Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

Brian, My Cousin

My cousin Brian McGuire passed away last night, after he and his fiancee were struck by a car (article).

My father has 12 brothers and sisters, and as we lived far from most of them growing up, I didn’t get to know all of my cousins that well – there are a lot of them. I saw Brian only a handful of times in my life, and growing up I didn’t know him well, despite our only being a year apart.

But across the last year, I was lucky to reconnect with him…on Facebook, as one does now. He was smart, funny and a kind, kind person. And I looked forward to his daily presence on Facebook because he was always smiling.

We take these relationships for granted, but the knowledge and insight we have about so many people from all parts and times of our life is a new phenomenon. We didn’t have this insight even 2o years ago. In that world, I wouldn’t have gotten to know Brian as he found happiness with his fiancee. I wouldn’t have gotten to know his sense of humor and to look forward to the wry posts he made on a daily basis, and the glee with which he posted funny photos and memes. I wouldn’t have seen his clear and strong stands on social issues he believed so much in. I would have missed out watching a member of my family grow into the incredible person he was.

While these online interactions will never replace the true joy of knowing and seeing someone in person, our social relationships fulfill an important role as average human mobility continues to evolve.  We go away to school, maybe grad school, then somewhere for a few years for a job, then move on.  After kids go to college, you retire somewhere else. We don’t stay within 100 miles of home anymore, and staying in-person in-touch is no longer an option.

Social interactions provide us at least some small way of staying connected with those we love, respect and learn from.

My sorrow can in no way approach the enormous grief that Brian’s family feels tonight. But I can mourn losing a new friend and a cousin – I can mourn him because I was lucky enough to get to know him this past year. It may be a small remembrance, but I will miss him every time I open my News Feed and expect to see him there. In even the small glimpses that a social network provides, Brian shone brightly. I can only imagine the joy of having been part of his daily life in-person.

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Breaking System Constraints

During a class discussion this week the idea of ‘constraint’ came up- how we’re constrained by elements of our environment and the systems within which we work. I think we’re coming to an interesting point in the cycle of development for those systems. For hundreds of years, we’ve  worked to make processes more efficient and to make life easier. We’ve developed systems to accomplish this. But as these systems have grown, they’ve become so efficient that, in many cases, we’ve placed constraints on our ability for organic innovation. This is especially true in business systems.

What I find extremely interesting is how current technologies are beginning to explore this tension between business systems and innovation- and are trying to use systems to push innovation rather than stifle it. Social media is a great example of this, per my summer experience at NewsGator. NewsGator’s solution echoes informal online interactions that are a part of our personal lives – and transfers that form of communication to a company setting. The goal is to allow firms to leverage the speed and sharing capabilities of online systems like Facebook, thereby driving communication and innovation throughout the company.

So while Facebook turned informal in-person chats into a system of online communication, new technologies are turning that system of personal online communication into a system of business communication. What organizations that adopt NewsGator (like Citi, the US Air Force, etc.) realize are that the typical business systems they use are placing constraints on innovation and that something needs to change. By leveraging communication that allows faster sharing of information, greater informality in brainstorming, additional freedom in visual expression and the ability to create teams, NewsGator (and like companies) provide a system through which companies can replicate the informal interactions that can lead to fertile ideas while managing the process of that creation in a searchable, repeatable way.

This construct (using next-generation technology to take systems to another level of human interaction replication) becomes really interesting what you consider what companies like Oblong are doing (watch the awesome video below):

Once our operating systems begin to visually replicate how our minds and bodies work, we’re breaking a big constraint in a very cool way.

AdoptUSKids gets it right

I’m always impressed when a company manages to pair a good ad campaign with a crisp online presence. When it’s not a company, but a government agency, I’m floored. And “Adopt US Kids”* has done an absolutely amazing job of this by staying funny, keeping it simple and staying on message- “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” Their Twitter team tells quick but compelling stories (“It’d take less than 1% of the US population to find a forever family for every child in foster-care available for adoption”) and no spam.

In other words, they have a pretty straightforward recipe for success:

One of the most surprising things about working at NewsGator this summer was realizing just how many government agencies are actively trying to figure out social media and how to best exercise it (click here for a cool case study on how the Air Force uses a NewsGator platform).

Initiatives like Adopt US Kids offer an exciting, and very unique opportunity for the government to speak directly to the people, and it’s fun to watch them figure out how they’re going to use that opportunity. Especially when it’s for something as important as this.

 

*AdoptUSKids is a cooperative agreement with the Adoption Exchange Association, Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children & Families, and the US Department of Health & Human Services. I don’t know the details on which agency/NGO manages which part of the campaign, but regardless, they’ve split the work/outsourced it well. Other agencies should take note.

How will Darden help me at NewsGator?

So here I am in Colorado! Excited to be here…and to drum up a little jealousy, this is view from deck of the Boulder apartment I’ll be living at (thank you to my lovely [soon to be] in-laws!!).

I start my summer internship at NewsGator tomorrow – as I’ve mentioned a few times, NewsGator is a cool Denver company that creates social computing and collaboration solutions for businesses. Think of it like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc….for your company. Information can include user feeds (like twitter updates), collaborative docs, news stories, etc.

Note: I may be waaaaay off on my understanding of some things, which I’m sure they’ll tell me pretty quickly when I get there 🙂

What’s going to be most interesting is how I apply what I learned in my first year to the real world. B-school’s been great; I love my classes, professors, colleagues and friends. And I’ve learned a ton. But I’m intrigued to see how I actually apply any of it. The Darden case-study method hopefully gives a leg up over some MBA programs in ‘application’ of MBA concepts, but we’ll see. I’m excited look back at the end of the summer and see what I’ve used from different classes- marketing, operations, decision analysis (stats), finance, etc. If I have to build complex statistical models, I assure you my professors will be getting some heavy email traffic….

At the end of the summer I’ll post what I used, but I will definitely be depending on two truly valuable skills that Darden taught me- skills that are valuable no matter what the job:

  • Ask questions: Darden teaches you to question your own answers as well as others’ answers. If there’s one thing the case study method forces, it’s how to challenge a thought and drive down deeper until you understand (as well as how to respond to someone else’s challenge of you!). I truly believe that questioning is a learned skill and one that requires practice and dedication. We’re all reactive to what we hear and see; it takes practice to hold your own opinion up to the test when your gut reaction says “this way”.
  • Look at it from different perspectives: It’s funny how much of an expensive education comes down to the kindergarten maxim of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” but it’s a valuable perspective and one that was drilled into us in multiple courses. Looking at a decision or problem from multiple angles often sheds light on an issue- and surfaces assumptions that would otherwise go unnoticed. If you’re a finance whiz, try looking at a problem from an HR perspective. If you’re down in the weeds, try looking at it from a 50,000 ft view instead. Every person in every position makes assumptions; failure to step out of your perspective means greater risk of not identifying the possibly dangerous assumptions you’ve made.

So wish me luck! I’m looking forward to a great and amazing summer.



Guest Blogger: Kyle Hawke of Whinot on” Top 5 Questions that Kill Innovation”

Kyle Hawke, an MBA colleague at Darden, has just gone live with the platform for the company he founded – the very cool Whinot.com, which, “Provides a crowdsourcing process and web platform for SMB’s to identify and reward only realizable solutions to their operational and organizational issues. Whinot also provides a marketplace for freelance consultants to sell or share existing solutions and find consulting opportunities.”

It’s a very cool idea, and I’ve already put my profile on there- learn more and build your profile here.

To celebrate his launch, I’m republishing (with his permission), a well-thought out (and crowdsourced!) blog post Kyle had earlier this month on “The Top 5 Questions that Kill Innovation.” His blog post is the section between ***** below:

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Flowing from a recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions”, I asked a question in a few LinkedIn groups to get a response to the following question:

What’s the #1 question that kills innovation?

This simple question generated about 30 responses in three communities: Whinot, Consultants Network, and Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing. This post is an attempt to pull out the themes and highlights from those discussions. In other words, this blog post is crowdsourced.

1) “Did you get management approval?” This came up a variety of ways, but the main point is that the organization itself (or the people leading it) can kill an innovation. One good example of this is organizations which (unintentionally or not) lead innovators to have a sense of fear of failure.

2) “How much does it cost?” or “Will it make money?” For even the best project managers, it is nearly impossible to accurately assign financial metrics such as ROI or NPV to an innovation. For some innovation, especially for breakthrough (rather than incremental) innovations, you have to ask yourself how heavily should these SWAGs should be weighted in the decision.

3) “How long will it take?” Certain industries and certain innovations require a long, laborious road to market. Industry certification or government regulation may slow down this process. For the innovation owner or other stakeholders involved, stalled progress or lack of momentum can be demotivating. Communication of regular status updates should be the norm during this period.

4) “Can I get it in writing?” Too often, putting something “in writing”, just makes it easier to “file away.” But when something is put in writing, it should be done with brevity and concision. It should fit on one page. A recent blog post on ReadWriteWeb.com reiterated this same point as it relates to business plans.

5) “Do we have the bandwidth?” There may be a variety of resource constraints (e.g. human, capital) preventing an organization from pursuing every opportunity that comes its way. That’s fine. But the key is to achieve a well-balanced portfolio of projects – some easy, some harder, some incremental, some breakthrough. If a must-have project comes along, consider alleviating the constraint by pursuing it in an open manner – through an external partnership, through acquisition rather than organic growth, or through the use of contract/freelance labor rather than full-time employees.

Throughout the discussions, I had my virtual hand slapped for thinking about this question with negative overtones (e.g. killing innovation rather than promoting it). These points are well-taken. And they lead to the final, most important point that was voiced by several people in the discussions:

No matter what the question, it is up to the innovation owner to be ready and able to answer them – clearly, concisely and effectively. Organizational change does not come easy and it does not come cheap. A strong and convincing owner is just as important as the innovation itself.

Thank you to all of those who helped crowdsource this blog post: Andrew Blair, Kevin Skislock, John Heun, Brian Waechter, David Albachten, Ann McLennan, Mike Buckley-Jones, Allan Edun, Ray Joseph, Sirisha Panchangam, Ed Kislauskis, Mark Liao, Randy Van Heusden, Patricia Duarte, Chris Hughbanks, Lars Dalen, John Michitson, Kevin Skislock, Lawrence Lau, Gary Oosta, Johan Oelofse, Koos Ris, Marc Hirsch, Detlef La Grand, and Karen Wong.

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Thanks for the post Kyle and good luck with Whinot! I’m looking forward to hopefully contributing as a freelance consultant!

Mishmash (Firefox, Gmail, Start-Up Digest)

Crazy exam #1 down; only 3 to go before I head out to India on Friday. I’ll post a bit about my upcoming trip tomorrow- I’ll be spending 9 days in Mumbai with 7 other Darden students, working to improve efficiency in a plant owned by Danaher. It’s going to be a seriously badass trip. In the meantime, thought I’d catch up on a few things I’ve been using this week that you might find fun:

  • Firefox: I’m a big fan of Firefox browsing. I admit I haven’t tried Google Chrome yet, but to be honest, it’s because I don’t want to leave my easy peasy world of Mozilla. The browser is intuitive and fast, and very protective (sometimes a bit too much so but you can change those settings). The add-ons aren’t bad, either. I just downloaded FastestFox to improve browsing, and it does cool things like preload multiple pages of Google search results, so as you scroll towards the bottom of the page, the next page of search results appears below, with a page break (think of it like a Word doc). There’s a Grab and Drag button you can add-on as well, that allows you to use Adobe like drag on most pages. So all in all, liking 3.6 and the download speeds; liking the general (but perhaps a little vanilla) add-ons.
  • Gmail: Yes, I know you use gmail. I know everyone does. This post is for the new or lazy users who don’t know about the cool experimental stuff. Click on”settings” in the right corner of your Gmail page; now click on Labs in the main yellow gmail bar. This brings you to the “experimental” add-on section of Google, where you can try beta versions of new applications. They’re fun to play around with- try the ones below to get started:
  1. “Send & Archive” which lets you archive a whole conversation at the same time you send it-which helps keep your inbox from getting cluttered.
  2. “Undo Send” which gives you just a few seconds to stop something from sending when you make a mistake
  3. “Google Docs Gadgets” which lets you click on your most accessed google docs through a sidebar in gmail (instead of opening up a new page)
  4. Old Snakey: My favorite one- you remember the old game Snake? The one you used to play in MS-DOS? I know you can find it other places, but it’s fun just to see it while checking your email and think, eh, hell, I’ve got 20 minutes to spare!

That’s all, folks.

Tech RoundUp: NewsGator, Gist, Jasmere

Long time no blog. Lotta work this past week, then went out to Denver to meet with the company I’ll be interning with this summer, NewsGator.

Which brings us to the trifecta of topics for today- 3x the fun in a post of one. Topics of the day: Work, Network, Shop. Or, more specifically, three awesome companies/apps/things.

  • NewsGator: I’m psyched to be working for these guys this summer. The company was great, everyone seemed cool, and the product/services are interesting. The work I’ll be doing should be fun and challenging, and my boss is really great (I get extra credit for saying that, right Walker?). Working in Denver will be a blast, and my in-laws place in Boulder (where I’ll be staying) is amazing. Looking like a great summer already. If you use the iPhone, download NewsGator’s “netnewswire” app (yes, it’s free!). If you’re looking for a good desktop RSS reader that can integrate with your Google reader and subscriptions, check out FeedDemon:

  • Gist: Enough about work. Walker showed me a program called Gist and it’s pretty cool. The premise is simple: Know More About Who You Know. The program pulls contacts from Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn- or even a list you create in Exel- and then builds a contact info database for you to use. Not only does it search the web for information on them (news stories, etc.), but also pulls feeds from social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). When you click on a contact’s name, you can see all public news, social media feeds, previous email correspondence, calendar appointments you have with them, etc. I’m still figuring out the setup, but I can already see how useful this could be. Due to the heavy amount of data it’s pulling, it can sometimes be a little slow-that’s my only complaint.
  • Jasmere: A friend put me in contact with a cool DC entrepreneur last week, just for a fun discussion. He’s created a website that uses economies of scale to help consumers purchase goods at a lower cost. They identify quality vendors that don’t have the budget to advertise, and negotiate a discount with those vendors. You go to their site, and see what that day’s offering is, and how long you have left to get in on the deal. Once you sign-up for the deal, your credit card is NOT charged yet, but you have committed to the purchase. Then, the more people that purchase, the lower the price goes! So if you sign up when the price is at $14, that’ s the most you would pay, but if 10 other people sign up and the price drops to $10, you pay $10, not $14. Very cool site, very cool guy with a lot of great experience.