Multi-dimensional Learning for Grownups

January 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

When I start something new, especially when it comes to work, I read and research a lot and plug into some quality video training if it’s a new technical skill I’m working to acquire.  I’ve recently started a new job and while a lot of my experience as a development lead applies, there are new skills I need to learn (and I love this!) in order to do my job well.  Reading books and blogs plugs me into the wealth of experience that others have gained over the course of their careers.

Over the past few weeks, I have started reading some really awesome books, and I am learning so much that I can apply at work.  However, I have had a nagging feeling over the past few days that something big was missing…that there is a disconnect in what I’m reading and learning on my own, the depth of my understanding, and my ability to extract the insight and practices from these books and blogs and put them into practice. Yesterday, I figured it out although I’m struggling still to find the proper words to describe it.  Nevertheless, I’m going to try.

I love learning in a group setting.  I like hearing what other people have gleamed from the information that I may have missed.  I like when the experiences of others color their understanding and maybe they disagree with the author as a result.  If it is a coding technique or language I am learning, I like to whip up a demo (I’m a hands-on visual learner), stop someone in the hall, and say, “Hey, look at this!”.  If I’m lucky, that person will say something like, “Cool! Do you know about xyz?” and maybe offer a suggestion or alternative solution.  It’s discussion, feedback, collaboration, multi-dimensional learning.

Years ago, this is what drove what I like to refer to as my “social media experiment”.  Could I use social media, specifically Twitter, as a learning tool?  The result was a resounding yes, and it still is.  Sharing and discussing a blog post is easy.  Twitter is good for short responses and blog comments are good for longer ones. There are also a few apps that build on Twitter that enhance that experience, depending on your needs.  Sharing and discussing material in books is different.  I mostly read books using the Kindle app on my iPad now which has a sharing feature, but what about discussion and the multi-dimensional learning I mentioned a few sentences ago?  Writing about what I’m reading on my blog and eliciting conversation is one option, but it doesn’t replace the off-the-cuff responses you get from an in-person group study especially if it is professional in nature.  People are more guarded with how they respond and document their reactions and opinions online – as they should be.  This has been at the heart of my desire to go back to school for a master’s degree (along with an ordered curriculum), but I continue to question the timing and my options.

I experimented with building and maintaining a list of what I was reading and wanted to read on LinkedIn in hopes that someone I am connected with would be reading the same and want to talk about it.  Maybe I could even inspire people to read who weren’t!  That’s not been nearly as effective as I had hoped.  So, I’m going to try something else.  First, I’m going to try to write more about what I am reading, although I’ll be honest – this is more time consuming, and I question the degree to which I’ll follow through. After all, it cuts into my actual reading time.  I also have social media policies to adhere to.  Second, I’m listing the things I’m reading below in hopes to connect, discuss, inspire, grow, grow others… After this lengthy blog post, I think you get the idea!

Inspired: How to Create Products That Customers Love by Marty Cagan

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun

The Process Myth (blog post along with others) from RandsInRepose

So, if you’re interested and want to connect, discuss, get multi-dimensional in your learning and really, really make things happen, let me know!  You know how to reach me 🙂

My Papa – Visionary, Creator, Wall Destroyer

October 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

ImageThere are only a few pictures of me with my grandfather, William (Bill) H. Wells, before he died only months after I was born.  The memories I have of him are not mine but are formed from the stories retold by my grandmother and his three daughters.  Many, many times I have heard them say how similar we are and how much fun we would have had sharing our interests in technology.

When I was 11, the computer center at Georgia State University was dedicated and renamed to honor him.  I remember seeing a bronze statue of him and listening to many people tell stories about him and about his passion for his work as the first and founding Director of the Computer Center.  I also remember my grandmother’s tears which were often shed because she missed him so much and the pride exuding from his three daughters.

It was 1957, and GSU had recently purchased an IBM 305 RAMAC as it was an
“indispensable tool for the development of accountants”.  This computer weighed over a ton, had fifty 24-inch-diameter disks, and required a room approximately 30 ft. by 50 ft. to store it.  This beast of a computer was so expensive, that little was left in the budget to pay for the staff required to support it.  My grandfather recruited eager student assistants to fill these positions and soon was pushing for a replacement – an IBM 1620 – as the RAMAC was incredibly slow.

In an open meeting with the Board of Regents, my grandfather was asked to defend his request to upgrade the computer at GSU.  He said, “Mr. Chariman, the 305 performs any move in .0345 (estimated) of a second, whereas the 1620 performs the same operation in .000000232 of a second.”  The chairman replied, “Mr. Wells, I can afford to wait!”  Being raised in Virginia, my grandfather was a southern gentleman; he was gracious and kind.  This outright and flippant dismissal along with laughter from observers was like a punch in the gut to him.  Records say that he “hung his head and tears streamed down his face”.

Wow.  That is a man who is passionate and devoted to his work.  He was a visionary, and he was dismissed and laughed at by people who did not see the future the way he did, who did not have the depth of knowledge to respect what he was trying to accomplish.

Fortunately, for GSU, the request to order the IBM 1620 was approved. When the arrival date was announced, plans were made to knock down the walls housing the RAMAC so they could get it out and move the 1620 in.  The evening before it arrived, the walls were still standing. My grandfather (who had a history of suffering from tuberculosis) was found with an axe in hand knocking the walls down himself!  Because of Bill Wells, GSU became one of the first business schools in the country to have a computer center and the first to require the computer in the academic curriculum. In 1968, he collaborated with professors from the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop the concept of a computer network connecting multiple universities in Georgia.

It wasn’t long before the 1620 was overloaded and needed to be replaced.  While my grandfather was pushing for the third generation IBM, a two million dollar RCA computer was ordered.  When it didn’t perform as defined in the contract, Bill called the president of RCA (a Georgia Tech graduate whom he had worked with in the past). The two men worked out an agreement to swap the RCA at GSU for the very last computer at RCA which was worth five times more and set a “solid foundation for a quantum leap forward”. This leap forward brought the vision of connecting universities through a network of computers across Georgia into reality.

“It was Bill Wells’ courage and determination, his willingness to size opportunities, unsupported at times, that set the foundation of the present greatness of our Computer Center.” – Dean Emeritus George E. Manners, 1988

I’m inspired by my grandfather’s passion, determination, and success.  “Oh, you would have loved spending time with him” is what his daughters have told me many times.  I am sure they are right.  I imagine his reaction to our newest technologies would be one of awe and excitement.  I would love to see his reaction to an iPad!  Looking back, I can see how this experience and stories like these have influenced me.  Passion and vision are contagious and can literally break down walls.

Layers of Digital Identity

December 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

What is identity? When someone asks you to show ID, what do you show them?  It almost always depends on the circumstance and for now, at least where I live, it’s in the form of plastic cards that fit in my wallet.  Lately, I have more and more of them, and I also have one for each of my children.  Why are we asked for identity, and why do we agree to share it?  Usually, to get something in return:  admission, service, products.  Lately we’ve been giving our identities away for free, often feeling that we have little control over the matter.  Of course, “free” in this case is subjective.  I like the tailored ads (no more maternity clothing ads, thanks), and I enjoy using the software that requires me to login using Facebook or Twitter.  I really appreciate not having to remember another password.  However, isn’t it odd that these services determine the level of identity required and that it is an all or nothing agreement?  There are usually a few “we will have access to xyz” statements that I wish I could uncheck.

We all know that the way we share personal digital data is going to change, but how?  I like where the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) is going, but I’m not convinced that it is as user-centered as it needs to be.  Given the confluence of our digital and physical lives, individuals and businesses need our identities to merge as well.  As with payments, we’re moving from cash, plastic, and paper to digital.  With plastic, it was all or nothing – does the bouncer at the bar really need to know where I live?   Don’t get me started on paper checks… With digital, we should have more control.  We should have the ability as businesses to ask only what is required and as consumers to give only as much as we feel is appropriate.

While there are many pieces missing (and by pieces I mean aggregated data), we have the opportunity as we pick up momentum in digital payments and healthcare to build the digital identity infrastructure in a way that is secure, user-centered, and easily integrated into a variety of systems.  Facebook is a social network and using my Facebook identity as a social identity is appropriate in some cases but not all.  LinkedIn provides an adequate professional identity.  Movenbank is establishing a financial identity.  I’m not aware of a healthcare identity, but given the increase in digital healthcare records, it’s only a matter of time.  The need for this is easily seen when you have a child with a chronic health condition.  If you know of a digital healthcare identity provider, please share in the comments.

Our digital identity should be more like an onion with layers of information that we can trade appropriately.  As in life, it is a combination of things we can easily control and things we cannot – connections, circumstances, opinions, education, decisions, location, physical attributes, habits, attitudes, etc.  It is inherently open and dynamic.  Plastic, paper, and governments could never support this type of identity.  Technology can.

Five Factors Driving Adoption of Mobile Payments

January 31, 2011 § 4 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, Starbucks rolled out a mobile payments app for iPhone, iPod Touch, and Blackberry that gives their customers the ability to pay, reload their Starbucks card, and check rewards all by simply scanning a bar code on the mobile device.  As a tech savvy consumer and someone who would rather skip the line, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of this technology in my mid-sized middle Georgia town.  Yet, I am keenly aware that I am not the average consumer and there are more people than not that see no problem for which this innovation solves.  In an insightful post on whether or not NFC (yes, NFC is a whole other exciting and more capable technology) will ignite mobile payments this year, Karen Webster points out that

“there are millions of contactless cards in circulation today that no one uses, because there’s no inherent benefit in tapping versus swiping.  The potential for NFC is having a really smart computer chip interacting with my really smart phone and a really smart merchant point-of-sale device that provides a better experience for me before, during and after my shopping experience.”

She is absolutely right – it is the customer experience that will drive the mainstream adoption of mobile payments.  But how and what does that mean?

Being a regular reader and fan of Scott Berkun’s blog , I recently finished reading in his book “The Myths of Innovation” how innovations gain adoption.  He cites the author Everett M. Rogers in “Diffusion of Innovations” as writing this:

“Many technologists think that advantageous innovations will sell themselves, that the obvious benefits of a new idea will be widely realized by potential adopters, and that the innovations will therefore diffuse rapidly.  Unfortunately, this is very seldom the case.  Most innovations in fact diffuse at a surprisingly slow rate.”

I think the point Scott is trying to drive home and the one in which I strongly agree, is that there is so much more to the mainstream adoption of something new and disruptive like mobile payments than “technical prowess”.  I’d like to point out that “diffuse” in the above quote is equivalent to widespread adoption.  In his book, Scott describes five factors that define how quickly innovations spread as first defined by Everett M. Rogers.  I hope you’ll bear with me (and Scott will forgive me) if I go just a little bit looser with these and try to apply them to mobile payments with an NFC enabled device.

The first one is Relative Advantage.  This is basically what the consumer perceives as the value of the new innovation and not what its makers perceive as the value.  It is “built on factors that include economics, prestige, convenience, fashion, and satisfaction”.  Simply put, how are mobile payments better than payments made with cash or plastic?  Going back to the Starbucks app, the ability to instantly check your Starbucks Rewards Stars and the other self-service capabilities of adding to your account via a linked credit account or a PayPal account makes mobile the clear winner.  We could also add fraud detection via location awareness using the GPS capabilities of a mobile device and mobile coupons to that list.  If the powers at play (Google, Apple, ISIS) can nail some usability, standardization, and security issues surrounding identity then we won’t be comparing plastic to mobile but rather leather to digital as our mobile devices aim to replace our wallets.

The second is Compatibility.  What does it cost the consumer to transition to using the new innovation, and is it compatible with the consumer’s culture (habits, beliefs, values, etc.)?  This seems to be one of the major hurdles facing the mainstream adoption of mobile payments in any form as it may require costly improvements to or replacement of point-of-sale terminals.  In addition to this added cost to the merchant, the consumer is required to have a smart phone.  However, all signs like this study from Nielsen point to smartphones overtaking feature phones (aka dumb phones) by the end of 2011.

The third is Complexity.  How much learning is required for someone to start using a smart phone to make a payment?  It would be very interesting to see research data from the Starbucks pilot launch.  While the Starbucks video advertisement of their new mobile payments app seems very simple to me, we still have to consider that over half of Americans don’t even own a smartphone yet, so there is not just one learning curve here in the quest for widespread adoption – there are at least two.  There is also training for merchants that must be considered.  I wish I could remember the author, but someone made the point of how the first snafu in this regard may be the unfortunate, overly technical naming of NFC / Near Field Communication.

The fourth is Trialability.  How easy is it to try out?  Well, from a consumer perspective and again using the Starbucks app as an example, it’s as easy as downloading the free app and going to a Starbucks with a scanner.  Looking forward to NFC, I think this may get a little more difficult to do.  However, you could look at PayPal’s Bump-To-Pay for P2P payments as a precursor to NFC P2P payments.  I’m curious if research supports consumers being more comfortable with trialing mobile payments applications for P2P payments over making payments in a retail or other scenario.  I would expect so.  It will be interesting to see how other NFC applications such as Google’s NFC enabled Hotpot sign will help usher in the era of mobile payments.

The fifth is Observability.  How visible are the benefits of the innovation, and how likely are these benefits to spread in social groups?  Given the hype and excitement around mobile computing and social networking, a successfully executed mobile payments application would probably be highly visible.  With the rise of social commerce and the sharing of everything using the very device with which we are paying, the opportunities for making a mobile payments app visible could go up exponentially by every user using the application.  Mobile payments and the mobile wallet have been discussed as well on most of the major news networks and magazines in the U.S.

While I am thrilled about the possibilities surrounding innovation in mobile payments – specifically using NFC – I am in agreement with experts like Karen Webster and Scott Loftesness that mainstream adoption will not happen during 2011, and a successful mobile payments application will have to nail the user experience and provide clear advantages over plastic to merchants and consumers.

If it’s broken…

November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Let’s fix it!  There are two things in my quest to go paperless which irritate me to no end: paper checks and receipts.  Both are broken. Rather than rehashing why I think they are broken, I’m going to share what Seth Godin has to say on the matter because not only is this video entertaining, but it is full of insights.  I was reminded of this brilliant video today after reading an interesting post from Bank Innovation titled “iPhone5, NFC, and the payments experience: scenarios and implications“.  I completely agree with the points the author makes there regarding the receipt that Square provides, and I think we’ll continue to see useful integration of social media in the payments experience.  Bling is connecting payments and social with their new FanConnect platform, and Facebook Places has opened up a check-in experience within Facebook.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before rewards are instant and in the form of Facebook credits.

Location in the background

June 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

With the new iPhone 4G comes iOS and the ability to run applications simultaneously including location aware applications like Foursquare.  You could opt-in to check in and/or out of a location without pulling out your phone and going through all the technical motions now required by (albeit snazzy) apps like Foursquare.  Imagine this:  You’ve selected which venues you’d like automatic checkins for.  For those locations, you can further choose to accept promotions and mobile coupons, socialize your shopping experience, and accept promotions from nearby vendors offering similar merchandise.  The list is endless, as is the development opportunities, and they extend way past shopping.  Again, Apple is leading the way in providing the means for pervasive marketing and opening the doors for innovation in location aware applications.  Expect to see others follow.

iPad Love

June 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Every good invention replaces something.  Apple claims this device to be revolutionary.  I happen to agree.  Here’s what my iPad has replaced so far:

  • Paper books.  I love reading on my iPad – bookmarking and search are awesome.  The Kindle app has a feature to show the most highlighted text in a book.  I expect to see more more social features like this with iBooks and Kindle; possibly integrating with Facebook and Twitter.  I expect to see integration of industry specific dictionaries.  Think text books… My kids will not use the paper variety when they get to college.  Also, cookbooks (think inline instruction videos) and religious texts.
  • <nerd alert> My book light.  Yeah, I travel with one.  It stinks when the battery runs out or I forget it.  I can adjust the brightness of the “book” I’m reading.
  • My Blackberry calendar.  Ok, so I don’t have an iPhone.  Yet.  I’ve set up my iPad calendar to sync with my Google calendars.  It is color coded, and it is beautiful.  In a sense, it replaced my old Franklin Covey paper planner as well.
  • Newspapers.  Being a tree hugger, I always felt bad about the papers I didn’t read, so I haven’t subscribed in years.  I get most of my news online.  An app called Fluent News aggregates news in one beautifully crafted UI with the abilities to turn down sources you don’t like.  There are also apps like Instapaper and Feeddler which allow you to take online content from blogs and websites with you whether you have an internet connection or not.
  • Magazines.  From here on out, I’ll take the digital version.  An app called Zinio showcases how awesome magazines becomes when you can integrate such things as video and interactive maps.  Check out the free National Geographic that comes with the download and you’ll understand.  I expect to see a lot of growth and innovation in this area.
  • Paper notes.  Still walking around with that unsearchable, unsortable paper notebook at work?  There’s an app (actually a few) for that.  Start with Evernote.
  • Leisure use of my laptop.  My IBM Thinkpad lost some sexy points when iPad walked in.  I also watched my husband fall out of love with his netbook.  My kids (ages 7, 5, and 3) all don’t get why the “screen doesn’t work”.  Oh, and boot time.  Lame.  Browsing is faster and email is more fun.  The Apple ads told you that though…
  • Simple picture frames and digital picture frames.  I love to see and share pictures of my kids.  I’m not scrapbook-inclined.  I can take all my awesome digital photos with me in a format that looks sleek on my desk and fits in my purse.  I’m looking for a good MOV to MP4 converter so I can take my little videos of my kids with me too.  There’s this really cute one where my 3 year old is watching the sunset at the beach…
  • My tv.  Well, mostly.  I have old tvs – not the fancy HD sort.  My iPad HD screen (albeit smaller) is so clear, and I can stream Netflix and ABC shows instantly.  My kids and I have huddled around the screen to watch a show we had ordered via our cable provider’s on demand services but later could not find.  It’s just SO much easier (and we all know how bad the UX is on cable – can we at least get a decent search???).
  • Simple clock and radio.  The speaker is decent, and there’s a little app called Night Stand HD that has a sleek UI, and it integrates with the included iPod.  I wake up to my favorite song 🙂
  • A trip to the bank.  I pay my babysitter every week using the PayPal Bump and Pay app for iPhone.  Simple, fast, and free.

I’ve loved sharing my iPad with my children.   My 7 and 5 year olds love the Alice,  Toy Story, and Cat in the Hat apps.  The Toy Story app by Disney really showcases the possibilities that exist for innovation and tailoring to the young user for books.  My 3 year old loves to go through the letter flashcards in the Letters A to Z app.  She can scroll through, shrink, and zoom the pictures like a pro too with very little instruction.

Is there anything that it doesn’t do?  Out of the box, it doesn’t do multitasking – I can’t have more than one app up at a time except for iPod.  That stinks.  My friend and fellow geek @jsnyng though, has shown me the light and power of jailbreaking, and that will solve that issue.  Make a phone call and take pictures.  Some people really get wound up about this one.  I say, “big deal”.  I don’t need my iPad to do everything.  Word is though, that Webex supports VOIP although I haven’t tried it.

So, I’ve just scratched the surface here on what iPad can do and why I’m fanatic about it.  It’s a whole new canvas for developers and designers, and it’s been quite a ride to watch as new apps surface and gain popularity.  I think we’ve just begun to see the possibilities on this beautiful device.

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