When is Good Good Enough?

I’ve been pondering this for a while. I’ve had four or five different iPads and three or four different iPhones during the short period they have been available, usually quick to jump on the newest model.

And I’ve owned a significant number of laptops, both for business and personal use over the years. Interestingly, I’ve had my current laptop, an HP EliteBook 9470m, for over 18 months. This is a technology eternity for me. So what makes this product different from the others? It is solid, very functional, lightweight, and performs great (screen, keyboard, connectivity, etc.). Sure, there are new features available with newer models (touch screen, foldable 180 degree devices, etc.), but this hardware package is very good. Mostly importantly, it’s good enough to meet my needs.

Why? I believe that the “use cases” for this hardware have stabilized. My uses include creating content, connecting to corporate networks, traveling within the office, to the office, and on the road. Wi-Fi standards, battery life, disk drive technology have all reached a solid level. Video, audio, fingerprint scanning, and peripheral connections have stabilized. There are plenty of vendors trying to provide new reasons to buy new hardware, but I think good is good enough.

Has the marketplace reached the same point with smartphones? For iPhone 4 and 5 owners, many have voted by keeping their current models and have avoided the lure of an upgrade. Their phone is paid for and it’s doing its job. What more could they ask for?

The same goes with the iPad. There are plenty of 2 and 3 generation old devices that are satisfying what the user wants and more.

My conclusion is that the upgrade game is not solely about the hardware anymore—there is only so much one can do with the form factor. It is now about expanding the use cases and/or reducing the costs and expanding the market. That includes global markets outside of the U.S. that seem to have almost unlimited potential. Tech geeks like me will continue to be drawn to the newest shiny objects. But for the masses, they are going to need more compelling reasons to keep trading up.

As an aside—remember the good ol’ days when everyone was excited about mobile phones getting smaller and smaller? When the Motrola MicroTAC was replaced by the Motorola StarTAC (1996), that was considered a big darn deal.


What’s New from Apple

Apple just made their always-anticipated September product announcements. Featured this year were the iPad Pro, new iPhones, Apple TV and OS 2.0 for Apple Watch. There are many summaries you can read about the details, including:

The upgrades are interesting, but are not compelling me to purchase the new devices, at least in the short term. I made the following post on Facebook…adding up the cost of all of the new devices and making a comparison to a desktop computer purchased 17 years ago.


Certainly I enjoy the camera technology, and the camera and video technology upgrades look interesting. Apple TV and, specifically, the remote are nice (and overdue) improvements.

Here are my key takeaways:

  • The iPad Pro could become my replacement for my home laptop. Its screen is larger and has a much improved keyboard (compared to third-party devices). Besides, my trusty five-plus-year-old MacBook has been sitting on the floor in my office for at least two months without me turning it on. Why? There isn’t anything I have had to do on it that I couldn’t do with my iPad or an occasional simple task on my work laptop (create a bike route, type something, fill out a longer form or interact with a legacy (non tablet friendly) website). Data is in the cloud. Devices sync wirelessly to the cloud or they don’t need to sync.
  • The iPhone will become a new standard. The camera and 3D Touch, improved glass and additional hardware features are nice.
  • The biggest improvements are iOS9 software-related. In particular, the multiscreen presentation on the iPad and 3D Touch navigation on the iPhone. This creates new possibilities for application developers and increased ease of use in a variety of situations.

But when is good enough good enough? I’m sensing a topic for my next post.

Weekly Download 15.15

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

I know I’m guilty of distraction and have written previously about setting aside time to focus. Recently I noticed that I tend to purchase paper books (odd label, isn’t it?) when the topic is a bit more intense and I want to concentrate on reading for longer periods of time. Looks like I’m not the only one. Paper is back: Why ‘real’ books are on the rebound provides the explanation.

Do you find yourself, responding “Busy” or “Hectic” or something similar when asked, “How are you? 7 ways to stop being ‘busy’ and actually start being productive caught my attention with some practical rules.

Think about attention as a form of currency. Whatever you occupy yourself with takes time and mental resources. So, What Is Our Attention Really Worth? Here’s an easy way to give consideration to how we spend this valuable resource.

Reaping Lessons from the Farm

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

I often hear colleagues express frustration with their work life. Too many meetings. Lack of clarity on problems (and solutions). Limited resources. Being too busy. I, too, feel the strain at the end of the day or week.

On occasion, I think back to my childhood and the time spent with my father and grandfather discussing their farming heritage, working on various farms, or even working in the garden. It seems like that was such a simpler, basic and natural lifestyle. There was always plenty of work to be done. The chores could be endless, fluctuated a lot and weren’t always predictable (weather, animals, equipment breakdowns, etc.). It was hard and didn’t always deliver the anticiapted financial reward. However, there was a natural rhythm to farming, and a spirit of perseverance and hopefulness.

Upon further reflection, I can see parallels between farming and leadership that weren’t initially obvious:

  • There is a natural system at play with a variety of inputs, some of which we control and some that we don’t.
  • There are certain basic conditions that need to be present.
  • The timeframe is not one of immediate cause and effect.
  • The outcome isn’t always as expected or desired.
  • Quick fixes aren’t necessarily possible or effective.
  • Rewards are likely less tangible and longer term than what meets the eye.

Let’s break it down to see the lessons we can take from farming.




There is a lot of preparation.

Soil, equipment and facilities all need to be maintained.

What skills, education and resources are required? Do they fit the need?

Some things you can control, some you cannot.

Seed, timing, weather and luck all play a role in a successful crop.

Be clear on what you can influence and not. What do others see as necessary that you do not?

Learning comes from success and failure.

Observing and monitoring and keeping track of what is occurring along the way informs any changes for the next year. Ripping out the crop and starting over isn’t really a practical option.

Anything halfway done probably looks like a failure. Knee-jerk reactions akin to ripping out the crop mid-season aren’t likely to be successful. Be observant of the conditions for success. Do more of that, and less of what isn’t successful.

You can’t do everything.

A farmer carefully chooses what crops, how much land, how much investment is made and is sustainable.

Be disciplined in what you chose to do or introduce to your organization. What really matters?

Things inevitably will go wrong.

Things will break and won’t always turn out as expected. Have faith, learn and improve for the next time.

Understand what might go wrong in the big picture. What are practical contingencies?

Success may mean more than profits.

The majority of farmers aren’t rich, yet are successful, happy and are the cornerstones of community.

Over time, what does success really mean? Defaulting to money is likely not the dominant answer.

These well-know farming sayings are also applicable to business and leadership:

“Look before you leap for as you sow, ye are like to reap.” —Samuel Butler

“One generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests.” —Chinese proverb

Design Matters

file6691334414281For a dozen years or more, I have used Associated Bank’s ATM machines. After selecting “English,” the screen says “retrieving preferences.” What a strange message. I don’t recall ever setting preferences, and if I did, wouldn’t language have been a preference rather than a separate selection? And If I hadn’t set preferences in the past, it certainly wasn’t intuitive how to set them now.

This bothered me. It was inefficient that I always had to answer the same questions. Every. Single. Time. What language? What account? Receipt or no receipt?

Lo and behold, my wife enlightened me just a few weeks ago. Apparently, you have to select “next screen” and after pushing a few more buttons, you’ll find a place to set preferences. I finally set my preferences, only a decade or so too late! Some may disagree, but I don’t think I’m that oblivious that I couldn’t have figured it out at some point. The only logical explanation is that it is poor design.

If a reasonably intelligent, high volume user is struggling, there’s got to be a better way. Couldn’t the machine learn customer preferences? My behavior makes it really easy—I always answer the questions the same way. What about a simple prompt that asks if you would like to set preferences, and then gives the choices of “yes,” “no,” or “don’t ask again?” Could it ask if I would like to save this transaction as a favorite or default?

I wonder if anyone has ever checked what percentage of ATM users have set preferences. I’m guessing it’s very small, putting me in the majority who repeatedly go through the same questions each time that don’t add any value to the transaction. It’s not like ATMs have changed much over time—they do the same basic withdrawals, deposits, transfers and balance inquiries they’ve always done.

Understanding the customer experience and how to design an interface that is simple, understandable, and without extraneous required inputs doesn’t have to be that hard. Saving your customers years of frustration is worth it.

Providing Quick Meaning to Data

abraham-lincoln-60558_640According to The New Yorker, Abe Lincoln liked infographics*, putting me in good company.  I was exposed to Edward Tufte (an American statistician and expert in informational graphics) and his series of books more than a dozen years ago. His representations of data, and the stories that came from their effective display, were elegant and powerful. My fascination continues today.

I recently purchased The Best American Infographics 2014, a self-explanatory compilation by Gareth Cook. It is a beautiful collection of examples and the insights they reveal. It will join other my other treasures that include:

Despite all of our technology advances, it still takes a creative mind to determine how to craft a story from the data. Or, perhaps it’s the reverse: representing the data differently creates learning and then knowledge. It’s all in how you ask questions of the data and interpret the answers. Regardless, I can’t get enough.

*From Mashable: “Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education.”

Weekly Download 15.14

download-150965_640Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so. There’s a theme: feeling nostalgic for simpler things and simpler times.

Change doesn’t come easy. With Remembering When Driverless Elevators Drew Skepticism, NPR draws on history to make an excellent point. If it took 45 years and a major strike by elevator operators to drive automation, what are all of the hurdles to overcome with autonomous cars?

Many friends and colleagues know I like to doodle, and have frequently used hand-drawn diagrams to make a point rather than spending a lot of time with computer tools to draw the same.  Simple diagrams and infographics intrigue me. Here are a couple of excellent examples:

There is a lot of hype, but Myths about millenials provides data that says we might be just creating our own stories from broad generalizations. Good advice here:

“To get the most out of young workers, it may in fact be wiser to put less emphasis on collaboration and corporate do-goodery, and more on rewarding individual performance and providing clear paths to career progress. Companies need to recognise that individual differences are always bigger than generational differences.”

Vacation planning Before Google Maps was quite a time-intensive, manual process. I remember my grandfather using AAA TripTik booklets during their driving trips throughout the lower 48 in his semi-retirement and retirement years. In just a few short months, the 630 mapping strips will no longer be manufactured. RIP, AAA TripTiks.

Chicago Elevator OperatorAAA TripTik copy 2