Friday, May 30, 2008

Product pipeline

So we're off the the races on our first product demo. I'm pretty excited that the idea that I had a year ago has evolved with the help of people smarter than me, and the idea is becoming a reality. I feel like I've been talking about it for so long, it will be funny to have something to actually show people.

AND what's even funnier? I'm already excited about starting on our other ideas, which seem to be flowing much more easily now. The floodgates have been opened.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bad communication

Yesterday was frustrating. Still no progress on getting Sharepoint working on our new server, and our email was down for hours. A few tips for anyone in a client support role:

  • Tell me if you don't know how to do something--either I'll figure out another option, or we'll figure it out together
  • Don't charge me for your learning curve, unless I agree to it in advance
  • Itemize what you are charging me for
  • Tell me in advance if the work you are doing may disrupt the work I am doing
  • When you think something is fixed, let me know so I can test it
  • Let me know when something is fixed
  • Tell me what the problem is--I'm a big girl, I can take it. Oh, and yes, I will probably understand it too
  • Even if you don't, pretend like you care that things are all messed up (if I think you care, I won't be as mad at you)

Nothing is more frustrating than bad communication. Except maybe no communication. So try to call people when the going gets rough, and remember to be nice.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rockstars are everywhere

Ok, so I know the last post was that Rockstars are hard to find. And that is true. But there really are rockstars everywhere out there, if you bother to look. People who do more than you ask them to and are happy to do it. People who work hard to make sure everyone looks good. People who are smarter than you. People who naturally go above and beyond because they actually want to. People who dream big and do something about it. People who are ambitious, trustworthy, responsible, brilliant and talented.

I'm not saying they are easy to find. But they are all around you.

The trick is to figure out how to get them to want to work with you. My suggestion? Reward them for what they do best, forgive them for mistakes and stay out of their way.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's hard to find rockstars

IT guys tend to be the unsung heroes of companies. They deal with all of the "user errors" and people rarely give them credit for the things that go right but freak out about the things that go wrong. I always appreciate really good IT guys and try not to take them for granted.

Because sometimes, you find really crappy IT guys. I've been working in technology for several years, and I know just enough about IT to be dangerous (which is to say I still sometimes commit grievous human errors). But if I know more about the solution to a problem than my IT guy, that's not a good thing.

We've been migrating our email (and eventually our network files) to a new server. It has not been going well. It's difficult to prioritize hiring decisions, and IT support seems like an easy area to outsource until we grow to a size where we warrant our own internal IT team. But when things aren't going well, I really miss having dedicated and talented IT guys.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Here comes the sun

I'm neck deep in a lot of stuff right now. Most of it is new territory, which leads to an inordinate amount of overthinking and self-doubt. For the most part, I don't let any of this show.

But last week, sometime around 2 am while walking to the next drinking establishment, I opened the floodgates to one of my co-conspirators. I don't think I can do this, who do I think I am? No one is going to believe in me, and I don't want to screw this up for the people who actually do. I have no idea what I'm doing. I feel sick when I think about failing.

He, in all his wisdom and inebriation, was kind enough to share an analogy. Koreen, you're like the sun. You can't be the whole solar system, but you can hold us together to create something bigger than yourself. Without the planets, you'd just be a star. There are lots of stars, but you, you are the sun.

Thanks for the analogy; I think I'm shining a little brighter because of it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Vendor versus partner

I had an interesting week. I'm glad to be home, exhausted, and processing everything that happened in the last 6 days with our client.

The past 8 years or so I've been involved in custom learning projects. These types of projects require a level of intimacy with your client that you don't need or typically have with product sales. It's good and bad--in order to be successful, you need to really know their business. You need to understand the interpersonal dynamics and company politics. You have to know the process for getting things done. You have to recognize your advocates and the people who will throw you under the bus. You have to constantly walk the fine line of knowing all of these things, but realizing you don't actually work there.

You also develop relationships that are richly complex. You, in essence, work for these people. Some people will treat you like a slave, some a partner, and some a friend. For custom projects, the goal for continued success is to bring enough value and develop strong relationships so that you are seen as a partner, not just a vendor.

Entering into the product development realm again, I'm already a little sad that we'll be sacrificing some of these close relationships. I realize that we really will start to simply be a vendor. We'll have no need to be as integrated with our client teams, or at least not to the extent we have been. I wonder if, after I've focused on products for awhile, I will want to start being a partner again.

Monday, May 19, 2008


The last week was a whirlwind, preparing for a big client meeting, then travelling to that meeting on Saturday, working all day Sunday (so it felt like Monday). This week is non-stop meeting action and not going home until Thursday. Its exhilarating to see the hard work that you've done implemented. But this trip has done more than given us feedback. Its also given us focus.

I don't want to be doing this in a year. We could continue to build training, all types of training, but damn, that would be boring. Its not who I want to be, its distracting us from becoming the company that I see when I picture the future.

I feel like I finally have it, perhaps simply by seeing what I don't want. I have focus, my eye on what will make this happen. And it feels as if some enormous burden has been lifted. I'm ready for this.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bad pie

There is no better dessert than pie. Pie is an awesome concept--take a delicious fruit, sweeten it up so its even more delicious, then wrap it in a flaky crust. Serve warm or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream or nothing at all. It even gives you the illusion that its healthy (at least the fruit pies do). Pie is modest, an underdog, a totally underrated dessert. Its not as low on the totem pool as pudding or jello, but it certainly is standing in the shadow of cake, cookies, cupcakes and ice cream.

Which leads me to tonight. I've been working so much that I keep forgetting to eat. I'm leaving tomorrow for 6 days at a client meeting, and when dinner time rolled around we decided to try a new diner. When you walked in, the first thing you saw was the pastry counter to the right, to the left was the giant rotating glass display of cakes. No pies. But then, I spotted them, at least 12 pies in a glass display behind the counter. Before we even ordered, we had decided on pie for dessert.

Post-meal, we asked our waiter what kind of pie they had. He only named 3: apple, cherry, and blueberry. I was surprised; I had expected a delicious list of option. We opted for blueberry to share. The plate arrived, no acoutrements, but that was ok. I was so looking forward to every scrumptious bite.

To say this pie was bad is really understating the issue. This pie was the worst pie I have ever had. I kept taking bites, as if in denial that it was as gross as it was. The crust had a weird flavor to it and the filling was just blueberry syrup dotted with an occasional blueberry. I really wanted it to be good. I had built it up in my mind. But I eventually had to face the fact that my pie sucked.

I'm seeing the same pattern of denial with virtual worlds for enterprise. People want them to be awesome. They have high expectations and the technology is cool. It's flashy, it's sexy. People will hang on longer than they should to ideas or options that aren't going to work or be effective because they are in love with the idea of it. But just like pie, you still need to have the right ingredients for virtual worlds to work. You need to base future development on principles proven in the past to be effective.

When faced with it, you have to call a bad pie a bad pie and just walk away. But don't worry. There are plenty of delicious pies out there.

Now I feel like a real start up

I've gotten 6 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. One of my fellow Rockstars has gotten less than that (I really can't thank him enough for staying up ALL last night). I'm not one for working long hours for the sake of working long hours, but this week has made it necessary.

I think this is what's meant by "start up mode."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The home stretch

If I know anything about the few days before a big deliverable, especially if its a launch or other important client meeting, its that something will inevitably go wrong (or at least not as you planned) and someone on the client-side will freak out. It doesn't matter how hard you work, it doesn't matter how much you plan. It doesn't matter if you've done everything before then right, bent over backwards, and stayed mum on scope changes. You just need to be ready for *something* to happen, whatever that may be.

Remember that you are the one who will be thrown under the bus, even if whatever it is wasn't your fault or was out of your control. Only really strong clients take responsibility for things that they miss--its so much easier to blame the vendor. You are disposable, can't defend yourself in their internal meetings, and if it ever comes down to you or them, its going to be you.

Even worse, some companies have really short organizational memories or don't enable you to build goodwill (sometimes due to turnover, sometimes just the personality of the company).

Which is why in the service business, you're only as good as your last project. And the home stretch is where you clinch it or blow it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Internet is for porn

Probably one of the only songs from a musical that I like, and a little plug for Avenue Q (I saw it in Vegas, and now the lead actor is doing this show on Playhouse Disney. Everytime it comes on I die a little inside).

So, yes, lots of people use the Internet as a means to getting to pornography. That doesn't discount all of the other phenomenal ways that the Internet has changed our everyday lives.

I feel the same way about people who think that virtual worlds are just a way to have cybersex. And with research showing that people experience physiological responses to the experiences of their avatars, its no wonder that the sex industry is such a big part of virtual worlds.

Its no mystery that the porn industry is one of, if not THE, most technologically advanced industries. People will pay for high tech sex, so the porn industry invests in innovation. That shouldn't mean that we can't use the technology for other, perhaps more noble, purposes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shoes are not an intelligent innovation

Sometimes things sound like a cool idea, until you realize they cost you money and cause more problems than they solve. I wouldn't have thought that shoes fell into that designers should love this one!

My mother always told me...

A small memo of appreciation for my mom, who has always encouraged me to do great things and to use my powers for good not evil. I hope I remember all the lessons she taught me and am able to pass them along to my children.

A few lessons from my mom:

  • There are geniuses in prison.
  • Treat everyone you meet how you would like to be treated.
  • You'll get in trouble if you do something wrong, but it will be twice as much trouble if you lie about it.
  • Don't let anyone else tell you what you can or can't do.
  • Always wear sunscreen.
  • Trust your intuition about people and situations.
  • Women are the stronger sex (sorry guys).
  • Don't worry about what other people think of you.
  • Go outside and play.
  • You have to live with your decisions, so choose wisely.
  • Sometimes the best thing to have for dinner is popcorn and ice cream.
  • Make time for the people who are most important to you.
  • Lots of guys will want to be with you; its up to you to decide who YOU want to be with.
  • Its never too late to undo a bad decision.

And one more that my mom reminded me of today:

  • You can be WHATEVER you want to be.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Intelligent innovation

I've been working on the mission, vision, and values statements for Tandem Learning, based on the Rockstar weekly discussions. I thought I was clever and was coining a new phrase, intelligent innovation, to include as part of our mission statement. Turns out, its a pretty established term (so I either heard it somewhere before, or I'm just really smart and behind the times). But since every phrase gets reinterpreted and skewed based on who's using it, I think I should define it for my purposes.

Intelligent innovation as I am using it describes the appropriate integration of new technology to refine process for organizational improvement. As an example, creating e-learning modules out of didactic workshop presentations could be seen as an intelligent innovation, because the organization could reduce the amount of time an employee spent in live training (which is the most expensive kind). Assuming that learning outcomes are equal in both cases, this would be an intelligent innovation.

My example isn't bad, but let's be realistic--nowadays when we talk about innovation in business, we're typically talking about a shift in how people are conducting their work. Mobile learning was the big "innovation" that organizations were contemplating a few years ago (ok, some of them still today) and although some did adopt podcasting and developing their own mobile learning clips, most companies weighed the risk-benefit ratio and decided to pass. Cool technologybut not enough benefit for the investment and therefore, for many companies, not an intelligent innovation (at least not yet...). As a consultant to my clients, I presented mobile learning as an option when I thought that it was appropriate, but frankly, there were few clients who I really saw it as a good option for. It's fun to do new things, but it only makes sense to do them if they will help accomplish your goals.

Virtual world training may go the way of mobile learning, but my guess is that for most companies, the scales will quickly tip in its favor. I see the immediate benefits, the long-term potential, and I don't see this as a passing fad. So, as we define where Tandem Learning will intersect learning and technology, at this moment in time, virtual worlds seem to be where we will start.

That being said, I don't know if virtual world learning will be right for every company. I want Tandem Learning to be the company that people talk to when they want to find out what the best recommendations are to accomplish their organizational goals, whether that is a print-based job aid or an immersive simulation, promoting intelligent innovation when its appropriate. And then I want to be able to do what we recommend.

Friday, May 9, 2008

To Do lists

There are lots of people who seem to be able to get stuff done of their own accord, but I am a slave to the To Do list. I usually make a list each morning of the things I need to get to that day. I love checking things off the list. And the next day, I start by looking at what I didn't get to the day before and put those items on my new list.

Sadly, if I forget to put stuff on the list, it just doesn't get done.

And there are things that are on my list every day, like working on my book. Some "to do's" just take a lot longer to complete than others.

Often I think that these lists get in the way of more creativity, that perhaps they impede real 'a-ha' moments as I focus on checking stuff off of the lists. But last night, at our most recent Rockstar meeting, we got through the entire "to do" list for the meeting. I was excited that we got so much done, and energized that it seems like we've now taken the first steps in our product development adventure. We've officially left the discussion phase and have entered the doing phase of our first product.

So this morning, I'm loving my "to do" list and looking forward to checking items off one by one.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I'm an expert in...

I've had a few funny conversations the last few days about "experts." It's been weighing on my mind because we Rockstars are trying to carve our own niche of expertise in the virtual world space. Here are a few conclusions I've drawn from these conversation.

  • People will start to think you're an expert if you say you are. There's a danger here because then you have to back it up. My experience is that lots of so-called experts are actually yahoos. But you probably are already painfully aware of the shortage of true Rockstars.
  • Writing a book makes you an expert. This seems almost ridiculously simple. But writing a book really is a daunting task. Although I'm not sure that writing a book should make you an expert--shouldn't the book have to be good?
  • People are eager to accept you as an expert. People in general are looking for smart people who know what they are talking about. They'll give you the benefit of the doubt until you can either prove your expertise or reveal yourself as a fraud.

So, I'm working on developing my expertise in virtual world technology in support of learning. A book is in the works. I'm doing lots of research and experimentation. But I'm having a hard time determining when I'll feel comfortable passing myself off as an expert. It just seems too easy when everything else is so hard.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chicken or egg?

I've been spending a lot of time planning a strategy for developing our first product. Here's what I'm stuck on: you can't design the product without considering the platform on which it'll be delivered, and you can't pick a platform without knowing what you want your product to be able to do.

So, you need to make these decisions (Rockstars, forgive me!) in tandem.

It makes it a tough process to get started, because you're not sure which one to actually start with. I want to start with the design, but I don't think we can go too far down that road without knowing our platform options, both capabilities we haven't considered and limitations that we need to consider.

Having just started crawling, its daunting to think about taking my first steps. It makes me feel better, though, to know that a year from now, I'll look back on this time when we were just starting out and be amazed at how much we learned, how much we accomplished. Thinking about "future Tandem" makes me all the more excited to get there.

So, where to begin? Chicken or egg?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Do you need a coach?

I never played sports--those who know me know that I'm not athletically gifted. So I never had a coach, and if you asked me what a coach did I'd have to rely on my movie viewing or sports event watching experience.

I had a consultation today with a career coach. I was nervous that I was uncoachable. I'm not really good with people telling me what to do, and I tend to write people off if I feel like they don't understand what I do. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she not only seemed to understand what I do, but she asked good questions and had some great insight about how I might continue to grow personally as the CEO of my own company. Not only that, but she also had some suggestions that might help me tactically short-term.

I've had really great teachers. I have had, and still have, fantastic mentors. And I think I now see the value in having a coach. Hopefully she won't be yelling at me from the sidelines...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday morning mojo

Monday mornings are tough. Why not start them by tackling the biggest thing you didn't get done the week before? I'm starting a tradition this week--Mondays from 9-10 are dedicated to checking the biggest "leftover" off my list.

Won't you join me?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Banging your head against the glass ceiling

Sometimes I wonder why I've chosen to head out on my own, start my own company, instead of working my way up within an organization to take over.

I know one reason. I'm much too impatient for the investment of time that would take.

Here's another reason. It's not that likely that it would work out like I'd want it to, even if I tried to do everything "right."

For any woman out there who has had this debate with herself before, here's an uplifting article about the first woman to almost be appointed the head of a Wall Street firm. Almost.

Try not to be too distracted by the "she cried to manipulate situations" or her being labeled "too emotional." Or the cringe-inducing ending where she's currently described as growing her hair out and "looking beautiful."

And try not to take it too personally, sisters, that somehow this company was able to pin the lionshare of responsibility for losses due to the housing crash on a single person. A woman.

Just another reason why maybe starting your own company is the best way to run a company.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Rockstars in Second Life

The Tandem Rockstars have switched from Wednesday to Thursday nights because of scheduling conflicts, and last night's session was our first Second Life sandbox session. After a brief discussion of Miss Bimbo, which may signal the end of feminism for the next generation, we all logged into Second Life and played around with navigation, interactions, communication, and exploring different islands.

My initial conclusions about the difficulty of navigation and the overwhelming number of options as a distraction for learning still hold true after last night. That being said, I think there's opportunity for Second Life to be used for some demo purposes, or to show capabilities.

I think we need to get an island and set up our own virtual training center. It's nice to see my virtual dreams becoming reality.

The problem with rumors

Everyone loves a good rumor. Its something about the excitement of the secrecy, that you may know something before your supposed to, that somehow you are special because you know something that other people don't know.

The problem is, if the rumors are right, people get worked up in advance of the actual announcement of the news, and lots of additional speculation happens that is typically not helpful or productive.

If they're wrong, then people get all worked up over nothing. And sometimes people get hurt in the process.

I've heard so many rumors lately. I'm trying to stick to the facts, because frankly, I just don't have the time or energy. It's really hard not to get sucked into the speculation, though. Sometimes the fantasy of what might happen is better than your current reality. Unless its worse. Either way, how much time would I be wasting on speculating, when I could actually make things happen. Better to do than discuss.