The Servant Leader

One of the core tenants of any good Agile practice has to be the openness and transparency of the exercise. There’s little room for opacity in a well run Scrum – both within the development group as well as with the business team & users. One of the phrases that I both love & hate is the expression: Servant Leader.

I love the concept of the Servant Leader because it immediately conjures images of someone in an authority role serving those who he* is responsible for. It inverts the traditional image of “boss” and “worker.” Thanks to this inversion, you’ve effectively cleared the mental reasons for someone in a worker role to avoid sharing an idea, opinion, or concern. At the heart of Agile is the need for the leader to quickly understand the true facts of the situation, whether it’s an estimate that’s turning out wrong, a requirement that’s incomplete, or a technical hurdle that needs more hands. In a Servant role, it’s my responsibility to take care of the hassles, nonsenses, and nuisances. Cook the food, feed the troops, clear the table, and get ready for the next meal.

Thesaurus entries for the word: Servant… Not particularly uplifting…

I hate the concept of the Servant Leader because it’s not really authentic. Sure, I’m going to do whatever I can to make you happy – but if I’m not sold on the results there’s no real question of how these roles are going to change. You’re going to be responsible for the outcomes and I’m going to be responsible for figuring out if there’s any consequences. This notion of servitude and being subject to each other can compete with traditional structure and focus. The expression “servant” seems dated, and in our modern language might seem insensitive. I don’t have any first-hand experience with this (I’ve never had a coworker or colleague say that it’s offensive) – but if it were, I wouldn’t be surprised.  Continue reading The Servant Leader

Apple Watch: Sit, Stand, Do a Dance

I’ve had my Apple Watch for almost 6 months now. At first, I was reluctant to even consider one, because watches are round. Rectangular watches aren’t appealing to my eye. They still aren’t. Even as I’m writing this, glancing down at my wrist reveals this smooth-edged eyesore, and I cringe.

But – I’ve managed to overcome most of my style aversion thanks to the cleverness of the device itself.

There’s a litany of reviews for the Apple Watch – this isn’t one of them. What I find really intriguing about the device is the activity circles, which is what I want to speak to now. Namely, the “Time to Stand” circle, and the reminder that comes along with it.

For those who don’t have the device, the Apple Watch is designed to monitor your activity on a regular basis, and if you haven’t stood up for the last 50 minutes (from 9:00-9:50am, for instance), the watch will provide a little alert encouraging you to move around for a minute. When you do this, you fill in 1/12th of your “Stand” circle. Arguably, the easiest of the “circles” to fill, given that all you have to do is stand. This is all premised on the idea that sitting down is unhealthy in the long run. Seems legit.

What’s interesting to me about this, however, is the implication that this kind of thinking has on our lives moving past something as fundamental as standing up.

The first thing that I find interesting is that this is a baked-in application which is practically core to the Apple Watch. If you don’t care about the activity monitors, the case for acquiring one of these devices can’t be that large. This is a fitness device first-and-foremost as far as I can tell. But, as with many Apple devices, you don’t pay for a subscription to access this function. It’s included in the hardware, which is somewhat refreshing.

It’s an agent. It acts on your behalf to make you do something that you might otherwise not even know you weren’t doing. In this case: Standing up. I have absolutely no idea how much I’ve stood or sat in my lifetime, but I’m sure I should be more active than I’ve been in the past. The watch is now my standing agent, which is a role I didn’t even know I needed.

This line of thinking has now got me working on asking this question: What other agents should we be building? If an agent can help me live a healthier life by standing, doing some jogging, and encouraging me to hit calorie goals — where else can I be influenced by something working in my best interests?

I think there are huge swathes of opportunity and I think this premonition of the “bot” economy will start to tip into an “agency” economy. Already, robo-advisors are displacing small but meaningful chunks of the financial services sector. But I think finance is just one of the areas that will be transformed by this emerging capability. How about an amusement agent that figures out how to keep principals entertained while trying new things? How about this whole grocery-delivery thing coming full circle to a nutrition agent which identifies healthy food options and creates new recipes, orders take-out, suggests restaurants, and communicates with my exercise & activities agent? How about mental health agents who are able to connect you with friends in richer ways, including prompts to say hello, ways to meet new people, and checkpoints for all sorts of other indicators and outcomes?

The 3-circles on the Apple watch activities app could be a waning fad, or they could be a harbinger of a future where we’re all working to fill the circles and improve our lives in many ways. I’m optimistic to see where this all takes us.

~ As an aside – this is my first writing in a long time. I’m hoping to get back to it, so stay tuned for more. This was more of a “knock the cobwebs off and go for it” moment. Thanks for reading! ~ 

Dashter Source is now on Github

Quick note: The version I uploaded to github may not be the last version we published, but it’s probably close. I’ll see if I can find the final stable build.

Thinking back to late 2012 / early 2013, there was a lot going on. We had just moved out to Las Vegas that year, and an opportunity opened up at Las Vegas Sands that was taking my full attention. For some reason, the jump from ‘yes of course Dashter, the company is shut down’ to ‘oh, yeah, why don’t I share the source code’ seemed quite large.

Anyways, it really wasn’t – but for some reason I just neglected to ever sharing the product that we had built. There are a few hundred / couple thousand man-hours sunk into that code, but sadly (like much of the internet) there’s nothing much of value beyond a couple neat code-hooks any more.

The Twitter API change that took us down in 2012 was pretty much the final death-blow for Dashter. The code that I’ve uploaded will not function in virtually any respect; I think the license-key that we built talked back to Dashter.com – a site that none of us maintain anymore and has been taken offline. But if you bypassed that, and then tried to true-up the API calls, it might stagger back to life. I haven’t even looked at the Twitter dev docs in a couple years, so I couldn’t tell you which things are more likely to survive than others.

Go ahead and scope out the source code here:
https://github.com/heydavecole/Dashter

Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

I just recently finished reading Sexy Little Numbers by Dmitri Maex. It’s a very timely and interesting look at some of the data trends that anyone can and should be accessing using the customer data and insights they already have around them. What was striking to me was the presence of statistical modeling in the book – the opportunity to yield useful and actionable information in the presence of data-sets that you probably already have in front of you.

The opportunity to use data creatively to yield useful results was absolutely present during our development of Dashter. And its worth thinking about within your business as well… What data do you have – and how can you use it to your advantage?

Here’s a couple examples from within Dashter where we developed greater value by tapping the data that we were already pouring in to.

Trending in Friends

One of the first things that a Dashter user sees on their homepage is the Trending in Friends pane. Within there, we provide 18 “trends” that are collected from a gathering of ~200 tweets from your timeline. So what does it do? Well, basically, it just adds up all the hashtags found in those ~200 tweets, and then shows you the top 18, in rank order from most-used to least-used (of the top results).

Why is this useful? Well – when exploring Twitter, its often hard to get a grip on all the data swirling around you. But there are two assumptions that can be made: 1) You follow people who say things that interest you, and 2) Events of significance often peak within groups. By organizing hashtags among people you follow, it’s easy to develop a personalized trend graph that refreshes every 15 minutes or so. That means instead of having to pour through dozens or hundreds of tweets to see what’s happening – you can merely glance at an ordered list of top-hits.

Translating this to Your Business

You likely have an overwhelming amount of data pouring in on any given day. Continue reading Opportunities for Data Innovation are All Around Us

Of Walls and Gardens

20120909-111922.jpgI spent the last year building on the Twitter platform. Dashter was my vision to bring blogging and “tweeting” together – and the result is a fun blend between the two platforms. When our team got together, we had grand visions for what each platform could mean: We dreamt of a symbiotic platform experience that blended the depth of blogging with the expediency of tweeting. The data security and independence of self-owned self-hosted long-form content with the network effects of twenty-million twitter users.

We knew that the crux of our project was really rooted in the fact that we were dependent on Twitter to provide consistent API calls – and to keep the platform open and unrestricted.

So when I saw this tweet from Jeff, I knew what he was trying to bring to my attention:

The article Jeff shared (perhaps ironically, on Twitter) is not going to be the last we hear about the Twitter of the future. It tells the story of a Twitter developer who was subject to the demands of corporate clients who require understanding how apps are going to affect their bottom line – and who foot the bill for a project with the expectation that the work will live beyond tomorrow.

Continue reading Of Walls and Gardens

The New HeyDaveCole.com

This week I decided to give my site a makeover… My previous site had several very cool elements, but overall it wasn’t focused on what I wanted to focus on: providing you a clean & readable format for what’s on my mind. Too many sidebars, too much navigation, and not enough reading room.

Well, that’s all changed with this new theme. I’ve thought quite a bit about how I want readers to engage with me and my posts, and this is the outcome. I can also attest to several key influences during this re-design, including the super-barebones homepage of Jason Schuller, and the clean barebones WordPress framework Wordplate (which this site is built upon) by Nathan Staines. Continue reading The New HeyDaveCole.com

Social Media ROI with Custom Campaigns and Google Analytics

Social Media ROI (Return on Investment) is the elusive 3rd-rail of social networking. It’s elusive in the sense that there is no absolutely agreed-upon industry-wide calculation to use. It’s the 3rd rail because that’s where all the power is. Social media managers don’t want to be judged by a set of metrics that might not reflect the true “value” of the social media channel(s). Social media brand managers are focused on building communities and building attention rather than focused on delivering to the bottom line.

Unfortunately, this leaves many executives with an uneasy feeling that all this tweeting, “liking”, and pinning is just an act of futility without anchoring anything to a real bottom line.

It’s clear that there is and ROI in there somewhere – but how can it be measured?

Building a Set of Success Metrics

I’ve chatted with many customers & friends (often from the SMMOC crowd) about the SMROI issue, and the first thing that becomes obvious is that for some reason basic marketing practices get tossed out the window. I don’t know why it is – but SM is merely an extension of the existing branding / PR / Sales / Advertising / Promotion channels that have existed in all businesses.

Advertising using Google Adwords is perhaps the antithesis of Social. Social is about building relationships, attending to customers on a one-on-one level, and fostering a sense of community within the social-sphere. Adwords is the opposite. It’s about reaching a customer at the crux of their decision-making process: At the point they’re searching. The website is responsible for the rest.

So, the challenge becomes building a set of metrics (quantifiable) that operate within a personalized space (qualifiable responses). Continue reading Social Media ROI with Custom Campaigns and Google Analytics

The ALPAC Sales Methodology

I want to share a quick bit about a sales process / methodology that I’ve found to be invaluable – and I’ve had to train people dozens of times. It is a helpful framework for both sales and marketing professionals because it covers the life-cycle of customer on-boarding. In simplest terms, the process is this: ALPAC. Audience, Lead, Prospect, Account, Customer.

Here are the sales & marketing stages, broken down with greater detail.

Audience

This is fundamentally a Marketing stage. Audience comprises everyone who isn’t yet in your sales funnel. The Audience can really be broken up in to 2 groups: Audience we want to reach, and Audience we don’t care about reaching. Audience converts to the next stage by progressing those people through the AIDA marketing process: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. I’m going to write more in the near future about the importance (and measurability!) of AIDA in social media campaigns, but for now just suffice to say that the general population needs to become aware of your product / service / business, become interested, gain desire, and finally, take action. Depending on the nature of your product, that action is typically self-designation as a person who wants more information – and turns themselves in to a lead. Continue reading The ALPAC Sales Methodology

Social Mindshare

As a general rule of thumb, you should be building your brand around a single word or extremely short phrase to create mindshare in your audience. This isn’t a slogan. Slogans might be part of it. But the simple fact of the matter is that your audience is being bombarded on a daily basis by hundreds – if not thousands – of brand and marketing messages. Capturing and solidifying a single word or phrase is crucial. Nike has spent decades building itself in to synonymous with “sports.” Alternatively (and perhaps this is just my own personal connection – and that’s part of the beauty of it), when I think of Adidas – the first thing that comes to mind is “Soccer”. In another direction, the Underarmor brand to me represents “Football clothes”. All of these companies are direct competitors in many fronts – but within my mind – this is the mindshare that they’ve eached achieved.

The same thing is true amongst car brands. I’m an Audi driver, so in my mind they captured “Sport Luxury” in my mind. BMW I’m sure would be ticked off because that’s a mindshare that they’ve gone after. But the beauty of branding and mindshare is that it happens in the mind of the recipient, not the sender.

What do you think of when I describe the comparison between iPhone, Android, Nokia, and RIM? iPhone might spark “Innovator and Easy”, Android might spark “Open Cool”, Nokia might spark “Cheap phones” and RIM might spark “Relic” (sorry RIM). Those are my perceptions. That’s the mindshare that those brands occupy in my mind today. It can change; but often not by anything the company itself does. It has a great deal more to do with the reputation, conversation, media & interpersonal connections, etc. For instance, I know far more people with iPhones – so my conversations with other people tend to focus on topics like “Check out these cool apps I have” or “I love it how easy it is to…” Whereas my friends with Blackberries languish with phones that appear to be unable to do much of anything contemporary and they complain that they wish they could change their phones (but their company is stuck on the platform). Continue reading Social Mindshare

The Shifting Social Landscape

Building a digital “home” in the social landscape is much like building a physical home – on quicksand. If you don’t believe me – let’s look at some of the trends that have happened over the summer…

Facebook’s IPO Woes

Let’s face it – Facebook insiders played the market like a well-tuned guitar. All the insiders got in on the action pre-IPO, and the retail investors were buying their exits during the IPO (and as insider shares become “unlocked” like Peter Thiel’s). But more concerning is the underlying challenge to value a social media company.

Remember – and this is important – in the social media space, the “users” are not the “customers“. Continue reading The Shifting Social Landscape