Sunday, January 12, 2014

Book Review: Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century

I found Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century to be a very quick read and a well written synopsis of Nikola Tesla and imagination. I had heard of Tesla but didn't know much more and this book was a great introduction to an amazing person and a great inspirational read about genius being a path anybody can take, never giving up, thinking being the enemy of creativity and varied knowledge and experiences being more likely lead to fresh ideas. It is not a book for getting an in depth understanding of Tesla or in depth information about self improvement or imagination, but it is a good short inspirational read.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fitbit One: turn your everyday life into a fun path to fitness

simple.b-dis-png.h47e3210a910010717f0d5ec74009f261I have had a Fitbit One Wireless Activity + Sleep Tracker for just over a week and absolutely love it. This a device that measures your activity, adds a competitive nature (with yourself and others), and is part of the craze of gadgets about the Quantified Self.

The general idea behind the Quantified Self is about gaining self knowledge through numbers, with the intent of self improvement.

The Fitbit One logs the number of steps taken, floors climbed, distance walked, calories burned, activity level and sleep patterns. This information is collected on a day by day basis and wirelessly transmitted by Bluetooth 4 via a PC/Mac or compatible device (such as the iPhone) to the Fitbit website where you can compete against others or just yourself. There are also virtual badges you can earn by achieving milestones, such as 10,000 steps in a day, climbing 25 floors in day etc.

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Functionality is also available via the website or mobile apps to log food consumed, water consumed, activities done, sleep and weight. Appropriate calories are calculated and used to inform you how well you are tracking towards your goals.

Key Advantages

  • One of the key advantages the Fitbit One has, in my view, is that it can be easily concealed in a pocket or attached in a non-conspicuous way. This was a consideration I had when comparing this device against the Jawbone UP and Nike+ FuelBand.
  • It is also a very simple device to use, tracks a reasonable amount of info and has only one button.
  • Syncing of information to the Fitbit website happens transparently “over the air” once you have done a very simple PC/Mac installation. A USB dongle is supplied for enabling a PC/Mac to communicate with the Fitbit One via Bluetooth 4.
  • The gamification features, with virtual badges, competing with others and yourself provide a good additional drive to exercise.
  • An API is available for integration with. There is also an ecosystem of applications emerging, inc. integration with sites such as Runkeeper and Endomondo.
  • There is a silent alarm that will vibrate to wake you up.

key Shortcomings

  • Whilst there are apps for iPhones and Android, the Android devices don’t currently support synching. The main reason from reading the forums appears to be that the vast majority of Android devices do not have Bluetooth 4 support and anything lower than 4 would have too big a drain on the battery of the Fitbit device. Support is however apparently coming soon for some devices.
  • When tracking sleep, you need to explicitly hold down the button for two seconds to start the sleep event and hold it down again to turn it off. Whilst it does work it’s not great.
  • Whilst data is available to be extracted, doing this easily via the Fitbit site requires paying a Premium fee.
  • Setting the silent alarm to wake up cannot be done on the device itself and needs to be via the website or iPhone app.
  • To charge the device required using a special connector (which is provided). Charging is required every 5-7 days so you don’t want to misplace this. It also feels a bit strange to not be attached to the device while it’s charging.
  • Logging of food is a bit tedious, then again I’ve found this with all similar sites.
  • Since a USB dongle is typically required to support synchronisation of information, care must be taken not to lose this small dongle.
  • Whilst the Fitbit device can apparently take a bit of rain, it is not waterproof so you can’t wear it all the time.

Overall Synopsis

Whilst there are some shortcomings, compared to its competitors I think it is currently the best of the bunch and enjoy using it.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links for the Fitbit One product. By clicking through you are supporting Simon G’s Blog and I thank you. The article is completely non-biased.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: “Mark Zuckerberg: Ten Lessons in Leadership”

zuckI was sceptical that “Mark Zuckerberg: Ten Lessons in Leadership” by Michael Essany would be worth reading, but decided to give it a go anyway. It isn’t a large book, but the documentary style works well and I found it in fact contained good practical advice including inspiration to get out there and make a difference, leveraging mentors, getting started, focusing on the idea first and details later and many other great pearls of wisdom.
The key points I noted were:

  • When popularity supplants passion at the forefront of the entrepreneur’s mind, the likelihood of success rapidly diminishes.
  • Live your regular life and just try to build stuff that matters.
  • The most successful entrepreneurs of tomorrow will be those who take to the next level that which we have today. If you want to be the next Steve Jobs, you're not required to invent anything in order to do that. You simply have to listen, observe, and innovate.
  • Young entrepreneurs are notorious for idolizing the wrong people. You cannot and should not have a 'mentor' who is unreachable, outside of your industry, and doesn't wholly represent that which you seek to become.
  • Most people think of great entrepreneurs as lone wolves who accomplished their dreams by themselves. This could not be more false. From Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to Warren Buffet and Donald Trump, each had a mentor or two along the way. Each have well documented experiences with these mentors and speak openly about the help they got along the way.
  • "Hit 'em where they ain’t" and never let your immediate location be an immediate deterrent for immediate action.
  • Starting the entrepreneurial process is one thing; sticking to the process is another
  • Control must not be yielded under any circumstances.
  • The most successful inventors and entrepreneurs of our time have given the world technologies that can be personalized and effortlessly controlled by the user. When people take ownership in a highly personal way of their smartphones, computers, social networks, etc. they are highly inclined to keep returning to those devices and platforms.
  • Rivalries are healthy for business, essential for innovation, and just a whole lot of fun.
  • The most successful entrepreneurs of the 21st Century will be those who limit their adherence to 'traditional distractions.'
  • When inspired, wait for absolutely nothing.
  • In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.
  • If you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress
  • The things we can do without a lot of thought or effort are often of greater value because they allow us to get started and getting started is the most important part.
  • The companies that work are the ones that people really care about and have a vision for the world so do something you like.
  • When you're passionate about a simple idea that brings together diverse and wonderful ideas, resources, and technologies into a cultivated platform that does collectively that which each part could not do individually, success is not only possible, it is virtually inevitable.
  • It's all about the idea - the core, compelling, central focus of the product or service. Details don't matter at first. Details come once you've assembled your team, consulted bright, diverse minds, and patiently charted a course toward prototype or product completion.
  • Details matter more than anything else - but not at first. It's the core idea that must lead the way

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

"Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers contains lots of good practical advice, such as the power of eliminating negativity and pessimism from your vocabulary, taking responsibility for your reactions, how to have a balanced life, and many other great pearls of wisdom.

Here are some of my key take aways:
  1. All you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it
  3. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I'm on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else
  4. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes with a feeling of helplessness. 
  5. Before you take any action in life, ask yourself: "Is this action moving me to a more powerful place?" If it isn't you will think twice about doing it.
  6. Begin eliminating the terribles, can'ts, problems, struggles and so on from your vocabulary. Certain words are destructive; others are empowering. e.g. "I can't" --> "I won't", "I hope" --> "I know", "What will I do?" --> "I know I can handle it"
  7. The more you expand your comfort zone, the more powerful you become. Each day stretch yourself and do something that intimidates you
  8. You are the cause of the feelings that take away the joy in your life. Are you a 'victim' or are you taking responsibility for your life? Whenever you are not taking responsibility you put yourself in a position of pain, and hence decrease your ability to handle the fear in your life
  9. Taking responsibility means never blaming anyone else for anything you are being, doing, having or feeling
  10. Taking responsibility means not blaming yourself
  11. Taking responsibility means being aware of where and when you are not taking responsibility so that you can eventually change
  12. Outtalk your negativity
  13. It is empowering to have the support of a strong, motivated and inspirational group of people. You have to go out and create the type of support system you want.
  14. The knowledge that you can handle anything that comes your way is the key to allowing yourself to take risks
  15. You're not a failure if you don't make it; you're a success because you try. The trick in life is not to worry about making a wrong decision.
  16. If I am not making mistakes, I can be sure I am not learning and growing
  17. Act as if you really count
  18. Create a whole of life grid of what is important to you for a balanced life and allocate 100% commitment of time to each; Contribution, Hobby, Leisure, Family, Alone Time, Personal Growth, Work, Relationship, Friends. Each day, create daily goals that reflect all the boxes in your grid.
  19. With a positive attitude, value can be created from anything that happens in your life
  20. Genuine giving is not only altruistic; it also makes us feel better.
  21. You must become what you want to attract. Be the kind of person you would want to surround yourself with.

I thoroughly recommended this book.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: How To Have Confidence And Power In Dealing With People by Les Giblin

1e37124128a02faf24b06010.L._AA300_"How To Have Confidence And Power In Dealing With People” by Les Giblin had been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I was expecting it to be an over the top sales book so had put off reading it, but I was so wrong and now wish I had read it years ago. This is a superb book that has lots of great advice, good examples and is well written. I also really appreciate the short recap that each section has at the end summarising the key points.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review–“Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” by Daniel Goleman

49fd2b185ac4ecad329f6f6fcd8120ab_18740653481270286681I found “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” by Daniel Goleman to be quite an academic (and at times scientific) view of emotion that includes some good story-telling.

It started very dry but I found it got more engaging about 60 pages in. I found the book to be more focussed on describing emotional intelligence as opposed to providing much guidance about how to improve your emotional intelligence. Despite this, I did however find that it contained a wealth of interesting information.

My key takeaways were:

  • We have two minds (rational and emotional) that typically operate in tight harmony.
  • Anger builds upon anger; the emotional brain heats up.
  • Distraction is a highly powerful mood-altering device. This is due to the fact that it is hard to stay angry when you’re having a pleasant time.
  • Thoughts are associated in the mind not just by content, but by mood. People have what amounts to a bad-mood thoughts that come to mind more readily when they are down.
  • While crying can sometimes break a spell of sadness, it can also leave the person obsessing about the reasons for despair. Crying that reinforces rumination only prolongs the misery.
  • Aerobic exercise is one of the more effective tactics for lifting mild depression. This however does not hold true for habitual exercisers, since the opposite is true whereby they start to feel bad on those days they skip a workout.
  • Relaxation techniques which put the body into a low-arousal state work well for anxiety, a high-arousal state, but not so well for depression.
  • A constructive approach to mood-lifting is engineering a small triumph or easy success.
  • A potent antidote to depression is seeing things differently, or cognitive reframing. i.e. step back and look at the scenario from the perspective of somebody worse off.
  • A helpful depression-lifter is helping others in need. e.g. volunteering, feeding the homeless.
  • A strong cultural work ethic translates into a higher motivation, zeal, and persistence – an emotional edge.
  • Good moods, while they last, enhance the ability to think flexibly and with more complexity, thus making it easier to find solutions to problems, whether intellectual or interpersonal. Laughing consequently can help people think more broadly.
  • People with high levels of hope share certain traits such as being able to motivate themselves, reassuring themselves when in a tight spot that things will get better, being flexible enough to find different ways to get to their goals or to switch goals if one becomes impossible, and having the sense to break down a formidable task into smaller, manageable pieces.
  • People perform at their peak while in flow; they exhibit a masterly control of what they are doing, there responses perfectly attuned to the changing demands of the task.
  • People seem to concentrate best when the demands on them  are a bit greater than usual, and they are able to give more than usual. If there is too little demand on them, people are bored. If there is too much for them to handle they get anxious. Flow occurs in that delicate zone between boredom and anxiety.
  • Being able to manage emotions in someone else is the core of the art of handling relationships.
  • Emotions are contagious. We transmit and catch moods from each other.
  • Coordination of moods is the essence of rapport.
  • In terms of managing our own career, there may be nothing more essential than recognising our deepest feelings about what we do – and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work.
  • Turning a blind eye to acts of bias allows discrimination to thrive. To do nothing, in this context, is an act of consequence in itself.
  • While a group can be no “smarter” than the sum total of its strengths, it can be much dumber if its internal workings don’t allow people to share their talents.
  • Harmony allows a group to take maximum advantage of its most creative and talented members’ abilities.
  • Cultivating good relationships with people whose services might be needed later can increase your chance of success.
  • The stars of an organisation are often those who have:
    • thick connections on all networks, whether communications (who talks to whom), expertise (which people are turned to for advice), or trust.
    • teamwork coordination.
    • leadership in building consensus.
    • ability to see things from the perspective of others, such as customers or others on a team.
    • persuasiveness.
    • ability to promote cooperation while avoiding conflicts.
    • initiative – being self-motivated enough to take on responsibilities beyond their stated job.
    • self-management in the sense of regulating their time and work commitments well.
  • Helping people better manage their upsetting feelings – anger, anxiety, depression, pessimism, and loneliness – is a form of disease prevention.
  • Many patients can benefit measurably when their psychological needs are attended to along with their purely medical ones.
  • The emotional abilities children acquire in later life build on those of the earliest years.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Considerations when responding to an RFI or RFP (a view from the receiving end)

Having been on the receiving end of Request for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposal (RFP) responses, from an evaluation perspective there are ways respondents can make it easier for the evaluation panel to assess what it is being proposed and ultimately have greater success on getting through to the next round. These considerations are from my experiences with Software package selection and with Delivery partner selection, but should be applicable to many other selections.

1. First impressions count.

Even before the RFI/RFP response is opened, an evaluator can be swayed by the presentation of the response and the level of engagement getting there.
Key considerations:
  • Ask questions during the response period to validate any areas lacking clarity, but don’t go overboard.
  • Make sure you meet the response times.
  • Use good quality paper and colour (if required to present a  paper copy).
  • Binding can make a document look classier.
  • If the response requests that all questions and communication go through a particular person or channel, then abide by this. 

2. Make it easy for an evaluator to find information they are looking for.

When performing an evaluation I will assess the RFI/RFP response against an evaluation template where I score the responses from each vendor. In order to ensure that I am being fair in terms of the evaluation, I assess each line item of the template across all RFI/RFP responses at the same time, as opposed to scoring each vendor separately and then moving on to the next.
Key considerations:
  • If there is a RFI/RFP response template provided, use it.
  • Have a table of contents on Page 2 (or thereabouts) of the document, and ensure there are page numbers throughout.
  • Have your logo on the front page of your response. This makes it easier when the reviewer is looking through documents from multiple vendors.
  • Be very clear about what is and isn’t included in any pricing. Even if you have the information in a scope section, it is worth highlighting the key inclusions, exclusions and assumptions in the pricing section too so that if an evaluator is looking at each solution in parallel you are not seen to be overly expensive or hiding something.
  • Don’t have information split across multiple documents, unless explicitly requested to. 
 

3. Consider what an evaluator is likely to be assessing the solution against.

Whilst there are a number of questions asked in an RFI/RFP, there may be other things that an evaluator is wanting to see demonstrated in the response. If the response is silent about something, then the evaluator may rate this lower than it should be.
Key considerations:
  • Show an understanding of the requirements.
  • Explain how the proposed solution meets the requirements. Diagrams are good.
  • Show an understanding of the business / industry sector.
  • Use case studies that are in the same region / country where possible.
  • Cover the methodology that is proposed to deliver the solution (if appropriate). This should however not read as if it is a shopping list of methodologies straight from a text book.
  • Explain your level of flexibility to adapt the methodology and/or solution to better fit the organisation.
  • Demonstrate thought leadership and best practice guidance. This may be by providing alternative solutions or explaining standards or processes that will be adopted.
  • Explain different pricing model options you are open to; Fixed, Time and Materials, Monthly, Pay per use, ...
  • With a software package selection, explain what is possible with configuration, what will entail customisation / development, and if so how this will impact any upgrades.
  • Explain additional opportunities your solution provides.
  • Cover whatever else you think is of interest to the evaluation panel.