Category Archives: Observations

Draw More Pictures

Drawing, you’ve been doing it since preschool. It’s so simple, yet so many struggle to use it as a business tool. Every single day very successful people struggle to communicate their ideas, brainstorm and compare thoughts with friends and colleagues. I’ve found that sketching and drawing will close gaps between people so quickly and so effectively that it’s shocking people resist it so often. I’ve used drawing in my day to day work for some time now, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago when I spent a weekend at a Lean UX bootcamp that this practice really crystallized with me.

Sketch of Customer Service Dashboard

Confidence and laziness. These are the two reasons people resist to pick up a pen, pencil or whiteboard marker.

Confidence, people simply don’t think they can draw. “I’m not an artist” or “I can’t draw” or “I failed art in high school.” These are poor excuses. Frankly, I’ve seen those who are the worst at drawing often get the most benefit from sketching or drawing for the sake of communicating or brainstorming ideas in a business setting. The pictures don’t have to be pretty. In fact a few lines and dots will do, these marks communicate a million times better than written words and a trillion times better than spoken word. Jason Fried of 37Signals has a great post on how they start product development, ignoring the details, and it all starts with sketching with a Sharpie. A low-fidelity way to get an idea on paper and quickly move forward.

On to laziness. People love to sit. Walk into a typical room of people meeting, they’re typically sitting, barely swiveling in their chairs. Around the room people are virtually glued to their chairs. But you can change this behavior. Get a whiteboard or tape a piece of paper to the wall, then stand up and start sketching. It rapidly becomes contagious, others will hop up as they start discussing and deliberating ideas… they may even pick up a drawing utensil!

I’ve done most of my sketching work with startups over the last few years, and it’s a highly effective way to get people aligned and moving forward quickly, something very important for cash and time-strapped organizations. But this art isn’t just relegated to the startup. I’m sure many Fortune 500 companies couple benefit from sketching, from the junior ranks through the CEO (especially the CEO).

You can truly sketch anything, here are a few ideas:

  • User interface (UI) for software
  • Technical specifications
  • Website design
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Store layout
  • Restaurant menu
  • Mobile application
  • T-shirt design
  • Customer journey map
  • Sales process
  • Manufacturing process

Now for your homework. Next time you’re in a meeting simply pick up a pen or pencil, grab a piece of paper and start sketching, drawing and creating. Do you work with a distributed team? I highly suggest Balsamiq Mockups to help rapidly sketch and collaborate. It’s not just for wireframes, you can sketch pretty much anything using this super-simple, drag-and-drop software. Show your work to others in the room. You’ll be amazed at the reaction you receive, it will change the dynamic in meeting rooms and the outcome of your projects. Stick with it, as it will likely take a few sessions to get others on board, remember people lack confidence and are have been trained to be lazy, but that can change quickly.

Happy drawing.



Climate Cycle – 125 mile Ride

This past weekend I enjoyed a 62.5 mile bike down to the Indiana Dunes State Park, camped out and biked back to Chicago on Sunday morning, another 62.5 miles. A total of 125 miles in a weekend! This was by far the most biking I’ve ever done, and I loved it.

This ride supports Chicago-based Climate Cycle, who helps educate Chicagoland students about renewable energy and builds eco projects, including solar installations, with these Chicago students. It’s a great organization, and a fantastic event.

I was also very lucky to have a ton of support by friends and family. I raised over $2,000 for the organization, leading up to the event. This should help put a few more solar panels on schools, and educate students about renewable energy and exercise, two very weighty topics.

Thanks again to all my supporters, the t-shirt I made and wore to honor your generosity is below in one of the pics. Check out a few moments we captured from the weekend, along with a video highlight reel, made by my partner in crime for the weekend, Scott Mestrezat.

Thanks again to everyone, I’m looking forward to next year… and my next long ride.

Karma Police

My post on project from yesterday… cool project they have going on. Check it out….

Karma Police.

And I’m not thinking Radiohead here, more importantly life and USA soccer. To be perfectly clear I’m about as far from a soccer fan as you’ll find. Sure, I’ll watch a World Cup match or two if it’s convenient, but it has just never had the same place in my sporting ‘heart’ as football, hockey, basketball or baseball.

I digress. Karma Police showed up in a BIG BIG way for the US soccer team today. As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, Landon Donovan scored one of the biggest goals in US soccer history today with just 3 minutes and 15 seconds left in the match. And my take? Luck? Talent? Sheer will? No, team USA had it coming, this goal was inevitable.

Full, original post can be found at the3six5

Excelerate Labs – The First 3 Weeks… Already?

I can’t believe that we’re in the third full week of Excelerate Labs, man time flies. Our company, PVPower, has been luckily selected as a participant in the inaugural class of the Excelerate Labs start-up incubator program in Chicago. So far it’s been an incredible experience.

Excelerate Labs

The incubator is being run by Sam Yagan of OKCupid and SparkNotes fame and Brian Luerssen of Hyde Park Angels, among others. There is a lot of leadership and support being provided by Troy Henikoff of Northwestern University, SurePayroll and OneWed, Sandbox Industries and Kapil Chaudhary of i2AFund. So far all of our colleagues in the program have been nothing but impressed by their organization, tynacity and connections. The third piece I mention is the key, connections. I’ve been blown away by the quality of people who have given their time and energy to this program. To coach our up-and-coming businesses, provide council, resources and advice – many of these things you couldn’t even buy, especially from people of this caliber.

I’m looking forward to the next 2.5 months of Excelerate Labs, it can only mean great things for PVPower and our future. Working with the folks we continue to meet and developing relationships is a lifelong value that I couldn’t be more thankful for.

If you’re a business leader, entrepreneur, investor, technologist, or simply a wise old (wo)man please drop Sam and Brian a note and let them know you’d like to participate, I’m sure at least one of the companies could benefit from your experience.

Excelerate Labs…

The 6 Foundations of Digital Creative

I love this presentation. A colleague of mine (thanks Jordan) found this and shared it with the team. Every creative and media shop should have these six, what I’d prefer to call principals, in their back pocket when moving into an assignment and should always strive to one-up previous efforts. Obviously being squarely on strategy and accomplishing objectives is key, however these principals will get customers and potential customers there much quicker. And you’ll have some great work to show for it!

A bit of a cheat sheet, here are the 6 Foundations discussed within the presentation:

Ideas Should Be…

1. Interactive
2. Customizable
3. Contextual
4. Entertaining
5. Playable
6. Useful

This was originally presented at the AdAge 2010 Digital conference by Ashley Ringrose who runs BannerBlog. There are great examples, of yes banner ads, within the presentation – many of which are clickable. This ad from Nike has to be my favorite. The combo of unexpected entertainment and product exploration is great. Not an easy nut to crack.

Take note, gain inspiration and use these foundations as a guide to great digital ad work.

Google Docs, Major Upgrade (Or So They Say)

Today Google released details on an upgraded Google Docs platform and I’m hoping this means that three key shortcomings have been improved with this release. I’ve always had trouble with three things, hindering me from using Google Docs for everything, everyday:

1) Importing DOC and XLS files into Google Docs and retaining their formatting

2) Exporting these documents and retaining their formatting

3) Editing complex spreadsheets within Google Docs

The overview video below sheds some light on these shortcomings and seems to show hope. I haven’t fully tested Docs against these features yet, but my hopes are high. The idea of using a single, central place for all my documents, spreadsheets and presentations is fantastic and real time collaboration is a benefit you never knew you needed until you try it.

Today I use Google Docs for some simple spreadsheets, shared across a group and for collaboration on documents as they’re being created – these features are invaluable. If only Google Docs were more fluid with MS Office that would really accelerate the adoption of the platform.

Now if Google would just let me use a single login for all my Google accounts – gmail and business – it would truly be a one-stop-shop.