When Pen Meets Paper

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” — Norbet Platt

Among my inner circle of friends, family and co-workers, it’s well known that I like pens. “Like” as in being somewhat obsessed with nice ones to the point that I couldn’t tell you how many are in my collection. Or if I could guesstimate how many, it would be too embarrassing to reveal.

Using my good pens, rather than just possessing them, requires paper. I’ve always had some type of planner, book or journal to record notes and task items. Post-it Notes, Rhodia or Moleskine journals and Levenger Circa products adequately fill my paper need.

Photo by Mark Baker

Numerous technologies have come along to try to convert us away from paper, including the PalmPilot (remember that oldie but goodie?), early smartphones, pre-smartphones, tablets, watches and now cloud-based tools (Evernote, Todoist, etc.) that store and synchronize data across devices. The marketplace may be driving this development, but research is holding steady in favor of the old-fashioned method. A plethora of studies consistently show that physically writing something down does a better job of committing it to memory that typing it. 4 Benefits of Handwriting Notes Vs. Typing on Laptops succinctly reflects the findings from an oft-cited 2014 study The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard—Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.

Even for a technophile like myself, deleting something off a virtual to-do list never feels as satisfying as the manual process. There’s just something about the tactile feel of pen and paper in hand, and the feeling of accomplishment in making that checkmark by hand and having a permanent, tangible record of accomplishment.  Long live the paper journal—and the pen (or pens) to go along with it!

Additional resources:


My First MOOC

social-media-550767_640Last fall I took my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I originally registered for The Age of Globalization (see The Inquisitive Learner Walks the Talk), but due to scheduling conflicts I had to cancel. Instead, I took U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self. This is the same course profiled in a Huffington Post article that the author refers to as, “…what well may be the most interesting project of my life.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it was certainly a fascinating experience. How many times can you involved in something that is truly global? Literally people representing every continent were present, some 25,000+ strong.

Here’s a quick review of the logistics and the three course components:

  1. Live webcasts, all at 9 a.m. ET, broadcast from a tech-enabled classroom at MIT. The show went on even when snowstorms shut down Boston. The president of MIT, who was out of the country, had to give permission to allow the class to be held even though the university was closed. Each session had a main presenter and frequently a few other people to mix things up. One of my favorite things was a note taker who drew a summary of the content as the presenter was speaking. The concurrent visual representation helped add another dimension to the learning.
  2. Hubs were self-forming local groups of people who you could participate with jointly. There was a Madison hub, Shanghai hub, London hub, and so on. Hub hosts provided the gathering venues.
  3. Coaching circles facilitated discussion, listening and dialogue. A guide was provided to lead the way.  Between the live presentations, these small groups met either virtually or in-person to bring content to life.

You’d think it would be difficult to have an interactive component during the live sessions with so many people involved. It was actually made easy by using existing technology: the Twitter platform. Easy, that is, assuming you are of a generation that considers Twitter a native language. Participants were encouraged to provide input and comments, pictures and doodles, via Twitter (#ulab), generating hashtag clouds for the key items of interest for the presenters to address. Sometimes a presenter would pose a question and request answers via a specific hashtag.

As with most things, there are pros and cons that merit consideration in deciding if a MOOC is for you.

  • The organizers and presenters were real professionals. It’s great to have access to world-class content that fits into your schedule without travel.
  • It was easy to consume information in small chunks, and the hybrid format with coaching circles and hubs helped reinforce the content.
  • This is just one approach to independent learning. Those of us who have access to alternatives could read a book or talk to an expert, just to name a few options. If you don’t have access to anything else, a MOOC could be transformative.
  • You need to be able to commit the time for the live session and invest in the reading and preparation. The standard methods of accountability that are inherent with in-person educational experiences are not in place with MOOCs.
  • It’s not a perfect substitute for live education. There is something to be said for blocking out your schedule to attend a school or conference. You have dedicated space and time for learning and increased connections to others.
  • The economics of MOOCs sparked my curiosity. Is the model economically sound, or does an organization like MIT justify doing it just for the greater good? How are providers going to get past the free versus paid barrier? I’ve seen some classes that you can attend for free, but then have to pay a fee to get awarded continuing professional education credit.

After weighing all the factors, it’s on my docket to take another MOOC when I’m less busy. The bigger challenge may be settling on a topic, as there is probably a MOOC-based approach to just about anything. Social psychology? Psychology anthropology? Economics? We’ve all heard comments like, “There’s more information published in one Sunday edition of the New York Times than people consumed in their lifetime in the 1600s” or “It would take you 200,000 years to read everything that’s on the internet.” There is so much great stuff to consume, so little time. At least now there is a very rich mechanism to distribute it globally.

Additional resources:


They’re Here

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of millennials in the workplace. An interesting tension has developed as they have become the largest working generation, but their power is tempered by the fact that many organizations are led by their baby boomer predecessors. In roughly ten years, however, millenials will be taking the helm in droves. How differences in work styles, lifestyles and values are respected (or not respected) will shape the future of business.

startup-593341_640If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the work ethic of millenials or simply not understanding how and why they do what they do, take a gander at Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate that, “…millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.”

If you haven’t done so already, getting up to speed on the nature and traits of millennial employees should be a priority for any leader. The payoff will be not only be easing the transition, but also maximizing the talents of this unique group.

Additional resources:


Visiting Mister Softee*

A few weeks ago I visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus for the second time. August 2007, a short eight years ago, was the first. Some things had changed—the presentations were more business solution focused and demonstrated some impressive capabilities (more on that later). Some things hadn’t changed—the experience still seemed impersonal and feature/function focused.

It made me think how different our technology landscape is today than it was then. Here are a few highlights.

then now

Microsoft and their leadership team is pushing rapidly to drive user adoption to a full cloud Microsoft offering. During our meetings it was all about online experiences across productivity tools (Office 365, operating system, PC and Mobile devices) as well as backend systems (corporate applications, databases, and related tools like email, security, identity, access management, etc). They provided two powerful examples of leveraging this technology, one from their legal department and one from their finance department. Matter Center demonstrates collaboration across organizations leveraging multiple communication and collaboration tools. Checkout the video in the link above. This is the environmental context for thinking about how our technology expectations have changed.

PowerBI is their cloud-based data visualization platform. The technology was most impressive and demonstrates next generation of tools coming available in this space. Key benefits included the ease of use, its catalog method, familiar features and natural language query. Even more impressive, however, was how it has remade their finance function into providers of high value consulting to their business leaders. No longer do they spend countless low value hours assembling slide decks and canned reports. Now, they help the business decision makers formulate questions and insights backed with a robust visualization of data. See Power BI for Finance and Microsoft Finance Leverages Power BI to Transform Reporting.

My takeaways from this Redmond visit were twofold. First, it really brought home how rapidly and radically our expectations for technology have shifted (as noted in the table above). Secondly, it painfully portrays the difficulty a company with Microsoft’s legacy, financial and talent resources has in changing its products, business model, organization and culture to meet the new expectations. This makes me examine the challenge of being in professional services (accounting, tax and consulting) and the resulting shift in expectations for an I.T. department. Do our clients (external and internal) realize the shift in expectations? Is there a sense of what is possible? What is our role in leading and facilitating change?

It reinforces my motivation of getting exposure to different industries, areas of the country and world, and different cultures. We must challenge our perspectives and work to understand how others have approached them. How does it map to our own personal, professional and organization’s outlook? As always, I have more questions than answers, but questioning the status quo is a solid first step toward transformation.

Photo by Mark Baker

*Microsoft’s nickname of Mister Softee comes from its stock exchange symbol: MSFT.


Weekly Download 15.13

download-150965_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

Who doesn’t love a good list? 30 business books every professional should read before turning 30 does a great job of reflecting my tastes. The few books that aren’t on my shelf already probably won’t make it there—I  have a hard time agreeing with their inclusion.  Perhaps I should compile my own list!

Innovation Isn’t Dead, it just becomes more obvious only in hindsight. This is so true: “The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:

  1. I’ve never heard of it.
  2. I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
  3. I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
  4. I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
  5. I use it, but it’s just a toy.
  6. It’s becoming more useful for me.
  7. I use it all the time.
  8. I could not imagine life without it.
  9. Seriously, people lived without it?”

Addicted to Your Phone? There’s Help for That highlights a new industry that has arisen to provide solutions for this affliction. There are apps that limit usage, a “Light Phone” that only lets you make and receive calls and the option that really takes the cake for me: the NoPhone. This piece of plastic ($12)  makes it so the sensory feelign of having a phone in your hand isn’t lost. Can’t we just go back to chewing on swizzle sticks? It’s worth a visit to their website to see their schema that shows no camera, no music, no screen and no phone.


When Vaguely Right is Good Enough

Too often it is easy to fall into a trap of perfection—many of us experience this challenge from time to time. Simple decisions, such as what to wear or what to eat, can become daunting due to a proliferation of options. But is perfection always required? When is a decision good enough?

Recently I read Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith. Essentially it is a book about the incredible challenge of personal and organizational change. Goldsmith cited one example that I found quite interesting. Goldsmith coached a senior executive who stated that one thing that would make him happy was to improve his golf game. In his late fifties, he had a lot of demands on his time, was never an accomplished athlete, and disliked practicing. Goldsmith asked, “Why don’t you quit worrying about getting better at playing golf and just enjoy it?” His point was that “marginal motivation produces a marginal outcome,” further elaborating:

“If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.”

My personal take away is that what is most important is to choose what matters. Where do you really want to strive to be the best and make a difference? In comparison, when does being vaguely right and good enough get the job done? You will be much happier and healthier if you choose carefully where you spend your most valuable and limited resource: motivation.

For more on the topic of decisions and choices, see these earlier posts:


Apple Watch in Action

A friend who doesn’t own an Apple Watch recently asked me how I was enjoying mine. She was trying to figure out how someone might incorporate yet another option into one’s personal array of devices (hers currently includes an iPhone, Kindle, iPad, Fitbit and MacBook Pro).

A fair point is that sometimes in our eagerness to own the latest gadget, we don’t spend enough time exploring its features and using it to its greatest potential. The conversation led to a challenge for me to record, over the course of one day, how I use my Apple Watch. See my log and summary below. Beyond just owning a new bright shiny object, I have been taking advantage of a number of the features—actually a fairly broad array. There is still potential to do more, especially in the realm of fitness tracking. I’m excited to continue to explore the capabilities of my new “executive jewelry.”
IMG_6689