Category Archives: innovation

12 Best (FREE!) Techno Tools to Kickstart the NewYear

The following tips are compiled from a colleague, Ken MacLeod of  TheMacGroup:
  1. is a great new website for managing your TOP 5 priorities, and those of your team as well.  It sends you great reminders & forces the habit of setting TOP 5 goals daily.
  2. Outsourcing Things Done This company hires and manages executive assistants based in Manila for people like me.  My assistant Melanel is based in Manila and managed by people I’ve never met.  In fact, they interviewed and trained her for me.  I assign tasks to her weekly, and she cranks through them like a normal assistant would.  We communicate via their company Wiki & Task software as well as Skype Video & email.  Sure beats paying someone $40,000 a year who lives in North America when I can get the same work done for $1,200 a month by her.  She’s got her business degree from one of the top schools over there too.
  3. Time Scroller – great free App for iPhone & Widget for MACs that allows you to see multiple cities time zones at the same time.  You just scroll over with the mouse and it shows you when meetings can be set up at times that make sense for people in different time zones, countries etc.  I find this super helpful when setting up conference calls with CEOs that I mentor in Europe, Asia & Australia.
  4.  Free online application that seamlessly uploads your calendars.  Others wanting to book time for meetings or calls with you simply look at your Free/Busy slots.  All they can see is if you are free, they can’t see any details of the busy appointments at all.
  5. Dragon Dictation – allows you to leave a voice message which comes back to you transcribed for you to tweet, send as an email, copy & paste etc.  Works awesome.  It’s free.  And works great in noisy environments too.
  6. eLanceGuruMechanical Turk – All three are great services for getting miscellaneous admin and technical tasks done by remote casual workers around the world.  If eBay is a place where you sell stuff and people bid on what they pay to purchase your stuff, these services work the same way.  You simply post your project that you need done, when you need it done, and people bid on what they are willing to do the work for.  You’ll get references & samples of prior work and you can often get work done for 1/10th of what you’d pay a full time employee to do it in America.
  7. Google Docs  – There is no need to keep purchasing software applications like Word & Excel for your employees.  Google Docs gives you these applications for free and IF you need to have something specific you can have one version of the real thing running on a shared computer in the lunchroom.  Why pay for software licences year-after-year when you can get the same tools for free in the cloud.
  8. Basecamp – Fantastic project management software.  Simple to use.  Easy to access.  And way less cumbersome than any of the big project management tools companies waste time using.
  9. Crowdspring & 99 Designs – These are both great services that many companies could utilize when getting random things designed..  You post your project up and what you’re willing to pay and people from around the world submit designs to you hoping to be chosen.  If you chose them, they get paid.  It’s a great way to use Crowdsourcing to get marketing work done cheaply and quickly.  It’s often as good as anything a normal designer would do for you.
  10. HARO – This free service which is called Help A Reporter Out sends you emails daily with writers around North America who are looking for experts to include in stories they are writing.  Its an easy way to grow your brand.
  11. RSS Readers – Don’t waste time going to each individual persons blog that you read.  Set up an RSS Feeder that downloads all the blog posts for you to one place – and has them synchronized both on your laptop & iPhone..  That way you can read them when you have spare time to kill versus reading them while you’re at your desk and could be focusing on project work.
  12. Ambiance – Simple App for your desktop or iPhone which plays background sounds at night when you’re on the road, trying to fall asleep in a strange hotel room.  I used it recently while staying at The Driskill Hotel in Austin which is supposedly haunted.  Falling asleep while listening to waves rolling up on shore made sleep easier than worrying about ghosts, or listening to traffic 10 streets below

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Attention to Detail: 4 Tips to increase your Income

Details are the finishing touch that bring back your customers for future business.  A colleague of mine manages nearly forty commission sales people.  The “best of the best” make huge income and are revered in the top 100 of a large, multinational company. What is their secret?

Make the customer feel special – like they are the absolute best client of all

1) Remember details about the customer’s personal and business situation

– How is your husband John doing these days?   I noticed his company had a new product out last week, and I bought some to try it out.

– Would your kids enjoy this online link to a contest we are promoting at our company?  I remember that they love skateboarding, and this link might interest them!

– How did the soccer finals go last weekend?  Is your son’s team in the playoffs?

– Send a condolence card if a customer’s relative is ill or passes away

2) Send small thank you’s after closing a deal, or to update the customer during the deal

– Mail a thank you card, with a personal note and small gift enclosed (eg $10 Starbucks card)

– Send flowers to host(ess) of events or when customer’s business reaches a milestone

– Email your customer with an update (and possibly an invitation for coffee) if the sales / close process is dragging on for reasons beyond your control

3) Appreciate your customer’s business by inviting them to events (business or promotional)

– Create annual or semi-annual appreciation events that combine learning and socializing for your customers

– For top customers, invite them to join you personally at events in their area of interest (sports, arts, community)

4) Make introductions – pass on your own valuable contacts to a customer if there is a win/win proposition

  • Ask your customer if they would appreciate introductions to your contacts
  • Ask your personal contact if they would appreciate introductions to your customers
  • Where contacts and customers would both benefit from shared communication, make an email or personal coffee/lunch introduction

These tips provide strategies to always think “customer first”.

Live and breathe a mindset of “How can I continually make my relationship with my customer stronger?”   This will grow your network of contacts and ultimately create long term business income, even in downturns.

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Intriguing research: how employees solve problems faster

The following is a guest post from Daniel H Pink.

Daniel H Pink: employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems

Recent research reveals that people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves. This has far-reaching practical implications at every level of business.

Recent research reveals that people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves. This has far-reaching practical implications at every level of business.

How we approach problems, and how quickly we fashion a solution, yields some surprising lessons about innovation and creativity in business.
Daniel H. Pink


8:15AM BST 22 May 2011

Try to solve the following puzzle:

In a tower is a prisoner who desperately wants to escape. One day he discovers a rope in his cell. Trouble is, the rope is only half the length necessary to allow him to reach the ground safely. Yet he divides the rope in half, ties the two parts together, and escapes to his freedom.

How did the prisoner accomplish this feat?

This isn’t the sort of problem most of us face in our daily professional lives (IMF chiefs and insider traders notwithstanding.) But how we approach it, and how quickly we fashion a solution, yields some surprising lessons about innovation and creativity in business.

In a recent experiment, Evan Polman of New York University and Kyle Emich of Cornell University posed this problem to 137 undergraduate research subjects. They asked half the participants to imagine themselves as the prisoner. They asked the other half to imagine someone else as the prisoner.

This was no isolated result. Polman and Emich found the same phenomenon in two other experiments. In one, they asked participants to draw a picture of an alien that could be the basis of a science fiction story. Half were told they would later write the story themselves; half were told that someone else would write the story. The aliens that people in the second group drew for others turned out to be more creative than those the first group drew for themselves.

Likewise, in a third experiment, the researchers asked participants to come up with three gift ideas – for themselves, for someone close to them, or for someone they scarcely knew. Once again, the more remote the recipient, the more innovative the gift. (Which might explain why many of use are useless in choosing gifts for our spouses and partners.)

Polman and Emich build upon existing psychological research showing that when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely.

Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.

That’s a mistake, Polman and Emich suggest. “That decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self… should prove of considerable interest to negotiators, managers, product designers, marketers and advertisers, among many others,” they write.

Indeed, their findings have practical implications at every level of business. Let me offer five suggestions to stir your thinking:

• Recruit more independent directors.

Begin with corporate governance.
If recent scandals and ethical breaches weren’t sufficient evidence, this body of research underscores the importance of having independent directors on the boards of public companies. Beyond providing watchful eyes on auditing and compensation committees, their
very distance from the quotidian concerns of incumbent managers might make them valuable sparks to corporate creativity.

• Rethink the structure of your firm.

Perhaps loose alliances of distantly connected people – think Wikipedia or a Hollywood film – can produce more creative products and services than fixed rosters of employees in traditional arrangements. And maybe those consultancies, which all of us love to malign, are offering a valuable service after all by providing distance for hire.

• Harness the power of peers.

The day-to-day crush of obligations often lures leaders closer to their challenges rather than giving them the distance that social scientists say can be more valuable. One counterweight is to assemble a small group of peers – all from different industries – and gather periodically to exchange ideas and offer solutions from new perspectives. Many such peer advisory groups in America – among them Inner Circle, CEO Clubs, and the Women Presidents Organisation – already exist and are growing in popularity.

• Find a problem-swapping partner.

If regular meetings aren’t your thing, try finding a friend or colleague with whom you can occasionally swap problems. When you’re stymied, give your problem to him or her. In exchange, when he or she is stuck, they can toss their dilemma to you.

• Disasssociate yourself.

When partners aren’t an option, establish distance yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament.

Of course, there are plenty of times when getting the job done calls for concrete thinking and a close focus. But those hammers shouldn’t be the only tools in our toolbox.

And while much of our business world is ill-configured to benefit from Polman and Emich’s insights, the rise of crowd sourcing and ventures such as Innocentive (which allows companies to post problems on a web site for people around the world to solve) suggests that the moment may be right for reconfiguring the broader architecture of problem-solving.

Which leads to one final question: how exactly did the prisoner with the insufficiently long rope manage to escape? The answer: he split the rope lengthwise, tied the two halves together and shimmied to freedom.

Think about that next time you’re imprisoned in a tower. Actually, don’t. Instead, have someone else think about it for you.

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How old are your stories? Revitalize your relationships!

How would your customers and suppliers describe your conversations — and your business relationship?


Barely tolerable?


Ho Hum?

Is your business relationship tired and nondescript, with “duty meetings” as the norm?  Are your business contacts so bored with the same routine discussion that they can hardly wait to finish and escape the meeting?

In your personal life, are your friends and family seemingly distant and  showing little interest in conversations with you?

One of the best techniques to trigger new meaning and engagement in your life is to ask yourself the question,

“How old are my stories?”  

Think about your answer, and consider the improvements you could make in your business and personal life with new stories:

a) Grab your audience’s attention

Compare your last conversation with good old granny, who repeats the same stories over and over each time you see her (yawning already, right?), to conversation with a friend who travels to new international vacation places each year and adds at least one hobby or personal activity annually to their routine.  Which is more engaging and enjoyable?

Think back to a great speaking event you attended.  What were the elements that the speaker used to grab your attention?  I’ll bet good stories and examples was a key part of the presentation.

Now consider your own recent conversations.  Did you really get folks’ attention and stimulate their thinking?

b) Gain credibility with fresh information, data, impressions

Some of the best business functions I have attended included updates on fascinating trends in my industry or my profession.  When someone presents a topic of interest in a new way or from a unique viewpoint, they add value to my own thinking and gain credibility for adding that new viewpoint.

How can you refresh your data, information and approach to business topics in your own personal conversations?Is there an opportunity to catch the eye of a new customer and increase your own credibility by contributing innovative stories or trends in a conversation?

c) Refocus and revitalize your personal goals

How to break out of the boring stale old patterns?  Make a bucket list that will guarantee you bring some new ideas and stories to the table at your next meeting or event.  You can actually make TWO bucket lists:

 – one for personal objectives (to help revitalize your thinking and your personal life)

 – one for business objectives (to create a new focus on more innovative business goals)

Think outside the normal routine, and search for ways to build new stories – it will surely revitalize your personal and business life!