teenagers and college students.  If anyone was to ask me whether I thought anyone Generation X and above would adopt this technology, I would have laughed in their face.  Fast forward to today, and texting is ubiquitous.

Being an early adopter and staunch supporter of smartphone technology, I do hope we will see a similar phenomenon with smartphones, as availability goes up and prices go down.

Work hard and play hard

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A few months ago I wrote a post on cultivating a sense of community in the workplace.  I talked about the importance of socialization in a team.

This is easy to understand in the abstract but hard to get right in real life.  How do you balance productivity against community building?

Here are some signs the company is spending too much time on mandatory socialization.

  • Everyone in the company is required to spend over 4h each week on mandatory, company-wide events designed to “facilitate communication” or “build morale”. That is 50% of one (mythical) work day (and 10% of your potential utilization).
  • Organizers of these events do not consult others relative to the timing of these events, and push forward in the face of deadlines and milestones.
  • It has become socially unacceptable to miss “optional” events, even if folks can’t absorb the lost time (and then they have to put in nights and weekends to make it up).

As Dilbertian as it sounds, a company exists to maximize shareholder value, not to serve as a social hangout.  An environment that favors “fun” (real or contrived) over hard commitments and important deliverables is in questionable territory.

That said, companies can easily err on the side of all work and no play.  Some signs that a company is doing a terrible job with its culture:

  • You feel a chill in your bones each time you enter the building.  The chill stays with you throughout your workday (regardless of the state of the HVAC system).
  • You can’t name the significant other of a single coworker (and most of them are in a relationship).
  • You actually don’t know who’s in a relationship (and you’ve worked with the same people for 5 years).
  • You feel intensely uncomfortable at company picnics where you need to mingle with coworkers.

Getting the right balance between work and play is tricky.  The best that we can do is to strive for a good balance most of the time.

On diversity

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Diversity in high tech is a hot topic these days.  Well known bloggers like Vivek Wadhwa, Brad Feld, Eric Ries and the guys at Venture Hype have been trying to advance the case for women in technology.

As a woman in a male dominated industry, I find it both funny and depressing to watch these powerful men speak up for the women.  I only wish an equally powerful woman could have told our side of the story!

Gender issues aside, Eric made many great points about why diversity matters.  Here is a quote that I particularly like.

One of the most pernicious effects of groupthink is the sense of entitlement it breeds. Teams that are complacent are less likely to challenge their own assumptions, less likely to listen to feedback and, therefore, less likely to learn.

This is absolutely true.  I see this phenomenon everywhere.  Teams that are all the same gender, or race, or age, or economic circumstances, all tend to think alike.   Since they are all so alike, they project themselves on everyone else and remake the world in their image.  It’s a lot harder for teams like that to understand what it’s like to be someone else. This hurts when they are designing products and services for someone else.

A little diversity goes a long way in shaking up this complacency.   It makes people uncomfortable.  It rocks the boat.  It makes people think and wonder.  It makes it a little easier for folks to realize: People are Different.  And that’s the beginning of the end of arrogance.

Show up on time

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I just read a new post by Dan McCarthy from the Great Leadership blog about how being on time is an important attribute of a good leader.  I could not agree more.  Being late (or worse, being AWOL) says a lot more about who we are than we realize.

  • If we are habitually late, we are telling people that we disrespect their time.
  • If we are always on time for meetings with big kahunas, but are habitually late to meetings where we ourselves are the big kahunas, we are telling our team members that we respect our rank more than we respect them.

Lateness in deliverables also communicates disrespect.

  • If we are habitually and substantially late with our deliverables to other team members, despite a clearly defined schedule everyone agreed upon, we are telling people that we not only disrespect them, but we think little of our commitment to the projects we are working on with them.
  • We are teaching people not to trust us when we promise anything.
  • Over time, if people have a choice, they will try to avoid working with us altogether, since they can’t get their job done if they have to depend on us.  It doesn’t get much more career limiting than that.

Punctuality is a window into our core values.  We should all watch what is showing through that window.

How to have productive meetings

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Saeed posted this pie chart on the On Product Management blog some time ago:

I’m sure we can all relate.  The worst part is when people arrive utterly unprepared, despite a painstakingly prepared pre-read package you send out 1 week in advance.    People are busy.   Sending out materials doesn’t mean those materials will be read.

How can we make meetings productive?  If the meeting is important enough, it is time for a lot of pre-meetings to set expectations and go over any background materials that people need to digest beforehand.  The more important the decision to be made, the more work I do at the one-on-one level.   No one should be surprised or unprepared, and it’s up to the meeting organizer to take care of that, even if it involves reverting to the oral tradition.

Pre-meetings take a lot of time for the meeting organizer, but the collective time spent on the process comes down dramatically, and the meeting itself becomes efficient and effective.   The time spent is definitely worth it.

All I really need to know I learned in elementary school

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Peter Bregman has a recent post about being inspired by his 4 year old to minimize the time spent on difficult transition times in the workplace.  This is so true (both in the preschool dropoff context and in the workplace).

Along the same vein, there are many management lessons to be had by studying the crowd management skills of my kids’ teachers.  Here are some of them – enjoy.

School rule #1: Can’t say can’t play.
When my oldest child was 4 years old, she became friends with a little girl who was part of a 4-girl clique.  This little girl explained to my child: “I can’t play with you because A, B, and C are here and I can only play with them. But B and C are not here Thursdays.  So if it’s a Thursday, and A is busy doing something else, and I’m not playing with anyone else, then I can play with you.” (OUCH!)

The preschool teachers have seen this before and they knew exactly what to do.  They divided the cliquey girls so they never sat together in class.  They manufactured team activities that required co-mingling them with everyone else.  They manufactured more activities that are led by kids outside the cliques.  They put anyone who excluded anyone else in timeout.

Key takeaway: make sure there’s a single, inclusive culture in the workplace.  Divisive dynamics isn’t something to be swept under the rug.

School Rule #2: “No, go, tell”

To keep kids from becoming tattletales, the teachers have a 3 strikes rule. The first time kid A does something bad to kid B, B is to tell A to please stop the behavior.  The second time, B is to depart from the scene and find something else to do that doesn’t involve A. The third time, B goes and tells the teacher.

Key takeaway: encourage folks to talk and work things out, and hone their conflict management skills.

School rule #3: “The 3 D’s”

Our elementary school has a “3 D’s” rule, which are exceptions to the “no, go, tell” rule: if a kid engages in behaviors that are dangerous, disruptive, or disrespectful, don’t wait for the first two strikes – tell on the kid immediately.  If a kid keeps on engaging in these behaviors, he or she becomes separated from the group.  For instance, there are two boys I know who currently “have their own offices” and never sit with others during class.  The needs of the other kids to do their work trump the disruptive kid’s need for inclusion.  If that still doesn’t work, the kid goes off to the principal’s office.  If that still doesn’t work… well, there are many other schools in the town.

Key takeaway: if someone is being disruptive or disrespectful, deal with the behavior in the moment, as the behavior unfolds.  If the behavioral pattern persists, separate him or her from the team and find something they can work on by themselves while working on the behavioral pattern, even if this reduces that person’s potential to contribute. If nothing works, regretfully, one would have to let them go.


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