Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Product Development at the Improv

While buying books for my son's high school summer reading assignment on, I stumbled on Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman. Goodman is an improv comedian who has recognized the correlation between skills required for comedic improv -- quick-thinking, collaboration, getting out of your own way, and being in the moment without being a perfectionist -- and skills required to be more effective in working with others in everyday life.

My interest in these skills stems from my comfort zone and my own social style and feedback I've received -- the situations of being uncomfortable without a script, worrying too much about the past and future, and negating someone's idea all sounded too familiar. The book includes exercises, and I found those quite challenging as well. But I'm looking forward to the growth opportunity and the chance to try something new.

Bottom line, I've found the book interesting, useful, and applicable to the product development process. The book opens with the "The First Four Skills of Improv", which are great skills to have in any collaborative situation:

#1 - You Must be Present and Listen Carefully -- "To be creative with others and to brainstorm solutions, you must first understand where everyone is coming from, and to do that, you've go to listen. (And not sneak a peek at your incoming text messages.)"

#2 - Don't Negate -- "Negation is when you deny someone's idea. The classic example actors use to explain negation is this:
One actor says, "Hey, look at the that pink elephant!"
The other actor says, "What are you talking about? There's no pink elephant."
Plop. The first actor is shot down, and there's nowhere to go."

#3 - Affirm and Add -- "You accept what your partner is suggesting, and you add to it."

#4 - Always be Willing to Surrender your Plans -- "In improv, you must be willing to give up your idea if it isn't working or the time to offer it has passed. You might be tempted to negate a new idea simply because you're attached to your original one. But the better approach is to go with flow and alter your course."

Good stuff, and an interesting approach to improving collaboration and team-building.

btw - my fave quote from the book: "Is anal-retentive spelled with or without the hyphen?"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Power of Personal Metrics

Finally getting caught up on some reading, and came across The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics by Mark McClusky in the July 2009 issue of Wired. Most of you who know me know I've lost a significant amount of weight over the past two years (~40 lbs.) largely through increased exercise. Although I do not use the Nike+, I do use a Polar heart rate and speed / distance monitor and log my training on the PolarPersonalTrainer website. I've also started to use the and Facebook sites to track my progress and share the results with friends. The results, for me, have been incredible. The tracking of metrics has allowed me to chart progress and identify what works well and what doesn't. And sharing my progress has generated words of encouragement that keep me motivated. Any operations manager will tell you that if you want to improve something, measure it objectively and set goals for improvement. Turns out it works for weekend-warrior athletes as well as olympians and companies.

While your at it, check out Wired's 10 Gadgets We’d Like to Throw Into a Black Hole.

Wisdom for Entrepreurs

In the July/August issue of Inc. Street Smarts columnist Norm Brodsky answers questions from readers on a variety of start-up and growing business issues. Some highlights:
"Entrepreneurs don't make good employees. What's more, they are often crummy managers."

"It's a bad idea to offer ownership in a new business to people who are making no investment but their time."

"In times like these, it is natural to worry about survival [cash flow]. But you need to remember that recessions don't last forever. Just don't make the usual mistakes. Now is not the time to cut back on your marketing and product development. Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of cutting prices. Offer additional services instead."

Check out the rest of the Norm's column here.

Also, check out Norm's 10 Things Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know. Good stuff.