Sep 29, 2011

Ideas are seeds, execution are the plants

Ideas are almost worthless. Good ideas might be worth something, but without taking proper actions from ideas, they are not worth anything. Ideas are like seeds, they don't cost much and those are quite easy to find from anywhere. Seeds don't start to grow without planting those to the right grounds and starting to take care of those. That's the same with ideas, if you just keep those in your drawer, nothings going to happen to those ideas.

Once in a while someone comes to me and says, I have a great business idea. What if we would do this and that, wouldn't it be amazing. I admit that I've done the same. I have a pile of business ideas in my virtual drawer (in Google Docs) where I type out those ideas for storage when those come to my mind. For a long time, I thought those are important and kind of like a treasure for me. Just recently I've figured out that those are not worth anything. Really, those are not worth anything. Those are just ideas, which might lead to somewhere with good execution, but ideas as such don't have any value to anyone. It's the same with this post. This post as an idea in my mind, didn't have any value to anyone. I discussed about this subject with my colleagues few days back and then there came some value to the ideas and now this actually materializes to it's current value with my execution to this blog. 

A week ago I read an excellent post from Derek Sivers about value of ideas (here's the post). The idea in his post is that execution is tens of thousands or million time's more valuable than just the idea. That's what I'm trying to say in this post also, ideas are really not worth much or if anything without execution. Execution is the thing that makes ideas fly, not the ideas itself.

Reason I and many else have been careful about sharing ideas that we've thought that they do have a value and that someone might steal those ideas. Sure someone might steal your idea if you share with others, but most often you need to really have marvelous idea for anyone to even listen your ideas. And like I've said many times, execution and the vision is the thing that matters, not the idea itself. If you are sure about your idea being really good, don't worry about someone stealing it, go ahead and execute better than others. There's always going to be competition, maybe it's better to face it early.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't ever protect your ideas. In some cases it might be wise to keep your ideas with small group or only share parts of your idea to others. The main point still is, that you should think when the ideas really start to get value. Is partly done done, or not done at all. Some could argue that there isn't any value created on any doing before it's really out there with real users.

For organizations this might be different. Some bigger companies do get extra value of not publishing ideas before execution, in order to get more publicity from the launch of a product or a service. For smaller companies it might be quite the opposite, they could actually gain publicity or funding for their product or a service for opening up ideas really early to public. They can get fast feedback and tips for the execution for opening up the ideas sooner than later. And at the end, what will make a difference is the execution.

If you have a brilliant idea, maybe the best thing you could do would be to spread the idea to everyone willing to listen as much as you can. Best thing that could happen to you might be, that someone else things that the idea is great. And that might even lead to the next step of execution of the idea. With keeping the idea to yourself, most probably the idea will just die itself to old age.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 28, 2011

New ways to view this blog (blogger dynamic views in action)

Blogger rolled out fully their new ways to view blogger blogs. These new dynamic views are more modern way to read blogs. These remind me of templates available in  Posterous or Tumblr.

Even though some of the new views look quite neat, I'm not going to give up on my traditional blog lookalike. If you hate it or just want to read my blog in some other ways, please check from here all the other views available to read my blog. If you like some of those, just bookmark that one. Those will be always available.

Here's all the different dynamic views of
  • Classic: A modern twist on a traditional template
  • Flipcard: Photos tiled across the page
  • Magazine: A clean, elegant editorial style layout
  • Mosaic: A mosaic mix of different sized images and text
  • Sidebar: An email inbox-like view with a reading page for quick scrolling and browsing
  • Snapshot: An interactive pinboard of your posts
  • Timeslide: A horizontal view of your posts by time period 
I think only option that makes sense for this type of blog I have is this Magazine view. All the others look more or less bit childish tries to be cool. This Magazine view I could really get used to, if it only would have the options to get some of the items from my current blog template to it. Then I could consider taking it to be the default one. And at the same time I would like to disable the other possibilities.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 26, 2011

Book review - Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda

Laws of Simplicity is one of the books I had heard a lot of beforehand. It had become a sort of a trend book in our office for making many things simpler and clearer. It was referred in so many different occasions, that I wasn't really sure what to expect. Book is from John Maeda, who is designer, artist and educator. Still the book isn't only about design, but much more.

Mr. Maeda takes the ambitious mission of explaining simplicity in the book. I've always thought that simplicity is something some people just seem to understand, and others just don't. It's kind of like an eye for something. John Maeda has taken this task to gather many different ways (or laws as he calls) simplicity appears. It's a challenging task, but he has done it really well.

Mr. Maeda introduces in simple way the usual forms of simplicity and gives small introduction how people can try to learn to understand these forms of simplicity. In the book he explains these laws and gives some ways for all of us to learn to build simpler things. It doesn't really matter what you are building, these laws are trying to be universal to suit from SW business to house building.

This might be the first book, that I've thought to be too short. I think Mr. Maeda has relied too much on his first law of Reduce and shortened the book too much. I would have really liked to get some more insights of some of the laws presented in the book. Few more good examples would have made a difference on understanding some key aspects of this book. Even though I think most of the books are bit too long, maybe in this case few more chapter would have a made difference. It's a matter of taste, like simplicity.

This book is not only for designers. This is a good book for almost everyone. Everywhere in the world there are things, products or services which are too complex. In addition the book is fast and fun to read, so it won't take lot of time to read it trough. Still somehow I feel, I might go and read the book again someday. It's good to remind remind yourself on the basics of simplicity once in a while.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 24, 2011

Innovation is all about execution

Innovation is often misthought to be all about ideas. Often people think that great ideas means great innovations. Actually ideas as such don't have much value. Ideas are easy to come up with, but what makes a difference is the execution.

One consequence of this false thinking of ideas being the important thing on creating innovative products, are all the systematic innovation methods and processes that are seen with companies and other organisations. From the book Inside Steve's brain I loved Steve Jobs citate:"trying to systemize innovation, is like somebody not cool, trying to be cool". That's exactly what I've felt on these innovation boosting systems what I've seen in many different places. They are focused on gathering new ideas. Often those even give the greatest value to ideas which are most original and are most weird and out of the current world. Revolution is quite rare, evolution is happening all the time.

Best projects where I've take part have had a real focus on details. Those have had a vision of an idea and then we've all been together working hard to get all the smallest details right. That have required lot of iterations and lot of errors. Making a mistake is a key thing on creating great innovative products. If you never make a mistake when creating something new and innovative, then you've just never realised the importance of learning and mistakes on you creation process.

I learned from the same book Inside Steve's brain another great quote, this one is from Pablo Picasso: "Good artist copy, great artist steal". This tells exactly what innovation is mainly about. If you think companies like Apple, they haven't really ever invented anything totally new. They've just taken good ideas from others and owned those and made those perfect. Same is true almost about any products or companies that are thought to be innovative. If you think Facebook, there's been social networks before them, they just executed theirs perfectly. Same is true about Toyota Prius. This innovative hybrid car was not the first or only car on the market that time, Toyota just executed perfectly and kept improving their early prototypes. Innovation is often about stealing, undesrtanding a great idea and improving it to be perfect when creating the product.

When you are working on innovative products, concentrate on details and vision of a problem you are solving. Overall all innovative products are solving real user problems. Some of these problems are just problems that will come obvious in the future and people don't really understand having those yet. If you think of mobile phones as an example, people didn't know twenty years ago, that they would need to be able to communicate with others everywhere. With mobile phones, the problem has always been there, people just didn't think that it could be solved.  

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 19, 2011

Example from Steve Jobs - what really is important for a leader

I was watching a video series from Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby) made exclusively to Arctic 15 conference. In one of the videos he talks about the fact that nobody knows the future. The actual video and idea is interesting, but what was even more interesting was when Derek told about Apple being in contact with him after iTunes launch. After reading Inside Steve's brain, this part popped up to me so nicely.

Derek went to Apple and was waiting for some guys from marketing to come to talk with him, but actually Steve Jobs himself popped in and started selling his great idea of buying all the music rights from him. This is perfect learning for all managers and leaders out there. Steve Jobs saw this to be such an essential part of iTunes and Apple success that he got hit hands on to convince Derek to sell rights through his company to Apple. So often manager assigns things to others to complete and just watches from above or side that everything progresses as though. There always are battles that managers should take part. Too often too much is delegated.

Please check either the full video (only 4:50 long) or then jump directly to the part where he talks about being invited to Apple (from 3:15 onwards).

Derek Sivers. Uncommon Sense. 3-of-8. Nobody knows the future. from Derek Sivers on Vimeo.

If you liked this video, 7 out of 8 of the whole series of  Derek's speeches are found from here: Arctic15 Exclusive: Derek Sivers - Uncommon Sense. Last one wasn't announced yet, but I would guess the link to this upcoming post is this.  

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 18, 2011

Book review - Inside Steve's brain - expanded edition

I read book about Steve Jobs and Apple written by Leander Kahney. Book's name was Inside Steve's brain. Copy I had was an extended edition of this book. I figured out from the name, that the book would really dig into mindset of Steve Jobs. I knew that writer Leander Kahney didn't have the permission from Steve Jobs for this book, but still I assumed he had second hand material which would open up the mind of one interesting technology leader.

I have to start with the negative side of the book. It promises in the name that it would be "inside Steve's brain" and would really tell why Steve Jobs behaves as he does, what are his motives and driving forces. Unfortunately this is not what the book really is about. Book really is an entertaining and excellent one, but it doesn't really fulfill it's promise from the name. I expected it to be different than it was, but when I got over the disappointment, I realised there's lot of good in this book.

If you admire Apple products, like most of us do, this is the book that tells more about how Apple creates it's products. It tells about excellent people and their processes to create these innovative and cool looking products of theirs. It could almost work as a bible for those who believe that Apple's way of building products is the best and only way. It really gives lot of food for thought about importance of design, product thinking, innovation and clear focus, when creating products.

I specially loved the parts where it told how innovations and designs are created at Apple. Innovation and beautiful designs don't just come from great thinkers, but they need hard work and lots of iterations even from some of the best guys in the planet.

For guys creating any types of products, you should be aware how Apple has done theirs. Understanding that methodology will give you good ideas how to improve your own organisation on improving the ways you create products. That's the reasoning I would sell this book to you if not an Apple fanboy. If you are, then I guess I don't need to sell it to you.

I have to admit I was hoping the book to be more about Steve Jobs. This book was mainly about Apple, which for some might equal to Steve Jobs, but not for me. I've found Mr. Jobs personality and experience such an interesting, that I hope to find more about that on the soon to come book Steve Jobs.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 7, 2011

Book review - Lean Software Development by Mary & Tom Poppendieck

This was one of the books I've planned to read from the days I started with Agile SW development projects. This was the book many said I should read about agile. I'm almost embarrassed that it took so long for me to start with this book. Now I've finally read it. Was it worth it? Definitely.

What I love about the book Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck is that even it's subtitle is Agile Toolkit, it isn't a such a toolkit that offers ready made solutions. I've never believed this one size fits all thinking which is sometimes pushed with Scrum and Kanban literature and this is refreshing exception to that thinking. This one offers explanations why things tend to go in some ways and what are the user or organizational problems these tools are trying to solve.

I'm actually pleased that I didn't read this when I was a fresh starter with Agile and Lean. I somehow feel the book would have been bit too much on that time. This book really encourages to see the whole and understand the underlying causalities between different parts of SW development. For that reason it was good that I had experience on many different levels and layers of Agile and Lean SW development to be able to reflect the lessons in the book to real life situations.

Book has lot of examples, most of them which really adds value to the book. Examples are often the best way to explain how the theory actually works in practice. That was exactly the way this book used examples. Some of the examples even felt really familiar to me and I noticed being in a similar situations which were described in these examples. That helped me to map these things better to real life.

I would recommend this book to all of you who want to understand the bigger picture with Agile and Lean SW development. This is the book that really sets the grounds to understand what this all actually is about. It gives more flesh around the bones for Agile and Lean. Those who need to see the whole before really understanding the details, this is the book for you.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Sep 2, 2011

Learnings and tips from crowdsourcing project within company

Couple weeks ago I was asked to start up a crowdsourcing type of project inside the company. I was given sponsorship from our management, but I had to recruit the people myself and organize the actual work myself. I really liked the challenge and got up to speed quickly. I had only couple of weeks to finish this and I knew I had to get couple hundred people working on this on voluntary basis.

Now that the project has turned out quite well, I wanted to share my learning's from this journey to you and to analyze and learn from those myself also better. I at least analyze better written than only in my head.

Get it up and running
The first thing was to decide how much preparations I would do before really starting the project. I had basically two alternatives, (1) create proper web or tool based mechanism to divide the the work and create reporting tool or then (2) use good old excel and email based mechanism. Due to limited timeline, I selected the latter one. Within one day from announcing the project, I already had tens of people working on the actual work items.

This was a tough choice and I believe in some cases more elegant systems would help on coordinating the work and results. Of course I had a good plan also, just the tools were ancient. I juts believed that in this situation the best thing was to but the wheels running fast. That' was the way to get more time for our volunteers and fast feedback on my methods. So off I went.

Recruiting people
Like said, this was a company internal project and it has it's own challenges on recruiting people to join. I had to get sponsorship from our management (my manager did this for me, thanks for that), but I had to convince line managers around to give this a go and then convince the actual people to join to help a common goal.

Only tip I can say about this phase is, that be honest and transparent. Tell exactly how much of a time it might take from volunteer, what's the timeline and when results are expected. Also be clear what are the prerequisites people have to fulfill to join. And remember to tell the goal of the exercise clearly and understandably. Keys to get people to join are that they understand what they work for and what they exactly need to do.

Walk trough the whole chain
Before you roll up your sleeves and put the ball running; walk the whole chain trough once. What I do first, how do I instruct people, how do I get the results back, what do I do with the results, how the results are shown, who are the key people to know about the results, when this thing will finished and so forth.

Make an easy walk trough of the most important steps you expect you will face during the project. It won't take more than 15-30 minutes for this exercise, but it will definitely help you to see whole.

Test your instructions
This is the part I learned a lot. I made the perfect instructions at first. I looked the subject from many directions, answered all the questions in advance, made pictures with explanations on those and walked through the chain with my instructions. Then I asked few of my colleagues to check those. They found some minor tweaks to those, but after those, the instructions we ready to rock. Or so I thought.

I still decided to take one more cautious step before rolling the instructions to everyone. I decided to use target group for verifying those. When the first voluntaries arrived, I gave the instructions for the first tens of people and paused the roll out for a while. I asked my target group to immediately report any misunderstanding and clarification needs from my instructions. What happened was, that within the first day, I did four major updates to my thought to be perfect instructions. I congratulated myself for using this focus group approach. It turned out I really needed it.

Do not assume
In the first set of instructions I made two assumptions, that (1) some things are common knowledge and  (2) that it is obvious that I expected people to communicate back to me with certain way. Both of those turned out to be false ones.

I learned that I should never assume, that things are commonly known, because me and my close colleagues are familiar with the subject in advance. I had to make updates to my instructions about these really basic issues. I had actually explained the harder parts really well, but then the easy ones I had failed to explain well enough.

Biggest mistake of this whole project was, that I didn't specify the way people should communicate back to me. I assumed everyone would get the idea from my instructions, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. I got contacted with so many different ways and so many different formats, that I had to use lot of time on standardizing the results together. This is where the more advanced reporting tools would have become handy. I made conscious decision to stick with simple tools and get it running faster. It would have easily taken 2-3 days of my project to develop those tools, so I still think I made the right call with excel and email. Next time I just must use more time to explain how I want the results to be communicated to me.

Emphasize possibility to ask for more information
This was a learning from past similar projects. Some people need to be encouraged to ask for more info. Some people are naturally shy and they try to find information from sources they are familiar with. This easily leads to false information due to uncertainties and misunderstandings. So I encourage to put an extra emphasis on ways and possibilities to ask for clarifying questions. Tools like email and IM chat's work well for naturally shyer people.

Friends are the worst ones
I've done these type of projects couple of times in smaller scale and based of those and the project in question, I can tell that friends are the worst ones. Those people who you now quite well and who you do have a relationship with, easily don't obey the deadlines and read the instructions nearly as well enough as the ones you don't know in advance. Somehow the friendship status makes people to be more careless and they don't use the attention needed to successfully complete the tasks given. Of course there are exceptions to this and some friends can be even used for help. Overall I still think that friends are the worst ones in this type of projects. 

Have a realistic schedule
Before making a target schedule for your project, think about the scale. If there's 100 people involved, completing a project in 2 days is a big challenge. From 100 persons, there's easily ten  who come up with something more urgent to deal with and it might be hard to get replacement for so many in such short notice. I don't have any rule of thumb here, but just think of how long the task might take, double it and then give still some buffer. People always works in different ways and different situations.

When you give people a deadline, don't put it to the last day you want it to complete. Have it at least 1 or 2 days in advance and this gives you the possibility to be flexible, when people come to you to ask for more time. They are happy and you will still get your results on time.

Have a good plan of follow-up
As Stephen Covey advised in his book 7 Habits of highly effective people: "Habit 2 - Start with the end in mind", and so you should do here also. Always keep in mind what is the purpose of this all. Is the way people are working the important thing or do you care only about the results. Or are the results actually just a side note and the purpose of this all is to come up with actions from the results. Or are actually the meaning of all this to fix some underlying problem and you are just the step towards it.

So think carefully why it is done and what are the things you need to care for most. There's going to be problems in the way that something doesn't go as planned, or some results might not be as accurate as you would like those to be. Just try to reflect those to the purpose of your exercise. Like life in general, you can't win all the fights, instead try to win the war.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen