AUGUST 2012

  • IS TECHNOLOGY GIVING YOU MORE FREE TIME OR JUST CONSUMING IT?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech

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    I’m shocked at how fortunate I am….  I have a great family, an amazing place to live, a wife who loves me (almost as much as her cat) and a wonderful job.  Over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the suites at Arrowhead, hang out in the pits at the NASCAR track, enjoy the view from the Crown Seats at Kauffman Stadium and even enjoy one of 9 sold out Garth Brooks shows at the Sprint Center.

    Tonight it was all topped by having the opportunity to grab a highly sought after ticket to the TEDx Kansas City Event at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center (a CRAZY AWESOME venue…but I don’t have time to get into that right now).  How sought after?  There were about 1,300 seats available for this event and over 30K requests for tickets…..on the first day they were available.

    All that hype was definitely for good reason.  There were a total of 8 speakers and many of them made an impression on me tonight:

    • Samuel Arbesman discussed the “Half-Life of Facts” noting multiple examples of how quickly facts change…things we once took as truth (i.e. the world is flat) are disproven over time (it’s round) and eventually refined (well…it’s not actually round, it’s an oblate spheroid).  The message….we need to be flexible with what we “know” to be a fact today because things are going to change and we should embrace that (red wine is still healthy for you right?)
    • KC’s own John Jantsch talked about making work worth it.  In his interactions with entrepreneurs, he finds about 50% are completely fulfilled, the other half feeling like they’re still not satisfied.  The big difference?  Whether or not they are a part of something bigger and making a difference in the world.  He animated the point through the company Jancoa, a janitorial service that is more of a launching platform for the dreams of the people they employ (because they found out that people don’t dream of janitorial labor).
    • John Gerzema gave a summary of his global study on leadership where he characterized leadership traits into feminine and masculine categories.  From there he asked a similar sample which traits were more desirable and concluded that the feminine traits are the “Operating System” for 21st century leaders.  His SlideShare on “The Athena Doctrine” is worth a look and it sounds like a book is in the works.
    • Janine Shepherd gave a chilling recap of a tragic accident that left her paralyzed as she was training for the Olympics.  She was headed to represent her country when she was literally run over by a utility truck that hit her on her bicycle.  This accident was an opportunity to start over and found a new passion for flying, going from eager student wearing a body cast to flight instructor in 18 months.

     

    But for me…the final speaker of the evening, Max Strom really struck a chord.  Max spent time talking about the tech explosion that we live in, yet overall happiness has been on an inverse trajectory.  He identified that 90% of human communication relies on non-verbal cues (facial expression, emotion, etc…), yet we communicate more and more with technologies that only allow us to utilize the other 10% (the words).  I talked about this in a former post about the shift from synchronous to asynchronous communication and identified some of the same challenges we face.

    The whole thing really hit home for me as he pleaded with the audience to be sensitive to the kind of technologies we adopt.  Are you simply adopting technologies to consume more content or are you bringing technology into your life that gives you more time back to do the things that matter?  As I looked at my life, I have some questions about that….  My XBOX, the iPad, our DVR…..  Technology isn’t inherently bad, but it does have the ability to consume our lives (how much TV did you watch tonight?)

    Before closing, he brought 3 imperatives up that I think are worth sharing:

    1. Self awareness – define happiness in your life, what really makes you get up in the morning
    2. Think about your lifespan and the time you spend with technology – demand your technology give you more free time, not eat up more of it
    3. Learn and practice a regime that heals & empowers you – meditation, working out, bike rides…..and he was all about breathing exercises to help reduce stress

     

    It was refreshing to spend 3 hours of my Tuesday night listening to these incredibly intelligent people and feverishly jot down notes for my own use.  I know these short descriptions don’t do the seminar justice so PLEASE click on some of the links in my post here and spend some time with anything that may interest you or shoot me a line in the comments below!

     

    P.S.  It’s also worth noting that TEDxKC had booked some PHENOMENAL performances by some very talented musicians.  There was Earth Harp (a crazy string instrument that filled the music hall), Dave Eggar (a WICKED cellist that could play it with a bow, stand up or just pick it like a guitar), and Amber Rubarth (a soulful singer with a bit of a twang to her stellar voice), all amazing in their own realm.

     

  • GRAM & DUN USES INSTAGRAM…YOUR RESTAURANT SHOULD TOO!!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Cocktails, Marketing Brilliance, Mobile Tech

    6 Comments

    There are two things I love about weekends….sleeping-in and brunch.  After my dreams of sleeping-in were cut short on both Saturday and Sunday, my weekend’s only hope would be the opportunity to stuff my face with some breakfast food.

    Fortunately, we received a group message Sunday morning from our friends Evan and Kelly who had a similar vision…  We headed down to Gram & Dun on the plaza to sit on the “Best Patio in Kansas City.” (read all about our experience on Kelly’s AWESOME Blog!)

    We scored a great seat and enjoyed a nice break in the unbearable KC summer sweat-fest we’ve been experiencing.  The four of us re-capped our weekend, enjoyed breakfast inspired cocktails (I had the Breakfast Old Fashioned), devoured delicious food (I made quick work of the Eggs Benedict) and enjoyed the company of our waitress Britney (she was awesome).  As is par for the course, we also spent an embarrassing amount of time using our cell phones to capture the experience of our meal….I was guilty of snapping some shots of my Breakfast Old Fashioned with Instagram.

    This morning, I noticed that I had new activity in my Instagram app…Gram & Dun had “liked” my photos and started following my Instagram feed.  It was a pretty simple gesture, but they quickly showed that they care about what people are not only saying about their restaurant, but what others are seeing.

    I don’t know about you, but dining is a very visual experience for me (in fact we’re all programmed that way…but I digress).  My wife often gives me a hard time for ordering featured items because they generally have pictures alongside the wordy description.  While Gram & Dun’s menu doesn’t have pictures posted with every item, Instagram is enabling a social network where people can see exactly what’s going on there….surprise….a lot of people are taking pictures of their food.

    I applaud Gram & Dun for their efforts with Instagram.  I’m not sure whose idea it was or who is taking the initiative to engage with their customers; but I believe it is WAY more effective than just tweeting out specials or trying to drive traffic through a Groupon.  By discovering their diner’s point of view, they get real feedback on their diner’s experience and can remotely monitor the social buzz around the presentation of their core product.

    So how long does it take for a restaurant employee to log into Instagram once or twice a day, view the photos posted @Gram & Dun, “like” the photos they see and maybe….comment on a few here and there?  15-30 minutes??

    I can guarantee you one thing….your employees are going to use their phone to browse a social network over the course of the day.  It could be benefiting your establishment, not just their social life :-)

     

    if you’re in KC, check out Gram & Dun on the Country Club Plaza:  Google Maps Link

    And if you’re not….drool over some of their diner’s photos:  Gramfeed Link

  • I FEEL THE NEED….THE NEED FOR SPEED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Mobile Tech, Other Cool Stuff...

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    Over the weekend I visited the Google Fiber Space….a “store” created by Google to showcase the future of the internet here in Kansas City.  As you have probably already heard, Google will be rolling out a next generation internet service in KC that promises internet speeds 100x faster than what you experience today (you’re probably getting around 5-10mbps at your home…Google’s service is just shy of 1,000mbps).

    As I’ve postulated before…there’s still a big challenge in determining what you’ll do with all of that speed.  Google’s Fiber Space attempts to answer that question with demonstrations of the services they’re providing but also inspiring the minds of innovative Kansas Citians.

    • TV over Fiber – This is the primary use case that Google has showcased….and not truly a surprise.  When people think about faster throughput, video is always in the conversation…I was personally shocked that Google was able to sign agreements with the major content providers and I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to deliver some value added services over the top (i.e. click to buy the shoes in a TV show, highlight the players on your fantasy football team, instantly search for the song being played in the background, etc…)
    • Video Chat – In the Fiber Space, Google has set up a nice living room area with Cisco video conferencing equipment.  During my visit, the video chat was set up between us and a dietician at the KU Med Center.  She was helping some of the Fiber Space employees look up calories for their lunch at Chipotle, helping them make the best decisions between all of the ingredients of a burrito bowl.  I wasn’t terribly impressed, but the thought of watching a Husker Football game in a Google Hangout with my “Nebraska” circle gave me goose bumps.  Though my brothers and I will most likely always be separated by a few hundred miles on football Saturdays, the idea that we could watch a game together in high quality video was thrilling.
    • Gaming – Obviously more bandwidth will allow for better quality online gaming and Google was even showing off OnLive’s on-demand gaming service (at the time of this post, OnLive announced massive layoffs and was purchased.  Their future seems to be in question….or waiting for a quicker rollout of high-bandwidth providers like Google).  Streaming games from the cloud means potentially never renting or buying a game again…you want it, you got it… straight to your TV (or other internet enabled device).
    • Cloud Storage – Google’s equipment comes with a HUGE 2TB hard drive for storing all of that HD quality content from your TV, but also an insane 1TB of storage space in the cloud.  The fact that fiber gives you insanely fast upload speeds means that theoretically you could store a TV show, movie or more up in the cloud and pull it down to other devices (i.e. tablets, laptops or phones) when you want to catch up….whether or not content providers will be cool with this is still TBD.
    • ??? – Who knows….that’s the most exciting part of all this.  Enthusiastic technologists, Kansas Citians and fellow nerds (with far more talent than I) will be coming up with crazy new ways to consume all of this bandwidth…..they always do.  Considering that we never could have imagined how we would use all 2MB on a floppy disk back in the early 90’s, I’m sure we’ll find ways to constrain 1,000Mbps in short order

     

    A few minutes ago, I received confirmation that my neighborhood has made the cut and within the next year they’ll start wiring KC up with this super fast internet.  As I prepare myself for the next generation internet boom I’m SUPER excited to be on the leading edge of whatever is coming next!

  • STARBUCKS + SQUARE = END OF NFC PAYMENTS?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Mobile Tech

    3 Comments

     

    In June of 2011 I walked into a Best Buy in Omaha, Nebraska.  I headed toward the video game section, found what I was looking for and walked up to the register where I was greeted by a teenage kid working the checkout line.  He scanned my item, told me my total and I pulled my phone out of my pocket to pay.  I tapped the device against the Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled terminal; it let out a beep, my phone chimed and the receipt kicked out of the printer.

    I glanced up to see the look of pure shock as he yelled out “DID YOU JUST PAY WITH YOUR PHONE?”  I replied “yes, I’m testing a….” in a quiet voice to try and calm him down….It didn’t work.  He shouted out to all of his co-workers at the other terminals:  “HEY GUYS….THIS DUDE JUST PAID WITH HIS PHONE!!”  I had an early version of Google Wallet on my Sprint Nexus S and we were discreetly testing the application in locations where there were capable payment terminals.

    The NFC Payment Eco-System

    Since that time, I’ve used the Google Wallet application a number of times and the novelty still hasn’t worn off.  People always look twice when I tap my phone and their register tells them that the transaction is complete.  Unfortunately, that reaction is also a sign of the current success of the NFC Payment eco-system in the US….it’s still a work in progress.

    There are really four components and one big rock that will determine the success or failure of NFC as a payment vehicle:

    1. Device Distribution – NFC technology is starting to find its way to devices in the US.  While it’s not a standard feature quite yet, it’s definitely becoming one (at no small expense of the carriers’ subsidy budgets).  Sprint has launched a handful of devices this year, all of which are Google Wallet Enabled….Verizon and AT&T have followed suit, but have blocked the app from running in favor of their joint venture (ISIS) which is still in market trial.
    2. Banks/Credit Companies – Cool….so your phone has an NFC chip in it and a fancy app capable of holding credit cards.  You won’t see value in that unless the cards in YOUR wallet can be loaded into the app.  Until last week, Google only had an agreement with Citibank & MasterCard to use their credit cards….but they made an update to the way Google Wallet works and now ANY card running on AmEx, Visa, MasterCard or Discover will work with the app!
    3. Merchants – Having a device that is NFC enabled and capable of making a payment is great, but only if you can do that somewhere.  Google again has been driving this eco-system, helping large-scale merchants all over the US install terminals.  Retailers like Macy’s, Peet’s Coffee, The Container Store, Radio Shack, McDonald’s, CVS and more have installed these terminals…with the major credit rail providers committing to move to NFC as they transition away from the magnetic strip currently found on all credit cards and point of sale systems.
    4. Offers – Arguably the most important part of the NFC payment eco-system.  By going digital, your wallet is now internet enabled….  That should bring real customized, location aware offers and services tailored to your exact needs.  Today, there are very few offers and they’re not targeted…customers still haven’t jumped into mobile couponing and companies like Groupon have started to show signs of jumping the shark.

     

    Do we really have a payment problem?

    All that being said….the industry is starting to ask the question:  “Do we really have a payment problem?”

    When you consider what NFC brings to the table…it’s not really overcoming a real customer challenge.  In fact, the act of tapping your phone, typing in your security pin and selecting your payment card adds a lot more to the process than grabbing your wallet, pulling out your card and swiping.  Paying may not be the problem at all….

    In a new partnership formed last week, Starbucks announced that they will be rolling out the Square payment system in their retail stores and in turn, invested $25M in the start-up.  Square got their start by giving away a little dongle that plugs into the headset jack of your smartphone…turning it into a magnetic card reader.  Their vision for the future dumps the physical card all together, keeping your payment cards in the cloud and using your face as your identity.

    They “get it.”   Rather than just changing the way you pay with your card, they’re figuring out how to improve upon the entire shopping experience.  Small, local merchants are already leading the charge by opting to turn a $500 iPad into a point of sale and encouraging customers to download the “Pay with Square” app on their smartphone (saving thousands on a similar capability in the traditional POS).  Customers make their selections, and the merchant finds a picture of the customer standing in front of them to complete the transaction.  No cash or cards are physically exchanged…the customer instantly has a digital copy of the transaction.

    The Mobile Shopping Experience, Re-Imagined

    Imagine your future Starbucks experience with this technology…..  You pull into the parking lot of Starbucks and your smartphone instantly places an order for your favorite drink.  You walk in the door, bypass the line and the friendly barista hands you your drink and says “thanks Erik, hope you have a great day.”  No cash, no credit card and maybe Starbucks saves the 2% interchange fee by encouraging you to pull funds right out of your bank account rather than paying Visa.

    You head over to Target and slide your phone into the holster on the shopping cart.  Every item you grab produces an audible beep as you place it in your cart (your phone and every item in target has a small RFID chip in it).  You look over at your phone and the Target app is keeping a running total of the items you’re “purchasing” and applying the coupons you “clipped” from the circular on your iPad at home.  After finding what you need, you head straight to the door, bypassing the cash register while your phone charges your Target card (they’re a bank now by the way….)

    You’re headed home and your phone buzzes at you….you’ve passed 3 grocery stores and the last one on the way home is at the next exit.  Your wife told you to stop and get milk but you forgot again (some things don’t change…).  She finally loaded the alert into your wallet with a coupon and your phone is going to go nuts if you pass the store (but not as crazy as your wife will be if you forget the milk again!).

    NFC?  Could be an element, but I expect Google and others to start thinking a lot bigger than that.

  • HAVE FUN!

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Life Lessons, Other Cool Stuff...

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    In late 2007 I sat in a quiet auditorium on the Sprint campus.  I had been to a handful of these “all-employee meetings” before but the anticipation in the room was palpable…a rough merger, AT&T had a new phone from Apple that was flying off of the shelves and Sprint had a brand new CEO.

    Dan broke the tension in the room by taking his sport coat off and throwing it against the podium.  He explained that he realized a sport coat was the expected dress code for someone in his position, but he didn’t want to wear it.  We were in a tough spot and he had to rally the troops with the punchline centering around what he called the “Sprint Imperatives.”

    Dan went through the list below and explained what each one meant to him and why they believed they were crucial to our success as a company.

    • Do it now
    • Delegate and empower
    • Be accountable
    • Focus on customers
    • Demonstrate teamwork and camaraderie
    • Compete like winners
    • Develop
    • Innovate
    • Act with integrity
    • Have fun

     

    While I couldn’t disagree with any of them, the last one stuck out in my head because of one more small gesture as he closed his comments for the day.  Sprint had always been fairly rigid on the “business casual” dress code but he said that he was going to wear jeans tomorrow [Friday] and we were welcome to as well.

    The tough thing about imperatives is that they’re just words unless you find ways to put them into practice.  While Dan’s gesture of the change in dress code seemed small, it started to tip our culture in a brand new direction (that benefit was later extended to allow us to wear jeans any day of the week).

    Today marked a brand new high point in the “Have Fun” cultural imperative…a block party to celebrate our Q2 earnings, marking another milestone in our turn-around story.  At 3pm, directors and VP’s were tasked with serving cups of Boulevard Wheat beer and food to employees on the main courtyard in front of the executive building.

    As I looked around, I saw pockets of employees talking and laughing, Dan was making his way around the crowd chatting up random employees, I even took the time to tie up some loose ends with a co-worker.  Most importantly, there was an abundance of smiles and it felt good.

    “Have Fun” is the most important of all the Sprint Imperatives and you should be taking it just as seriously in your workplace.  You could spend a lot of time speeding up process, empowering employees, thinking about customers first or innovating….but if your employees aren’t having fun, EVERYTHING will fall flat.

  • SYNCHRONOUS AND ASYNCHRONOUS CONVERSATION

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Mobile Tech

    2 Comments

    We’ve been talking a lot about the future of communication lately and uncovered an interesting changing tide in the technologies we use.  It became evident today that over time, trends in technology have slowly shifted back and forth between synchronous and asynchronous modes of conversation.

    A quick check on some vocabulary/definitions:

    Synchronous Conversation – occurring in real time… all parties involved in the conversation are present and have the ability to contribute, react and respond

    Asynchronous Conversation – occurring any time… all parties involved in the conversation have access to the conversation but are not communicating instantaneously

    There are benefits and disadvantages to both and throughout the course of history technology has battled back and forth shifting the mix of how we communicate.  Some are just fads, some completely revolutionary in the way we talk to each-other:

    Cyclical evolution isn’t anything new, we float back and forth in all kinds of trends.  Function vs. Form, Hi-Fidelity vs. Good Enough, Ownership vs. Access, etc….  These trends seem to go in strange boom and bust phases but at any given moment, we definitely lean heavily on one vs. the other.

    Think about your daily life, what form of conversation you rely on most on an average day?  I float back and forth depending on the context, but I’m firmly planted in the “any time” column for a majority of my conversations these days (fewer, more meaningful “real time” conversations…more “any time” conversations with more people).  Heck, I bet you can think of an example today where your mobile phone (“Any Time”) distracted you while you were in a meeting (“Real Time”).

    Consider the benefits and disadvantages of each conversation type:

    At a quick glance, it’s easy to see value in each conversation type…..  I would argue that our time is becoming such a scarce resource and we have a desire to stay better connected to a growing number of people, it’s no wonder that asynchronous communication is dominating much of our lives.

    As a person who feels partially responsible in shaping the way people communicate in the future, I continue to wrestle with this problem.  What does the future hold?

    Will we shift back toward a heavier dependency on “Real Time” conversations again or are we forever more dependent on  “Any Time” conversations?

    Will advances in capture, storage and search allow you to complete digitize and index everything you say to someone, giving “Real Time” conversations a record and making them more practical for daily task management?

    Can we continue to bring the benefits of real time and any time conversation together to bring the next generation of communication technologies to market?

    Big questions…few answers…a lot of opinions and ideas.  We’ll continue brainstorming (in a synchronous manner by the way ;-)

  • INSTAGRAM IN THE REAL WORLD…CONTINUED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Mobile Tech, Other Cool Stuff...

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    I posted a while back on how Instagram uses others to make their product even more valuable and addictive.  In that post, I covered a few services that help you take your cool digital shots and turn them into magnets, coasters, coffee cups, t-shirts, etc….

    I was a BIG fan of the magnets from Sticky Gram (BUY SOME…they’re great!), but recently decided to take the plunge on a bigger item.  I was delighted when I discovered the company CanvasPop who claims to have cracked the code on enlarging your Instagram pictures into a 12″ or 20″ square canvas print using their PicturePerfect technology.

    Sure enough, I just received my first print from them today and it was EVEN BETTER than I expected.  The colors were accurate, the quality of the canvas was great and the image quality was superb.  I’ll be ordering more from them and you should too….

    http://www.canvaspop.com/print-instagram

    Don’t forget to go check out my thoughts on how Instagram’s open strategy is helping them win…even though it would appear that they’re giving up on a lot of revenue by allowing others to build on their platform for FREE.