Friday, October 24, 2014

You are not Steve Jobs

I found this article at Help Scout and found it interesting. I was going to use it on my research blog, Open Source Software & Usability, but decided it was a better fit here at Coaching Buttons. We are now starting another input cycle to listen to our campus constituents, to learn what new tools will best support the teaching and learning mission.

While campuses want to be engaged and part of the decision-making process, Apple and Steve Jobs viewed the landscape differently. Rather than consult with customers, Apple pioneered new opportunities, exploring innovative new product ideas. Granted, this was not always successful; one only needs to look at the Apple Lisa and the Newton for examples. But on balance, Apple has found success.

At Help Scout, Gregory Ciotti writes about Why Steve Jobs Didn't Listen to His Customers. The article begins with this memorable Jobs quote: “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

The article is filled with examples and quotes and scenarios typical of Apple's attitude to new product innovation:
The Benefits of Sheltered Innovation

How can people tell you what they want if they haven’t seen it before? If we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every year! –Cirque du Soleil

Any innovative company struggles with how much to listen to customers. Most realize that you cannot trust them to tell you what your next new product will be.

How can you get ahead of the curve if your customer feedback mostly consists of today’s popular ideas?

Do Customers Really Know What They Want?

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” –Henry Ford
The article concludes with the reminder "You Are Not Steve Jobs." As much as some of us like to think otherwise, not everyone is the next Steve Jobs. Often, customers won't reward you for failing to consult with them. From the article:
If customers were asked to improve the music listening experience back in a day where CD players ruled, they likely couldn’t have envisioned the iPod. But then again, you probably aren’t producing the next iPod.

But the Jobs method cannot apply across the board to all companies, which becomes pretty apparent when analyzing the results of Apple practices being employed at less similar companies.
So how can you gather input from your customers? Find out what customers want without directly asking them. Ask lateral questions that target how people use tools, how they teach classes (faculty) or how they learn best (students). What sort of things grab their attention? Where have they had trouble understanding, and what elements had the strongest lasting impact? By asking questions in this way, you may gain valuable insight to how technology can serve your campus.
photo: Wikipedia. Original uploaded by Matt Yohe (CC BY-SA)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The U of M and Unizin

I wanted to share this update from the Office of Information Technology, about Unizin.
By now you’ve probably seen the Provost’s message regarding the University of Minnesota joining Unizin. Over the next one to three years, we’ll determine if Unizin membership is a good fit for the University of Minnesota.

Unizin benefits Higher Ed by collectively owning (buying, developing, and connecting) academic technology solutions. As members of Unizen, we can choose whether or not to leverage their solutions.

The primary motivation for the University joining Unizin is our great interest in preserving faculty ownership of course content, and to ensure access to learning analytics remain under the control of faculty and our institution.

The first of many solutions Unizen will offer is the "Canvas" Learning Management System (LMS). While Canvas is of limited interest to us, the opportunity to test the system is likely something we will pursue later this year as part of our ongoing exploration of many new tools. While most tools we look into will not become offerings, investigating new solutions is key to our process of HypeCycle management.

To be clear: our commitment to Unizin does not mean we are moving away from Moodle to Canvas. We remain committed to Moodle and to its evolution for the foreseeable future. Any change in this position will come only after substantial consultation and engagement of the University community.

For more about Unizin, check out their FAQ page.
image: Unizin

Monday, October 20, 2014

Work better by taking breaks

Writing for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson describes A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17. Perhaps you find yourself getting distracted while writing a document, or responding to email. These tasks often require us to think, to exercise decision-making. And doing so can be hard work.

Thompson writes, "Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office early, leave late, and never seem to stop working. But the truth about productivity for the rest of us is that more hours doesn't mean better work. Rather, like a runner starting to flag after a few miles, our ability to perform tasks has diminishing returns over time. We need breaks strategically served between our work sessions."

Some of you may recognize this as a variation on the Pomodoro technique, which I first heard about in a software development context. Pomodoro requires breaking a task into manageable "chunks." Set a kitchen timer, typically for 25 minutes, and use that dedicated time to work on the next chunk.

The formula referred to in Thompson's article says "the highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Those 17 minutes were often spent away from the computer."

Just as occasional vacations are necessary to renew our energy, to bring new focus and fresh perspectives, you also need to take regular breaks throughout the day. Take a walk, or look out your window. Do something that isn't in front of a computer. Use this moment as an opportunity for play, to distract yourself from the immediacy of what's in front of you. When you return to your desk, you will be better prepared.
photo: David Svensson

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Millennial culture

An interesting article on Elite Daily discusses how Millennial culture differs from those before it, and how that will change the way we work with others. Written by Lauren Martin, a self-described Millennial or "Gen-Y," the article includes 50 things about Millennials that shed light in managing the new generation. But 50 things is a long list to quote, so I have grouped them into themes here, with a few samples from the original article:

Millennials prefer to do it their own way.
"We play by our own rules. We don’t take the first answer given to us. We don’t care about getting into trouble. We hate that “old boys club” sh•t."
Millennials are motivated by passion, not the job or the paycheck.
"We’re willing to work for nothing if it means being happy… Despite being in debt. We refuse to hate what we do. We know there’s always a better way. We want careers, not jobs."
Millennials know what they want, and will ask for it.
"We have social media on our side. We have less to lose and everything to gain. We have that “f•ck you” attitude. We are trying to beat the system, not just work with it."
Millennials grew up with technology and learning on their own.
"We know technology a hell of a lot better. We’re more educated, by the book and the street. We don’t have to go to college to get ahead."
Millennials bring a modern outlook.
"We’re getting married later and working younger. We’re listening to our women. We want freedom more than anything else. We know they need us more than we need them."
Millennials seek satisfaction in life.
"We know what makes us happy. We know what doesn’t make us happy. We learned from our parents mistakes. We have each other."
photo: Steve Wilson

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are you a bad boss?

It took me until my second job before I experienced a bad boss, which makes me luckier than most. But I decided to learn from the interaction, and dedicated myself to avoiding the mistakes I found prevalent in his behavior. I feel that has made me a better supervisor, a better manager, a better director.

The ability to learn from others' mistakes is an important life skill. We don't have time to make all the mistakes ourselves; sometimes, you need to learn from what others are doing, even it's to not do what they are doing.

Lisa Quast wrote in Forbes about How To Spot A Bad Boss Before You Accept The Job Offer. It's an article written for those about to enter the job market, to help you identify the bad behaviors in your interviewers, how to recognize the bad bosses before you take the job:

  1. They’re late for the job interview.
  2. Their office is unusually disorganized.
  3. They ask illegal questions during your interview.
  4. Other employees avoid the hiring manager.
  5. They don’t focus on the job interview.
  6. They don’t ask difficult questions.
  7. They keep changing the topic of conversation to talk about themselves.
  8. They display anger management issues.
  9. They can’t clearly communicate what it will take for you to be successful in the position.
  10. They don’t have a clear vision with goals and objectives for their department.

But I would like to turn this around, to convert these "bad boss" qualities into "leaderful lessons." Distilled from Quasts's list, here are my themes to be a better supervisor:

Be respectful of others.
How you interact with those around you is a direct reflection of your leadership style.
Engage with those around you.
It's all about relationships, and relationships are currency. Don't remain distant; talk with people, get to know what's going on.
Maintain focus.
There is an appropriate time to check email or update your Facebook status, and that time is not when you are in a meeting or talking to someone. Stay in the moment, and give all of your attention to the discussion.
image: mine ("My leadership journey")

Friday, October 10, 2014

Update: U of M is retiring UThink Blogs in June

I wanted to share this update about the UThink blog service, from the Office of Information Technology and U of M Libraries. I shared similar updates in July and March. Note that the date has changed: The University had planned to retire the UThink system at the end of this year, in December 2014. Now, the date is moved back to June 2015.
This is a reminder that the UThink blog system at is in the process of being retired. Due to feedback received from various stakeholders, we have extended the date of retirement to the end of June 2015.  Hopefully this will give everyone still on the system the time they need to find alternative platforms.

Other key dates in the decommission process:
  • The ability to create new blogs or sites on the system was removed on July 3, 2014.
  • Existing blogs will be accessible, including editing capabilities, throughout the 2014 fall semester and the 2015 spring semester.
  • Full system decommission June 30, 2015.
You are encouraged to consider alternatives to UThink now. Please see UThink Migration Strategies for more information on possible platforms and migration assistance.

Please refer to the original announcement for additional details about the retirement of UThink.

Questions and comments should be directed to Technology Help at (612) 301-4357 (Twin Cities 1-HELP),, or
image: UThink

Engage your audience

George Bradt at Forbes writes with this advice for those about to give a presentation: Big Presentation? Don't Do It—Have A Conversation Instead. We should all be familiar with the phrase "Death by Powerpoint." It's when you are bored to tears by a presenter droning on, aided by an endless supply of Powerpoint slides.

I rarely find Powerpoint slides to be engaging. I prefer to use a bare minimum of slides. What slides I include tend to be visual aids: a photograph or chart, with very little text. Presentations should avoid distractions.

The first rule of using Powerpoint is: Don't use Powerpoint. To that end, Bradt recommends an engaging conversation with the audience. This makes the audience think, makes the audience part of the experience, and leaves the audience feeling differently. Citing Mike Broderick at Turning Technologies, Bradt shares these tips:

Think about the questions you can ask your audience to help them get down the road. What questions will engage your audience, to start them thinking more deeply about the topic? What will "hook" them?

Leverage polling or some other technique to disarm the audience. In my meetings, I have used affinity exercises and "dot" voting to great effect. Anonymous polling allows the group to quickly reach a consensus, and they are more likely to ask follow up questions.

React to surprising answers. Take responses seriously, and adjust the conversation to take new ideas into account.
photo: mine ("How not to use Powerpoint")