Mind Mapping during Virtual Brainstorms

November 9, 2008

The ThinkBalm Innovation Community is doing incredible work advancing the use of the immersive internet.  As a member, I’ve thus far participated in three sessions of the virtual brainstorming series.  We utilize a 3D mindmapping tool I developed, a 3D instant polling tool, voice & text chat during the events.  After the last event, I successfully exported the 3D map of our discussion into a text outline and imported that outline into a MindMeister map…here’s the result.

how_can_i_get_newbie_professionals_started_with_second_life_1


Why I Use Twitter

September 21, 2008
Who I Follow

Who I Follow

Like any cool web tool, Twitter can be a great help or an equally great waste of time.  It all depends on how you use it…and why.  At my most recent conference, Twitter was the hot topic among paraticipants.  I ended up explaining to multiple individuals why I use Twitter and how it has impacted my personal & professional life.

Question:

Why do I use Twitter?

Quick Answer:

First, because I see very beneficial business results.  Second, because it’s fun.

Detailed Answer:

1.  It augments my listening ability

By following those clients that use Twitter, I easily stay updated on their professional projects and personal lives.

By carefully following the right experts, I’m daily learning of new products & new techniques that will help me provide better solutions to my clients.

We have recently acquired technology that will soon be deployed for us to use in better serving our clients.  I currently have a RSSed twitter search on the technology fed to my Google Reader.  To put it simply, anytime anyone on Twitter mentions this technology (using it, installing it, troubles with it, successful applications of it), that twitter message is automatically sent to my Google Reader.  I can then read what others are saying about the technology.  This also allows me to identify potential user experts to contact in the future.

Speaking of RSSed Twitter searches, I also have them established for my clients divisions and keywords relating to their core business.  This really helps me know who is talking about our clients and what they are saying.

2.  It enhances my relationships with clients

Knowing a little personal information about clients, and vice versa, somehow seems to “humanize” us humans.  It makes us more approachable and more comfortable with one another.  It begins to establish in some small way a level of trust.  A paraphrase of a statement made by one of my clients, “Sure, it’s not mission critial for me to know that you frequently like to make your own sushi on Sundays, but it helps me to feel more comfortable with you.”  And likewise, me knowing that the client hopes their 8-year-old never grows out of their McDonald’s phase won’t solve the challenges presented by budget reductions, but it does help to foster the kind of safe environment needed to discuss and solve those difficult challenges.

3.  It’s an easy way to share knowledge

It’s extremely easy to share links to sites, videos, articles, blogs, you name it via Twitter.  I’ve used it to direct clients to information I’ve discovered pertinent to an ongoing project or effort.

4.  It increases serendipity

Often I find incredibly useful information, resources, and contacts via Twitter by chance.  For example, one of my clients follows numerous PR professionals in the OKC area.  I decided to follow a few to see what they had to say.  A few weeks later, a different client needed a panelist on short notice that knew the ins and outs of corporate volunteering programs.  Surprising enough I remembered that one of those PR professionals I followed (Sam Sims) had both a head and a heart for volunteering.  Problem solved, panelist secured…thanks Twitter (and Sam).

5.  It helps to promote my work

I like to Tweet when I complete work or start work on a major component of a client project.  It’s not only a simple way to keep client’s updated, it’s also a good way to promote the type of services you are capable of providing.  Of course, on sensitive projects the Tweets are kept generic enough to maintain confidential information (or not Tweeted at all).

For personal promotion, I send out a Tweet every time I post a new blog entry (like I just did for this one).  My page viewership typically jumps above 200% the day I Tweet.


Tools of the Trade: Google Apps as a Production Planner (part 1)

August 30, 2008

The Background

I produce a monthly satellite broadcast show for one of my clients focused on informing, developing, and motivating their statewide employees (see some production shots at my flickr site). The final showreel is assembled from segments and stand-up shoots developed by multiple producers. We end up interviewing roughly 10 different employees, highlighting multiple divisions & programs, and visiting roughly 6 different locations during the month’s production. Naturally, sharing information quickly, timely, and effectively is key to keeping everyone (Client, Production Crew, & myself) on schedule, on budget, and focused on producing a cohesive and high-quality end product.

The Story

My first step to improve coordination of the production for the client was to develop a Google Apps site. I learned a few tricks from my own personal projects on how to setup wikis, schedules, simple databases, and published documents using Google Apps, so I was eager to apply the knowledge.  We needed one central location to store and display all information relating to each month’s production. It also needed to be easily accessed and updated by all involved with the production. So, I began development.

I started by brainstorming a running list of features that I knew from experience the site could provide and that were relevant to the production needs.

  • Multiple Calendars with customized viewing and updating features
  • Centralized communications platform allowing message posts, comments, idea log, and concern record.
  • Online location for documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF)
  • Ability to web publish and update simple spreadsheet databases

Of course, the site will not meet all needs and will never replace traditional communication tools, but it addresses some of the key challenges of coordination and rapid information sharing.

The Status

Thus far, I have deployed about 25% of the planned solution.  We are currently using a published spreadsheet to summarize each month’s production plan.  The client, producers, and crew can view the month’s plan from any browser.  Key production personnel can update the plan via a web form or a form embedded in an email.  The summary sheet automatically updates with the most current information.  This may not seem like much, but read below if you want to learn some of the challenges developing this deceptively simple spreadsheet solution.

Developing the Monthly Production Summary Sheet in Google Spreadsheets

Form used by clients to update production plan

Form used by clients to update production plan

In a nutshell, it was difficult.  I knew I wanted a summary sheet on the web that did not require my constant maintenance and updates.  I also wanted a solution that only a few key people could update, but viewable by many.  Here are some lessons I learned:

1.  Google spreadsheets allow only one form per file.

My initial plan was to use one file with sheets for each month and one master sheet showing a summary of the entire year.  Neat, clean, and simple.  Well…since only one form was allowed per file, the necessary update form would have been huge, thus I had to split it up.   Each month needed its own spreadsheet file saved in Google Docs.

2.  Google Forms are thus far not customizable

They are functional, but they do not look pretty, and currently you cannot customize the look or layout.

3.  Forms for updating and adding information to Google spreadsheets require their own sheet within the file.

Data inserted into sheets via a form require a horizontal orientation and are quite ugly.  I wanted my summary sheets in a more condensed readable format (vertically alligned).  So, I gave the form its own sheet.  When information is submitted via the form, it is added to the sheet in the lowest empty row.  The summary sheet displays only the most updated production information in the form sheet.

Production updates submitted via a forms into this sheet

Production updates submitted via a forms into this sheet

4.  The spreadsheet formula to display the last entry in a column should have been easier to develop (I blame both MS & Google)

So, in order for the Summary Sheet to display only the most recently updated information, I needed it to pull values from one row in the Form Sheet.  The cells in that one row needed to display only the most recently updated information in each column.  After a few hours of research & experimentation, here is the formula I developed:

=ARRAYFORMULA(OFFSET(A1,INT(MAX(NOT(ISBLANK(C3:C200))*(COLUMNS($B1:$IW1)*ROW(C3:C200)+COLUMN(C3:C200)))/COLUMNS($B1:$IW1))-1.0,MOD(MAX(NOT(ISBLANK(C3:C200))*(COLUMNS($B1:$IW1)*ROW(C3:C200)+COLUMN(C3:C200)))/COLUMNS($B1:$IW1),1.0)*COLUMNS($B1:$IW1)-1.0))

This formula is placed in each cell in the 2nd row of the Form Sheet (with some adjustments to each formula based on location).  It returns the last non-blank value in the column.

To Be Continued…

I will update you occasionally as I make more progress on this project.


Tools of the Trade: Spigit’s innovation management applications

July 12, 2008

Most organizations are incredibly inefficient at utilizing the collective creativity and knowledge of their employees and customers.

Juxtapose the dynamics of organizational relationships with social relationships outside the workforce. Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Second Life or any number of socially enabling technologies help us not only stay connected, but enhance our ability to share experience and thought.

Spigit applys these social concepts to the workforce. Their enterprise software IdeaSpigit & InnovationSpigit allow workers and customers to not only easily share ideas & concepts, but to also evaluate, contribute, and rank the contributions collaboratively. Those that make positive contributions gain in reputation, effectively increasing their workplace social capital. Effectively deployed, I can see how this would move brainstorming and innovative thinking away from meeting-centered to a daily routine (and who wouldn’t want a workforce that constantly thinks innovatively).

Props to Erica Driver of ThinkBalm for pointing me towards this fascinating suite of applications.


Tools of the Trade: Jott.com

June 27, 2008


“Who would you like to jott?”

Jott.com is a thus far free service that converts your short phone messages into text, then sends that text to any of your pre-established contacts. I primarily use it to take quick notes or set reminders for myself while I’m on the go. I also have a setting to automatically post messages onto this blog and a setting to text my wife. There are a multitude of applications…imagination is your limit.

Most recently, I’ve set up a system that will allow me to easily track my mileage for work. When I get to the location, I simply look at the odometer, and state the mileage in a jott message to myself. When my outlook receives the jott message about mileage, it auto transfers it to the mileage folder. Then, at the end of the month I can easily process all the mileage claims.

I’ve been impressed with the accuracy of the voice-to-text conversions, although I do keep the messages brief and simple. It sometimes converts “too” as “2″ and vice versa. On difficult words, it allows you to say the word, then spell it out (eg “watt… However, the converted text in such an instance only displays the word, “watt.”

Happy Jottin!


Today on Tomorrow: Orchestrating Information in 3D

March 1, 2008


We are stuck in the past, in an antiquated paradigm. We are sipping through a tiny coffee stirring straw while we remain parched. We require a new information processing model for individuals, one with the ability to match the ever increasing levels of available information produced by our world.

We google search, read feeds, watch TV News, browse websites, read and write blogs, store bookmarks to sites, scratch notes onto paper, daydream while commuting, read/write/reply/forward emails, stuff thumbdrives, get managed by planners, cram papers into binders, interact over the phone, IM statements, attend meetings, record meetings, set more meetings, (did I mention meetings?), read & write books, have truly brilliant ponderings that evaporate in an instant before recording, wandering wikis, absorb excel spreadsheets, record/revise/file way word documents, solidify filing cabinets, hear podcasts, watch vodcasts, and so on. And while we do, all too often brilliant innovations vanish before birth due to the lack of the individual’s ability to weave the disparate multi-disciplinary bits of information into a cohesive meaningful construct of knowledge. And not only that, even if and when we do achieve some semblance of a construct of understanding, new information always arrives to erode or eradicate the order.

Information orchestration models and tools of the future will empower individuals to navigate the oceans of information, assimilate useful streams of information, organize these streams into rapidly understood and useful forms, process these forms into useful and timely knowledge. Whatever these models will be, they will undoubtedly utilize more of our bodily senses in an effort to optimize the transaction (improve efficiency of throughput) between the human individual and the tool.

Imagine in the future immersing yourself into your Personal Knowledge Garden, a virtual 3D space containing spacially arranged plants. These plants are repositories of compiled and purposfully sorted information, varying in topic with each different species. Each plant in your garden is of different sizes, shapes, colors, feels, and smells. These differences are not merely cosmetic…the differences represent changes in a certain topic of interest. Grasping one flower, you are instantly exposed to a graphical summary of not the contents, but the changes, the growth of emphasis on one aspect of the topic (i.e. a flurry of information in the world relating to this topic). Further examination of the grown flower petal allows you to see the source information contributions to the plant. A graphical immersive representation of massive amounts of information like this garden would allow humans to utilize their full senses to more efficiently translate massive information into useable knowledge.


The Virtual Thunder Dome

February 26, 2008

Imagine a virtual environment that you could actually physically move around in. Your body, while moving in the real world, guides the path of your virtual avatar. Imagine an environment similar to a Star Trek holodeck, where you could explore unconfined to physical space restrictions.

Seem to good to be true?

Well, it is. But this product is going to try anyway. For some reason, I just don’t see this sphere thing catching on.


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