Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Dip

A lot of commentary regarding Seth Godin's book "The Dip" regards it as just a business book. Some people criticized it for stating the obvious. For those of you that never have any problems, great, for me, this book has been amazing.

I keep a small number of books always at hand to help me in my daily efforts. Most books I read and the content sticks with me pretty well and I review it later if I need to, but this small library I read from everyday to help me improve myself. Previously it had only two books: Stephen Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and James Allen's "As a Man Thinketh". These books have been my guiding lights to overcome laziness and fear. Seth Godin's "The Dip" is getting added to that short list.

Imagine a book that really connected with you, communicated to your inner-self why life is so hard and what to do about it, and inspired you to acheive great things. The Dip is that book for me. I have followed Seth's blog for some time and he consistently inspires me to keep my eye on the difficult path to personal development. He encourages me to do the hard things and live life to it's fullest.

I would agree that the book actually discusses points that are pretty obvious on the surface, but I bet that anyone who dismisses it as merely that, is an armchair general or a backseat driver. This book is a call to action and I appreciate it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Developing audacity

I recently started following Steve Blank. His blog posts have a much different feel than most others. It's like listening to old war stories from Silicon Valley, something I'm just too young to have experienced. Most other people talk about the hot new trends and high flyers of the dot-com era. Steve talks about old fashion things that have been working for 50 years. His stories are exciting too.

Being an entrepreneur is just so new for me that I really need the basics that most people take for granted. I think the only characteristic I started with was a desire for self-improvement. All the other character traits that people say are required for entreprenuers, I either lack or have had to work on. One trait that I don't have much of is Audacity. The audacity to ask questions, to try things that people say won't work, the audacity to forgo a 9-5 job.

Steve posted a great article about just asking. It's pretty closely related to the idea that just showing up is a large part of success. I've been dragging my feet on a actually persuing a particular contracting opportunity. I'm afraid they might say no, so I put it off wanting to do something that will improve my chances, but never actually getting to it. I can offer good value to them and have proved it in previous interactions. I need to stop dawdling and get it done.

Habits and character traits can be changed by small and consistent practice. For me right now, blogging is about getting content published. It's about developing the habit of creating it. So, I need to develop my audacity and tenacity by consistently going out on a limb and asking for the things I want (nicely of course). Obviously I'll get a lot on "no"s, but what about that killer "yes" that changes my life?

What things have you put off asking for?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Yahoo Pipes is addicting

I'm setting up my handheld as an information aggregator with skype, twitter, rss, and gmail. For rss I'm using prssr even though the project isn't active any more, because I don't figure many people are working to support WM5.0 anyways, and it has some nice featurces. So I tried to add my authenticated Highrise activity feed, and prssr just crashed. I was not happy, my highrise feed is really important for me to keep track of what is going on with my rental properties.

The Highrise feed is atom, so I thought that might be the problem. I'd never opened Yahoo pipes, but I had read a good deal about it. I opened Pipes and in less than 5 minutes I had a clean unauthenticated rss feed that works great on my handheld.

Data processing and web service integration is one of my technical delights, so the ease of converting and handling the atom feed was quite thrilling. It makes me want to make more pipes just for the sake of it; if you have something you'd like help with, just let me know.

My iPod Touch: a Dell Axim x51

I've been getting a little envious of people's iPhones and iPod Touches and more than once lately, I've needed to Google Maps while I'm out to find my way. Then I remembered my old Dell Axim x51 collecting dust in a box and a 2G CF card I got from somewhere else.

I dug it out and found that Google calendar and contacts syncs with it and gmail works great via IMAP. Then I added Google search, maps, and youtube. I upgraded the PocketPutty, installed Skype and ceTwit, and started to laugh at how cool it all is. Don't get me wrong, I still think iPod Touch owners are pretty lucky, it's just not a justifiable expense for me right now.

Without spending a dime, I just got 80% of what I would use an iPod Touch for, plus Skype.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Marketing 101

It college I took some business classes because I thought it would help me in my career. Turns out I was right. In my marketing class we talked about the three P's: Product, Price, and Placement. In order to create a service you have to figure out exactly what it is you're offering, how you're going to make money on it, and exactly who you are going to sell it to.

That one piece of information has been critical to my understanding how to start a consulting practice. A few months ago I went to see a SCORE counselor and she spent time over a month driving home the importance of the first item, exactly what is it that you sell? You need to have a 30 second pitch that concisely communicates your value proposition, and if at the end of that 30 seconds your audience doesn't understand what you are offering, you've lost the deal.

During that same time I tried to pick up a family friend as a client by talking about helping improve his law practice. He has a history of giving people jobs just because they need them. He loves to help people out, but despite my numerous attempts to describe the amazing breadth of my abilities, he couldn't see any need for my services. That was a very educational failure.

I've always thought of myself as a jack-of-all-trades, I do very well at any assignment I'm given. My employers love it, my managers really appreciate my efforts. When a potential client ask's what do you do and you reply "Any thing you need!", the respose is quite different, "Stop wasting my time." That has been a difficult concept for me to really embrace.

So if they only want one thing how do I choose what my pitch? Surely I don't want to limit my options, surely I can't say no to other opportunities. Surely I'm wrong, but that doesn't mean it's been easy to accept. I've had to really think about what I enjoy and motivates me enough to go outside of my comfort zone and face rejection.

It has taken me nearly 2 years of reading and thinking to really understand myself and my interests to the point that I have a decent guess at what it is I have a passion for that meets a business need. I have a passion for enabling collaboration. For me that includes enterprise social networking and enterprise data mashups. It's at least narrow enough that I can pick a specific offering and change it later without too much problem.

I have so much to learn.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What was your leap of faith?

I'm coming up to another opportunity to make a leap of faith and work really hard to find more contracting work, or to turn back and get a normal job with normal benefits. Last time I chickened out. I have the standard family telling me I need to get a job, I have the standard lack of money in the bank, but I have one client that almost pays the bills, I just have to make it one step further and get another project to cover the rest.

It's a big leap of faith for me because I'm currently stuck in analysis paralysis and I need to just commit to following up on leads. I've never done that before. Who knows why, it's just something way outside my comfort zone. And I may not get a very good response for a few months, during which time, I won't be applying for jobs and my one client might not have enough work for me.

I've been trying to gather information from people that have already made the jump. Asking them how they got clients, how they market themselves, etc, but I've never asked about the time when they had to make the leap of faith and really step outside their comfort zone. I think everybody faces it at some point or another. If I make it to Beer and Blog tomorrow, I think that will be my new question, and hopefully it will lend me some courage.

Mind sharing your leap of faith story?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Google Wave Code Examples

I found the Google Wave samples gallery this morning and it really helped me understand the power of google wave. This post on a new blog I'm following recently added to my thoughts about the failings of current enterprise applications. The real work happens in the conversations between people, but right now our conversations are in phone and email. Email is static data, as soon as you send the email, your data is old.

Imagine being able to communicate in realtime with your coworkers (I picture an IM chat window) where all your business data, reports, and actions are displayed in your conversation, and you can even interact with them. Now, when you are discussing the cashflow forcast, or the current sales goals, you can have live data right in front of you.

At heart I like to bring things together, to make everything easy and accessible, and to minimize the effort required. There is so much busy work that the computer can do for us. Augmented reality doesn't need fancy cameras or voice recognition, when your job has you sitting at a desk 8 hours a day. Google wave will be an amazing business tool as people start to connect their applications with it.

Getting involved in a community

Recently I've been going to some of the tech community activities in Portland. It's helped be think about the importance of getting to know people and for other people to get to know you. It's a strong theme that I also learned from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.

Dawn Foster posted yesterday evening about the importance of getting content out there. Now I've agreed with her for sometime; I agree that publishing content to the web is the most efficient way to help other people learn things enmasse. I just never felt I had anything to contribute to the conversation, which is a standard trait of introverts (That's not a bad word, food for thought :).

Dawn's post helped me realize something though. The post didn't have any amazing new information nor was it an explanation of some deep technical issue that she solved. It was just her thoughts about a topic, albeit well written in an engaging style. I've read about Dawn in my research of Portland so she has some authority in my mind that some other random blog doesn't.

I have thoughts too, I just don't write in an engaging style. That can be change however, if I practice. With time there will be people interested in what I think and in having a discussion with me. So here's to gaining momentum for my blogging activities.