Paying attention to the right stuff, and learning how to sacrifice

Update: This came to be known as Lean Startup, popularized by Eric Ries in late 2008.

prioritize.png Last week in my MBA class (Management Control Systems) I had a case-study about “Balanced Scorecard” and how it was implemented in a particular company in the banking industry. Obviously the company had a lot of challenges and issues during the BSC implementation.

One of the lessons from the case was, for the BSC to be implemented successfully and fully, you need to keep improving it as the implementation phase moves along. One of the reasons cited for BSC implementation failure was because some companies want a perfect BSC – from the start. But that’s not possible, since BSC is a continuous thing, which has to be improved, changed, and adjusted over time.

Relating it to web-projects and Startups

This case-study reminded me of few occasions where I noticed how some people want everything to be perfect. They pay attention to the wrong (or shall we say less important) parts of the project. Every project consists of different parts, if it is a web project for example, then it could be divided into design, development, choosing hosting, choosing domain name, marketing, advertising etc.

However in order for the work to begin, you only need design and development (i.e scope of work) first. So don’t waste your time thinking how you will promote the website after its completion. Similarly, if you just want to test the waters whether the project will work or not, then don’t delve too much on the design of the interface. Just get a functional user interface that will do the job fairly and see if your project will stand the test. Because I noticed that some people will spend so much time perfecting the design of the website that they delay the launch of the project, or even worse the project gets not launched at all.

Because in most cases, it’s not the user interface that determines if the project will work or not. It’s the IDEA that determines the fate of your project. If your idea is good, then even if your website is not that “good looking” – it will still work! But not vice versa. You might have the best designed website, but still fail.

Lessons to be learned

So, in conclusion; first prioritize your tasks, identify the parts that are most important for the project to be completed. Once you have identified, work on those important parts first. Don’t waste your time on the tasks that will follow after the project has been completed.

Secondly, try to learn how to sacrifice on the design. Yes great logo is important for the brand, but don’t search for it for months until you delay the project. Same goes with the design of the website, some people spend so much time on the design that the real objective of the project gets forgotten.

Personal Theory: Top bloggers don’t read other blogs

I have this feeling that top bloggers do not really follow other blogs. I think they are too busy to read other blogs (probably busy with their own blogs or working on other projects). And even if they followed, I presumed that there must be only a handful of blogs that they really followed on daily basis.

In order to test whether my theory was true, I tweeted some of the top bloggers and had two of them respond. One was Jeremy Schoemaker of Shoemoney.com and the other was Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com Below is their replies to my question “How many blogs do you read daily?”.

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I also sent one line question through email to few top-bloggers and two of them responded. One was Yaro Starak of www.entrepreneurs-journey.com, and the other was Darren Rowse of www.problogger.net

Yaro said:

Usually zero, but every few days I’ll spend some time checking about 5-10 of the leaders in my industry.

Just after I was starting to think that my theory was in fact true, I received an email from Darren.

Darren said:

I track around 700 blogs – however I don’t read them all (I scan) and I wouldn’t do that on a daily basis. For me there are probably 50 or so that are on my daily read list but the rest would be weekly.

So, again it’s a tie. Not really a tie, but there are people on both sides. But if we were to follow the rules of statistics and make a statement on the poll results. It would read something like this:

75% of top-bloggers either followed no blogs or followed less than 10 blogs daily.

Lesson to be learned from this

If you spend your day reading blogs (tens of them) and do not really do much other than reading blogs (like working on your own blog, working on your personal web projects..etc) then you might want to re-evaluate your reading habits.

Because, these top-bloggers are successful not because they read tons of other blogs, but because they know what to focus on, how to prioritize their daily tasks, and most importantly they know how NOT to waste their time reading so many blogs daily.

Because, at the end of the day, if you do not take action (i.e do something: launch a new niche blog, work on a web project, or make a new software… etc), reading hundreds of blogs daily won’t make you successful. The difference here is “reading only and doing nothingvsreading important things from selective blogs, learning from them, and then making use of this newly acquired knowledge – applying them on your personal projects“.

Your say…

Now, let me listen what you have to say about this theory. Do you think top bloggers read many blogs? And what should be a healthy dose of reading blogs daily? Do you think reading too many blogs will affect your own productivity negatively? Look forward to your comments.

Assessing Your Blog’s Strategic Competitiveness

In strategic management, in order to have a sustainable competitive advantage in a resource based view, you need to have a resource(s) that are valuable, rare, difficult to imitate, and difficult to substitute. If your resource has all of the above mentioned characteristics, then you can be sure to have a sustainable competitive advantage, at least for some time. Because sooner or later your competitors will start to imitate. And if you do not keep innovating, your competitive advantage will be short lived really really fast.

How can we relate this view to blogging? Well, blogging needs a strategy too. And you can easily find where you are in terms of your competitiveness against the other fellow bloggers with this table. Based on your answers you can find your competitiveness level on the right.

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Of course, you should be targeting for the all-red line – sustainable competitive advantage. In other words, if you are in all-red, it means that your posts are

  • beneficial to the readers,
  • they are difficult to find on other blogs,
  • your writing style is unique (difficult to copy),
  • you have a personality that is charismatic
  • you have an expertise in certain field that nobody else has.

If you find yourself anywhere in 1 to 3, then you should identify where you are lagging behind, and then come up with a strategy to target that weakness. Of course, if anyone is in the 1st line (competitive disadvantage) then he/she is just wasting his/her time with his/her blog. Because if you are in competitive disadvantage, you better do something really fast or just stop blogging.

Gmail Productivity

I have been using Gmail with “shortcuts on” mode for some time, and I should say it’s great. It saved me a lot of time. It’s especially useful when I use my notebook, because I don’t have to use the touchpad for navigation. Touchpad can be a really pain sometimes.

One of the challenges when you start using Gmail with shortcuts is to remember which keys does what. It’s quite a hassle to check the shortcuts page for info. And I think it’s one of the reasons why people feel lazy to enable shortcuts, because they do not want to keep going back and forth learning shortcuts.

But luckily Gmail has a better solution for it, that some of you might not know. After you have enabled shortcuts, pressing Shift + ? will bring up a semi-transparent layered window with all the shortcuts their functions. Below is the screenshot of this window while Gmail is in Compose mode. This works anywhere in Gmail, as long as you are logged in.

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So I hope you will be more productive knowing this gmail tip.

Invest in R&D, it’s vital for your business’ survival

If your business is running smoothly and if you have some great products that sell like hot cakes, should you stop investing in R&D? Maybe reduce the investment in R&D and reap the profits that is generated from your cashcow products? The answer is “No”. You should keep investing in R&D, you should keep coming up with great innovative products. Because success lies in continuous innovation, not in one-time innovation.

If Xerox stopped investing in Research & Development, it would be earning 60% less revenue:

More than 2/3rd of Xerox’s revenue comes from products launched in the past two years. source

Some companies like Sony believe in innovation so much, that, they would introduce new products even if those new products are going to kill its own current (cashcow) products. Because, Sony believes in creating “new markets” and not creating products for the existing markets.

Between 1950 and 1982 Sony successfully built 12 different new-market, disruptive-growth businesses. These included the original battery-powered pocket transistor radio, launched in 1955, and the first portable solid-state black-and-white television, in 1960. Plus: videocassette players, portable video recorders, the now-ubiquitous Walkman and 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, launched in 1980. source

So, as you can see, continuous investment in R&D is very important. Unfortunately, many small-to-medium businesses and some startups are usually stuck with few products. After developing few successful products they simply stop investing in R&D and stop coming up with new products. Rather, they resort to fixing and polishing the existing products. In some cases, years would past and the company would be still working on the existing products. What a sad situation that is.

If you start your own company don’t make this grave mistake of not investing in R&D!

Offline Usability: Voting Made Difficult

voting usability x markMalaysia is gearing up for General Election soon. Yesterday mainstream newspaper NST had an article about how people in Malaysia cannot even mark the voting ballots properly. It read:

AROUND the world, a simple X is all it takes to mark the spot on a ballot paper. But just leave it to Malaysians to get a little more creative when stating their choice of candidate…

…According to Election Commission figures, there were 134,058 spoilt votes cast for state assembly seats and 165,018 for parliamentary seats in 2004.

While it may sound so simple to just mark [X] beside the desired candidate, little they know that this is actually quite confusing for people, especially the elderly.

[X] is used for Deleting not Selecting

First of all, people never use [X] for selecting something. X is used for deleting, rejecting or making something void. In everyday life, people either tick or circle the preferred choice.

I am sure this problem happens in every country, it’s just more prevalent in one country than another. Sure, Governments can teach its people how to mark [X] correctly during elections and decrease the number of spoiled votes. But the better, more sustainable solution would be to introduce a system that is usable and intuitive to all people. Because when the system is flawed, you have to constantly teach the people how to use it. That means more expenses for the Government. But if the system is replaced with a functional one, the cost would decrease and there would be less errors and less headache during each election. Maybe using “tick” would help!? Or having separate “Yes” and “No” ballot boxes, where you could throw the deserved candidates? I am sure there will be dozens of other better alternatives if one was to brainstorm.