The e-Paper revolution is upon us! This prototype still has a few kinks to iron out, but is clearly the beginning of a new wave in note-taking innovations, especially for educational purposes. Most people want access to the gadget, I want access to an API
Posts in category Strategy
Dropbox stores only 1 copy of every unique file and serves everybody the same unique file – provided that it is the exact file – but charges everybody for the full file size. E.g. if 1 person uploads a 5MB file, but 99 other people upload it too, they don’t have 100 copies of that 5MB file for 500MB of storage. The only use 5MB of storage, but charge everybody’s quota of 500MB.
I don’t think it is hyperbole to say that I haven’t encountered any other business model that produces as much profit as this one. It combines the best elements of fractional reserve banking, SaaS cost structures and low-cost viral marketing.
[Reposted from: http://marcgayle.com/how-dropbox-is-printing-money]
This signals that Dropbox wants to be more than just a cloud storage company, and instead become a more general tool for productivity. As cloud storage platforms become the next generation’s Finder and Windows Explorer, seeing them well integrated with future’s the most popular apps and services is a welcome sight. So what isn’t as obvious?
To me, the acquisition of Mailbox and its current growth trajectory tells me that Dropbox is quickly becoming the next Google. In fact, I would be willing to bet that Dropbox comes to define the future of cloud platforms.
What makes me so confident? Well, let’s first take a look at the competitive landscape and then internally at Dropbox. Apple has lost their iconic leader in Steve Jobs, with just another operational droid now executing at the helm. They’ll make lots of money, but define the future they will not. Google has lost its original aura, and some key personnel. Google is fundamentally a search company, not a cloud platform. Wait, actually they’re a social network. Or was it an advertising company, I can’t be certain. Microsoft, well, let’s just say Windows 8 isn’t looking so hot right now. Remember how people were jumping ship from Google? Well, Facebook isn’t immune from that either. Facebook is also definitely a social network. And Yahoo? We love you Marissa, but they should be happy to even be mentioned on the list.
So let’s see, we’ve covered iCloud, Google Drive, Skydrive and more. What about Box and Evernote? Well, I’m going to count those companies out, but let’s turn our attention to Dropbox’s momentum instead. A few months ago, Dropbox hit 100 million users. A few weeks ago they totally revamped their efforts on Dropbox for Teams. Their API documentation is some of the best available. And did I mention they just acquired Mailbox? None of the players have anywhere near this level of growth.
So in a couple of years when Dropbox becomes synonymous with computer (just like Microsoft and Google were), I can say that I saw it coming back in early 2013. Or I will look like a total fool. Bottom line, if there was a chance for me to put my money where my mouth is, I wouldn’t hesitate to take that opportunity. Hey Drew, sign me up as an angel investor, please!
Every once in awhile, people ask why I chose the word “Discover” over the word “Think” as the first step in the D3 Framework. The truth is I largely agree with its use in other frameworks to describe a very similar step in the productivity process. In fact, I originally started with the word “Think”, but it’s just not where I ended up.
Although choosing the word “Discover” was largely arbitrary, there was a modicum of thought behind the decision. The first, and most obvious, reason is that having three words start with the letter “D” makes for a nice framework title. More importantly though, Discover implies reaching some type of solution to a problem, whereas Think implies merely having considered the problem.
Sometimes, the solution to a problem is obvious. For example, in order to train for a marathon, you need to start running (D1). The much harder part is finding time in your schedule (D2) and getting yourself motivated to do it everyday (D3). Therefore, it doesn’t feel so much like discovering a novel solution, as it does simply spending a bit of time to think about the problem. In these instances, perhaps “Think” is more appropriate.
However, in most situations, the key outcome of this step is to discover a new answer to your problems. Only thinking about an issue is not enough, there must be some sort of outcome as well. The new discovery might not even end up as the best answer, but forcing that decision means taking a small action, and action is the only real ingredient in getting things done.
When creating the efficient plan of action, the most common pitfall is failing to consider the full range of options made possible by leveraging one resource for another. For example, imagine a scenario where a student is taking the bus to get home from school. This plan requires a certain combination of time (20 min), talent (bus driver), treasure ($3 ticket), and tools (the bus). However, if there is no urgency in getting home, perhaps the most efficient plan is to simply walk home. In this instance, time (1 hr total) is being used to buy out all the other resources. Another option could be riding a bike. Here, the main resources being used are time (35 min total) and tools (bicycle). Now assume that time is of the essence, and the student needs to get home as quickly as possible. This could result in a totally different set of time (10 min total), talent (cab driver), treasure ($14+tip), and tools (taxi cab). The bottom line is that after taking into account the full spectrum of resources at one’s disposal, it should be clear that waiting for the bus is not the only available option.
Another common error is not making appropriate trade-offs between the various resources. Extending the metaphor from the previous paragraph, imagine that money was no object and the student was able to travel by any means desired. This could result an new array of time (15 min total), talent (driver), treasure ($100 minimum charge), and tools (limousine). At first glance, taking a limo seems like a great option because the student arrives home sooner (by 5 min compared to the bus) through using a resource which is in relatively unlimited supply (treasure). However, upon further examination, this could never be the most efficient plan because taking a cab offers better results while using fewer resources. Since the objective is to get home by the most efficient (i.e. least resource intensive) means possible, taking a cab is strictly better because even after removing money from the equation, the cab simply offers a better outcome (arriving home 5 min sooner) compared to the limo. It does not matter that the limo might offer a better experience because that is not the goal being optimized towards. In other words, just because one resource can be traded for another, does not mean it should be. Therefore, on top of recognizing that resources are interchangeable, developing an efficient plan requires knowing when to make those trade-offs as well.
It is clear these days that enterprise productivity is transforming, and the old way of getting things done at the office simply cannot persist in an age of ubiquitous cloud computing, open social networks, and a highly mobile workforce. Slowly, companies are waking up to the fact that their employees will no longer tolerate email overload, confusing spreadsheets, and pointless TPS reports.
The real question then becomes, “What will the new way of working look like, and who will lead the way?”
At a high level, companies producing enterprise software must start showing empathy for the end-user, in addition to satisfying the buyer. Traditional user experience techniques require an iterative approach in finding appropriate solutions, which is especially critical here because the tools that work for one organization might fail miserably at another. The right solution then, should be well designed for the majority of users, but also be flexible enough to adapt to a myriad of differing enterprise disparities. And because this software is built for the enterprise, it must also be scalable, centralized, and secure.
In discussing this technology shift, most other articles discuss how to fit enterprise software into a new paradigm of consumer empowerment. However, I’d like to flip the process around by applying my D3 framework, a tool originally conceived for personal productivity, and attempting to work that onto enterprise software.
As a quick primer, D3 stands for “Discover, Decide, Do” – a three part process for getting things done in your life. Part one is about considering the various solutions to the task at hand and deciding on the best one, theoretically through a moment of inspiration or discovery. Part two is about figuring out a plan of how to best delegate the resources at your disposal in order to reach the goal. Finally, part three is about executing on the plan and following through.
Using this lens, enterprises are really engaged in three unique tasks. Within the Discovery Phase, a company is charged with creating a roadmap on how to grow the business. It is a matter of deciding on company strategy, which oftentimes comes down to making bets on how to differentiate the company from the competition. During this period, having meaningful, accurate and timely data will usually lead to the greatest innovation. In this sense, emails, analytics, and reporting can yield valuable insights that lead to the discovery of novel solutions. Done correctly, businesses providing “Big Data” or general analytics services (i.e Cloudera, Mixpanel, IBM) can add a tremendous amount of value in this area.
Within the Decide Phase, a company should be focused on how best to allocate their time, treasure, and talent across various verticals while being cognizant of the inherently limited nature of these resources. In addition to traditional project management solutions, this area includes collaboration and file sharing tools that effectively multiple the resources available. For example, a good video conferencing tool allows access to remote “Talent” that would otherwise not be able to work with your company. Another example is mobile technology, which allows workers to be productive anywhere, expanding the “Time” that work can be done. In this realm, the companies supporting resource allocation and project management tools (i.e. Asana, Citrix, Basecamp) can offer major value to the enterprise.
Finally, within the Do Phase, a company must execute on their gameplan, which is a matter motivating employees to take the right action at the right time. Proper execution hinges on the ability of workers to adapt to gaps in the strategy, moving targets within the industry (ie. competitor introduces new pricing model), and unforeseen changes in the overall ecosystem (ie. hurricane knocks out entire East Coast presence). Companies must learn to strike a balance between ensuring that orders are followed versus empowering employees to take calculated risks. In this area, tools that make people motivated, happy and productive (i.e TriNet, AMEX, NetSuite) are the most useful.
Personally speaking, I believe the best company poised to take over the new entreprise market is one that is able to build a platform that supports all three phases. Whoever is able to accomplish that, while fighting off all the legacy systems, has the chance to improve the working lives of millions of people, and make billions of dollars in profits to boot! if you think about it, how can someone not be excited about the new enterprise?
A critical component of start-up success is having a credible product that satisfies a sizable market with an unmet need. However, clear opportunities rarely exist because most lucrative industries are either entrenched with a handful of colossal incumbents, or in absence of high barriers to entry, these markets are filled with countless me-too companies scrambling for any slice of ever-thinning margins. However, in rare cases, start-ups have an amazing opportunity to enter into a space as the foundation of an industry is shaken up by external change. This could be due to social shift beyond the industry’s borders or when emerging technologies signal a shift in what the standard product can provide. Therefore, one of the reasons productivity software is so exciting is the existence of both factors that allow the potential upheaval of current market leaders.
- Cloud Computing – allows a user to store their ideas in the cloud and access them on demand
- LiquidText – allows a user to manipulate their ideas through a natural user interface.
- Tablet Adoption – allows a user a large screen to view their ideas simultaneously, a portable form factor to carry with them at all times, and enough consumer penetration to shift the burden of teaching users to use the technology to the tablet manufacturer
- Operational Transformation – allows a user to message and collaborate other people at real-time speeds, with the technology available through an open-source protocol along with a number of other userful APIs
- Touchscreen Responsiveness – allows a user to write to a screen like they would on a real piece of paper
Altogether, we have a future where online, real-time collaboration is not only possible, but actually a norm. The user experience will be intuitive, interactive, and fluid with minimal delays in user feedback. What makes this inevitable is that once users acclimate to new technology, they soon see it as standard. With the thousands of productivity apps in iTunes alone, some of them will offer these features and soon everyone else will follow. The leader though will be the one who can combine everything in a elegant and seamless experience, which is exactly what I intend to do.
From large-scale enterprise efficiency to small-scale personal effectiveness, the art of productivity follows a surprisingly consistent pattern. There are countless nuances in the daily practice of productivity, but this article will focus simply on explaining the overarching concepts and why ignoring these concepts prevents people and companies from reaching their goals. So, without further ado, the D3 Framework – Discover. Decide. Do.
The first step to getting things done is knowing what to do. This follows a process of collection, organization and sharing, with each phase containing its own set of details. And while the goal of this first step is to discover a certain course of action, it should be noted upfront that the word itself carries little significance. The word could have easily been called “Think” or “Choose” since this step also involves thinking about all available options, and choosing the right one. As such, the measure of success in this first step hinges not on simply discovering a solution, but rather on the effectiveness of that solution.
Discovering the right solution starts with gathering data. More accurately speaking, this phase refers to the general inward flow of information to help determine the proper course of action. Common activities include information gathering, brainstorming, and user research, with a focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the problem or situation. Theoretically, with more data available, not only are there more alternatives to choose from, but there is also a higher probability that the best alternative will be chosen. However, spending too much time collecting data can lead to the false sense that progress has been made, when in fact nothing meaningful has been accomplished. Thus, mastering this first phase is a matter of balancing utopia myopia against analysis paralysis.
The next part of Discover is processing the information at hand to reveal the proper course of action. Even though this is where the core of discovery happens, the organization phase is unfortunately also the most difficult to specify because inspiration does not occur as a direct result of any particular set of actions. Sometimes, finding insight is a matter of adding structure and hierarchy through the use of headers, subheaders, formatting, bulletpoints, and tables. Other times, making the right connection takes on the form of meta-data like tags, colors, points, rankings, or comments. To further complicate the situation, people’s minds can structure the same information in multiple ways, including top-down (i.e. lists or outlines), left-right (i.e. mindmaps or spreadsheets), and freeform (i.e. sketches or graphics). Ultimately, discerning the signal through the noise requires an amalgamation of random actions with no one right path to innovation.
The final piece of this step is sharing what has been discovered. In particular, this phase refers to the overall outward flow of information so that action can be taken on the insights uncovered. Depending on the nature of the situation, this information is meant to inform either individual actions or group activity. In the case of personal productivity, the best tools should allow a user to retrieve their thoughts quickly and painlessly. Methods for making the data easily accessible include predictive search, advanced filters, and pro-active reminders. On the other hand, in the case of group productivity, the best tools should allow a user to present their thoughts clearly and effortlessly to other people. Attributes should include a clean interface, minimal delays in response time, and broad adoption of the medium.
At this point, there should now be a basic idea of what needs to be accomplished in order to reach the goal. Ideally, the most effective idea will have been chosen out of all available options, but realistically, this might not be possible because of the countless unknown variables. However, if no option is chosen, then no progress can be made. So almost as important as picking the most effective idea is just picking any idea and moving forward, knowing there’s usually an opportunity to revisit the question if necessary. In the end, decisive action is the only way towards real productivity.
After figuring out what to do, the next step is deciding how to do it. This is a matter of properly allocating the resources of Time, Talent, Treasure, and Tools to create the most efficient plan possible.
Time refers to deciding on what exactly needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and in what order. It is what most people have in mind when they think of “planning”. When establishing this schedule, it is important to be genuine about how long any certain activity will take. Every once in awhile, people make the mistake of overestimating their abilities and thus failing to allocate enough time to thoroughly complete a given task. More often than not though, people are unrealistic about scheduling because they totally forget about the moments of time that pass by in between tasks. This transition time includes physically traveling to the next activity, but also includes mentally preparing for the next activity, an act commonly referred to as context-switching. As a result, the most efficient schedules aren’t the packed ones with activities stacked one right after the other, but instead are the realistic ones with adequate spacing between each task.
Talent refers to deciding on how other people play a role in accomplishing the goal. Understanding how to delegate work is most applicable in a business setting, where analysts and associates represent the talent ultimately executing on the plan set forth by upper management. However, personal productivity can also utilize talent in the form of friends and family. In both these cases, talent must be efficiently organized in a way that minimizes friction and maximizes impact. Additionally, since utilizing this resource inherently requires the cooperation other people, properly allocating talent means garnering the buy-in of everyone involved. At an office, this role is typically filled by a project manager who is also responsible for clearing roadblocks, making sure employees have access to the proper tools, and clarifying any ambiguities in the plan.
Treasure refers to deciding on how money and other monetary assets are spent. An important distinction worth clarifying is that Treasure only covers the raising of funds necessary to complete the task at hand, and does not constitute the general acquisition of funds, which is a goal unto itself. The most common use of treasure is to buy more of the other three resources. Another use of treasure is to invest it, whereby money is allocated for spending at some future date. In rare cases, purely having the money allows a person to participate in activities from which they would otherwise be excluded. Similar to estimating the time required to complete a task, estimating the cost required to complete a task should also be performed in an extremely conservative manner.
Tools refer to deciding what appliances and applications are to be used in reaching the goal. When choosing a tool, one should consider its learning curve, its long-term usefulness and its total cost of ownership. Furthermore, while it can be tempting to pick a tool that’s familiar, it is important to let the task dictate the instrument, and not the other way around. As the saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” Although most options are adequate for getting the job done, there is a certain level of efficiency that comes with choosing the right tool for the job.
By the end of this step, there should exist a specific and actionable strategy of what needs to be done. Although there might be a lack of faith in the freshly conceived arrangement, it is once again absolutely critical to commit to the plan and to continue moving forward. It is altogether likely that a first attempt will not result in the most optimal plan, but as long as each cycle produces honest and constructive feedback, then real progress is being made. It would be horrible at this point to back-track on resource allocation decisions, or worse yet, to second guess whether the chosen path was the right one to begin with. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” In other words, in order to get anything done, at a certain point somebody needs to just start doing it.
The final step in the art of productivity is to just start taking action. The attention turns to the execution of the plan, with success determined by the key drivers of motivation, discipline, and perseverance. Generally speaking, these drivers represent the three distinct stages of starting, following through, and finishing the task at hand. In reality though, having the stages blur together is actually a good sign because it suggests the individual is no longer worried about process and is instead focused solely on getting things done.
Despite having a clear idea of what needs to be done and how to do it, some plans still fall through due to a lack of motivation. To be clear, there are no silver bullets to producing motivation, but there are a number of techniques worth mentioning. On the enterprise level, the most straightforward method for motivating employees is to set an example. If a manager starts to display a clear bias towards action, then over time others will follow suit. Another method of motivation is to reward the doers. In addition to giving employees a direct incentive to produce results, there are now also more clear examples of desired behavior. A third way to motivate employees is to show a true understanding of the realities of the business. It’s one thing to pay lip service to the fact that everyone is on the same team, and quite another to genuinely mean it. This honesty manifests itself in clear and detailed action plans that can only be created by managers who are close enough to the front lines to understand what employees truly have to deal with on a daily basis. In the end, the best way to increase motivation is getting employee approval on strategy rather than forcing it down through decrees from upper management. Within reason, include the feedback of everyone who will eventually execute the strategy. Even better, get them to believe that it was their idea in the first place!
On the individual level, getting oneself to start engaging in a certain action is a psychological battle best characterized by BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. According to this theory, three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. Specifically, the model breaks down these pieces into smaller subcomponents that define the whole. For motivation, the three Core Motivators are pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and social acceptance/rejection. Within ability, the six Simplicity Factors are time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routine. Finally, the three types of Triggers are facilitator, spark and signal. Although the model provides a lot of details to absorb, this is when the effort put forth in Discover and Decide really start to shine because they respectively help explain the passion behind a certain action and simplify how to implement that action.
Moving on to the follow-through of a plan, the main reason for failure is a lack of discipline. Achieving discipline is a simple matter of eliminating all distractions, but the difficulty of doing so is practically the definition of “it’s easier said than done.” External disturbances make up the first category of distractions and are composed of the usual suspects, such as phone and email. To deal with these, start by creating a workspace void of games, gadgets, and any other gizmos that might divert attention from the task. Turn off email notifications, stop checking news feed updates, and make sure other people know that this part of the schedule is blocked off for work. Remember that a clear desk makes for a clear mind. The second category of distractions are more personal in nature, and include items such as certain a TV show that can’t be missed, a certain game that needs just five more minutes to level up, or a certain piece of gossip that must be discussed. Since these distractions don’t necessarily apply to everyone, they will vary from one individual to another. The best way to deal with them is preempt these distractions before they occur. It requires an honest assessment of the self to find all the non-essential activities that make up a day. The final category of distractions are mental in nature and manifest themselves as random thoughts that stray into the mind. This is the rare use-case where other models, namely GTD and Action Method, will occasionally apply. If some other important, non-urgent task arises, don’t do it. Instead, make a note of it and come back later. If the mind is starting to second guess the plan of action, don’t let it win. Instead, have faith in the previous efforts and push onward. If an interesting line of thought pops up, don’t follow it. This is no longer the time to explore or discover new options. Don’t think. Just do.
Finally, some plans are never completed due to a lack of perseverance. The most common cause of this issue is the perfectionist mindset where one believes that whatever is being worked on can’t be finished because it just isn’t good enough yet. When this happens though, there is a tendency to unconsciously ignore other deadlines, causing more stress overall. The countermeasure is to evaluate the total performance of a day by realizing that when one blindly pursues a single activity, other responsibilities will suffer. The second cause of not completing an activity is the unfounded belief that wrapping up current work closes off other options. The corrective measure is to realize that exactly the opposite is true: only by releasing the work into the wild can one start to gather legitimate feedback about the viability of solution. The third cause of not finishing is the fear of submitting the work to criticism. The remedy here is to reframe the conversation by realizing that judgment of your work is not equivalent to judgement of you as a person.
When reaching the end of this step, the result should be clear – either the work was done or it wasn’t. Afterwards, it may be entirely appropriate to take a retrospective look at the situation, collect feedback to inform the next cycle, and continue to iterate. One might even take a break or find some other way to recuperate. Until the job is done though, nothing else matters.
In conclusion, the key to getting anything done, in work or in play, is to Discover. Decide. Do. The best way to apply this knowledge is using it to determine where within the framework a task stops making progress. Identifying and then overcoming this obstacle is turning point of accomplishing any major goal or mission. Finally, keep in mind that reaching ambitions isn’t supposed to be easy. Anything worth doing requires relentless dedication and tenacity. So don’t let difficulty become a discouragement. Don’t give yourself an option for failure. Don’t save anything for the swim back. There is only forward.
Although the Law of Focus is designed to help marketers develop new brands, the number one application of the Law of Focus by far actually occurs in its relation to line extensions. To create a line extension is to use an established product’s brand name for a new item in the same product category. While this may generate healthy revenues in the short-term, it will almost inevitably also lead to decreased profits in the long-term due to an erosion of brand equity.
Line extensions dilute brand value because it stretches the meaning of a brand and adds an unnecessary level of complexity for the consumer’s mind to consider. Another way to look at it is to see that when a company spreads out the number of items their brand represents, the brand value is also spread equally thin. XYZ
The flipside of this argument is that line extensions can add value to a brand by bringing in new positive associations and by adding a level of support to the brand’s original meaning. If this is truly the case, then line extensions are acceptable. Although, almost any action can be justified to upper management by coming up with the right excuse. So remember, if a brand undergoes an ill-conceived line extension, the free market will not be so understanding.
Designers are always advocating simplicity in the user interface and information architecture because too much clutter distracts the user from focusing on the task at hand. However, customers are constantly clamoring for more features and functionality because increased options makes more tasks possible in the absolute sense. Going all the way in one direction, we end up with a plain sheet of paper, which has no technical features whatsoever. Going in the other direction, we end up with a product like Microsoft Word, which has more buttons and hidden menus than one could ever hope to discover. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a balanced tool that performs between these two extremes? Perhaps a better question is actually, how do you achieve this balance?
One possible solution is to build a platform, meaning the core of the application is used as a foundation for other features users might want. This approach entails creating a basic tool that is simple and easy to use, while allowing for the option to expand into more functionality as needed. Recently, using a platform has seen tremendous success in examples such as Firefox’s Plug-ins, iTunes’ App Store, and Evernote’s Trunk. Essentially, since 80% of the users only use 20% of the features anyway, those customers will be completely satisfied with the default experience. And for those power users who want to do more, the product extensions allow them customize their user experience without cluttering the tool for others who don’t need the extra functionality. Furthermore, using a platform approach also solves for the issue that not all power users want the same thing because choosing extensions isn’t a binary decision. You don’t only decide whether or not you want an extension, you also get to choose the one that is right for you.
Going with the platform route is not without its pitfalls though. To start, you run the risk of taking on the worst of both worlds because the app is unable to find the right balance between what should be considered standard versus what should be considered additional. In this case, the default app might be too bare bones, while adding an extension pushes the difficulty of interaction too high, leaving the user with no safe middle ground. Additionally, this method is also risky because it depends on external developers for its success. In regards to this issue, you must figure out how to get enough credible traction in the developer community to reach the minimum threshold for success. You would also need to institute a system of automatically filtering different expansion packages for quality. Being open to all submissions means lowering the overall quality of extensions, but being too stringent means limiting growth. There is also the possibility of manually reviewing each submission, but that process opens up its own set of issues. Finally, building a platform is just plain hard. Rather than just designing a certain subset of features, you must design features that allow for a limitless amount of other features. Developing a system that must incorporate any number of possible futures is simply rife with risk.
In the end, no single direction will be perfect. When Microsoft first developed MS Word, it probably started out as a very basic tool that had nice upsides compared to a typewriter. However, bit by bit, links and buttons were added until the product eventually became the feature-bloated monstrosity that people use today. As a result, while Microsoft’s intentions were probably in the right place, not having a predetermined plan for growth leads to unfortunate compromises further down the line. With the benefit of foresight though, a new product does not have to follow the same fate as it scales. Therefore, despite the aforementioned drawbacks, going with a platform approach is the right path because it allows us to reach our original vision of creating a tool that is infused with many technological benefits, while still remaining as simple to use as a piece of paper.