Run Your Business Better With Games For the Mind

Owning a business is not a game. Seemingly, playing games is also irrelevant to running a business. Yet, there are skills requisite to entrepreneurship that may require development through practice. Whether one struggles with memory, focus, recall, or eliminating distractions, there may be a game to help you strengthen your mental capacity.

PositscienceThere is a growing number of “brain games” that help with decision making and memory improvement. Lumosity.com, which makes games for these needs, reached 35 million users earlier this year. Joe Hardy, PhD and Vice President of Research and Development for Lumosity, believes brain games are ideal for business owners. “Owning a business is one of the most cognitively challenging jobs,” Hardy says.

Lindsay LaVine, writing for Entrepreneur.com, says that, “Business owners have to process information accurately, balance projects, switch between tasks quickly and efficiently, divide their attention among tasks, and remember customers’ names. We took a look at three popular brain game providers to find out what the buzz is about:”

Lumosity.com

LumosityThe largest provider of brain games, the site works to train your brain in five categories: speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. “Each exercise is designed to train a different cognitive function of the brain,” Hardy explains. The games are based on neurological research performed by researchers from various institutions, including Columbia University and the University of California-Berkeley.

Lumosity’s in-house team of developers creates games based on what research shows exercises various parts of the brain. For example, Memory Matrix requires players to remember which tiles appear in a matrix and recall the pattern from memory, which helps improve spatial recall and working memory. “Think of it as a personal trainer for your brain,” Hardy says. He recommends that users spend 10-20 minutes every day playing brain games, as opposed to spending two hours one day and skipping out on the rest. “It’s like going to the gym,” Hardy says. “The more training you do, the better. The goal is to create a habit that’s sustainable and keeps you engaged.”

Lumosity offers a free limited membership that allows users to participate in some games, while the paid membership provides full access to the site and tracks your BPI (Brain Performance Index, a measure of cognitive performance) progress over time. Paid memberships range from monthly to lifetime options ranging from $15 a month to $80 a year.

Positscience.com

Positscience logoPositscience offers brain training in five categories: attention, brain speed, memory, people skills and intelligence. (A new category, navigation, will be available on the site soon.) Posit Science games include enhancing a user’s ability to read facial expressions, from easy (happy or sad) to the more difficult (puzzled or embarrassed). Its games also help users improve facial recognition as well as matching names with faces and remembering facts about people you meet, an important skill in networking and business.

Posit Science has developed games in collaboration with researchers from nearly a dozen universities, including Yale and Stanford. You can try some of the games out for free without having to sign up. Posit Science offers memberships at $14 a month or $96 a year.

Cogmed.com

CogmedCogmed is designed to improve working memory to allow users to learn new skills in academic or professional endeavors. Users are encouraged to spend up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week on training exercises over a five week period. Training is only available through programs offered by accredited coaches who monitor user results and provide motivation. Many programs are supervised by doctors or psychologists who specialize in attention problems.

Prices vary according to the program selected and the professional coach’s fees. The program is best for people who have working memory issues caused by ADHD, anxiety in social settings, or adjusting quickly to new tasks. 

 

Entrepreneurs With Too Much Passion Are Challenged

Diana Ransom is a contributing editor to Entrepreneur.com and queried in an article today whether lack of focus is an issue in startup failure. She cites the usual suspects (inadequate capitalization, poor market timing, and “founder fatigue”), but then notes that there’s no plausible explanation in other situations. Ransom’s case in point is the decision by founder Campbell McKellar to close the doors of New York City based Loosecubes in November after what seemed to be an incredible run. While McKellar was praised as articulate and poised, Ransom went on to postulate that maybe she had too many passions and it became her undoing.

LoosecubesThe 2.5 year journey attracted 25,000 subscribers in 60+ countries in an office-sharing play that has been copied by Desktime in Chicago. Ransom said she felt the idea was taking off, as evidenced by $9 million in venture capital funding and a staff of 16, all run by a phenomenal young entrepreneur. The sudden decision to close up shop with no media interviews by the founder gives rise to Ransom’s observation that there must be an underlying cause such as too many competing interests:

Like novelists who write several books, entrepreneurs often harbor multiple business ideas, and they love all of them. This is where problems arise; rather than building and running one business for decades, they’re itching to give the next idea a try. In fact, selling or shutting down a business can serve as a form of catharsis.

Naturally, there’s a financial loss associated with failure, but there’s also a sense of closure that people in the career world don’t really ever get to feel. That business (aka your baby) is gone. And while employees who get laid off often look for a new job in the same field, entrepreneurs can consider something entirely different. They can break new ground, explore undiscovered territories. While fraught with uncertainty, it’s also exciting. It’s the thrill of the launch. I suspect this is what happened to McKellar.

Ransom has interviewed many entrepreneurs and has experience identifying with their motivations. She writes that, “If you can identify with these flights of fancy–and you’re aware that they’ve become an impediment to your business trajectory–let me offer a suggestion: Instead of seeking your bliss by creating specific products or services, fall for something that can work across any business. Tony Hsieh (the serial entrepreneur and CEO of Zappos) has a (well-known) major crush on customer service. That’s his thing no matter what business he’s in. His long-held belief that quality customer service will make or break consumer companies helped him create a beloved online retailer, which Amazon.com acquired in 2009 for an estimated $1.2 billion. Now, customer service may be Hsieh’s cup of tea, but yours may differ. And that’s OK. Just make sure there’s something in your entrepreneurial passion that will hold your focus well after your initial idea has matured. Your eventual success depends on it.”

While identifying a strong suit and core value like customer service that can transcend products and services ideas is a good idea. I would argue that there is nothing wrong with being the other kind of entrepreneur. One key proviso: find a way to build a superstar team around yourself sooner than later so that you can effectively delegate responsibilities that draw you into the doldrums of running a business instead of the excitement of launching an idea. 

Those who are able to build teams that function without their requisite involvement are freed to do more of what they wish–even becoming a serial entrepreneur like Tony Hsieh!

 

 

Leaders Instill Vision and Creativity

 

“Vision is the best manifestation of creative imagination and the primary motivation of human action. It’s the ability to see beyond our present reality, to create, to invent what does not yet exist, to become what we not yet are. It gives us capacity to live out of our imagination instead of our memory.” 

– Stephen Covey

Vision cogAs a management consultant of 25 years, I have had the opportunity to interact with a variety of companies, their leadership teams, and employees. What Covey describes above is the missing ingredient in many businesses and the critical success factor in others. Jeff Orr, who coaches executives and their organizations, has this to say about Covey’s quote:

Vision. A key component of leadership. The ability to see what doesn’t exist…yet. And then to communicate that vision, so compellingly, that anyone who hears it can’t help but jump on board. This is the stuff of great leadership.

I have found that one of the most challenging aspects of vision casting is not the actual speaking of the vision, but what the person receiving the message actually sees in their mind regarding that vision. I have discovered that I can verbally paint a vision for a group of people and, depending on their experience, upbringing, etc., each person can have a slightly different picture in their mind of what the vision looks like. They also have a particular view of how they play a part in that vision – which may or may not be what I had intended. This has led to miscommunication and missed expectations. So how do we as leaders cast a compelling vision that is caught by our audience as we intend it to be caught?

Know your audience-their background, personalities, language and culture; (then) you can (better) craft your message to connect with them. If your audience is diverse, you may need to use multiple word pictures to say the same thing to different people. This takes a bit more time, but can be an eye-opener for you. Learning how to convey your vision in multiple “languages” will make you a better communicator.

Once you feel enough of your audience has “gotten it,” you still need to continually cast that vision. As one great leader has said, “Vision leaks.” Imagine a bucket with small holes in the bottom. As you fill that bucket with water, some of it leaks out the bottom. If you don’t continually fill the bucket, all of the water will eventually empty out. People are no different. The concerns of their department, projects, and life in general, all compete for their attention, crowding out the vision. It’s up to you as their leader to keep “filling their bucket” with the vision so it stays top of mind. As you utilize various methods of delivering the same message, you will see your team gain energy, synergy, and momentum.

What applies to leadership applies to intrapreneurship especially well. Organizations that lack visionary leadership often stagnate in their business performance. As the followers sense that the leaders care about creative capacity and are doing something about it, they become very motivated to produce.

When the workers are unable to see beyond their current reality (and not encouraged to do so), they can become disheartened. Being able to envision a better day with more positive outcomes fuels the fires. Given the opportunity to be creative, to look for what lies beyond the obvious, most will work harder with less need for exterior reward because they are motivated by what they can contribute. Seek to be an organization that values vision!

 

Foster Intrapreneurial Activity

Today I had the opportunity to attend an Innovation Symposium culminating a 125 year anniversary celebration at North Carolina State University. While NC State is the arch rival of my alma mater, UNC, it is a great university located in my hometown.  One of the recurring themes today as presidents of other land grant universities took their position at the  podium was how many schools have done a good job of incorporating the business community into campus life–particularly as it relates to launching novel startups with a research basis made possible by the work of faculty and students. An outgrowth of that theme was the concept that more corporate citizens needed to catch the entrepeneurial spirit and turn it into intrapreneurial initiatives.

When I did an internet search for examples of universities partnering with businesses in intrapreneurship, one of the results was a story from Louisville, Kentucky. Beth Avey, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Indiana Exchange said in a blog post on their website, “Over the years I’ve often heard people talk about how the corporate culture stymies creativity and new ideas, and how companies lose their most talented people in pursuit of more innovative opportunities. Well, in our region there are employers doing just the opposite.”

Health intrapreneurshipWhat a great idea! Companies who are tuned into the need of workers to have their ideas heard and implemented–regardless of whether the workers hold a management or traditional R&D role. Would that all companies embraced the challenge to foster intrapreneurial activity! Avey goes on to illustrate:

The Kentucky Indiana Exchange (Kix) has long sought to showcase the great entrepreneurial spirit of our region, but what about the “intrapreneurial” spirit of our employers? Maybe it’s a concept that some of you are aware of, but it was unknown to me until a recent visit to Signature HealthCARE as a member of the 2013 class of Leadership Louisville.

When we arrived for our monthly gathering, we were given the opportunity to select one of several regional employers, and I chose Signature. I had heard so much about the company — the decision its leaders made to move the headquarters to the region; the work they were doing with the University of Louisville to foster innovation and business start-ups in the long-term care industry; and about their leader, CEO Joe Steier, a Louisville native who guided the company’s move to Kentucky.

We spent much of the morning with our host Joe Barimo, the VP of Corporate Learning. His passion for the company was quite apparent. We then visited with what seemed to be the entire senior leadership team, including Joe Steier. We had a terrific exchange, learning about the company, their move to Louisville and Signature’s three organizational pillars – Learning, Spirituality and Intrapreneurship. Learning and Spirituality were certainly two concepts with which I was familiar, but not “Intrapreneurship.”

It’s the idea of acting like an entrepreneur within a larger organization where employees are expected to be innovative, to take risk and pursue the development of innovative products or services within the company. This style of management allows the employees to feel as if they’re part of something bigger, as well as something they have a stake in. Traits like conviction, zeal and insight are encouraged. As a result, employees become more likely to try the kinds of approaches they might take if they were running their own business. The end result can be a breakthrough technology or a new and profitable product line.

What a great lesson in visionary leadership. How can it be applied to your organization? Your alma mater? Your business community? 

 

Are You Aggressive Innovators, or Defenders of Status Quo?

Our world has sped up. The demand for faster, “instant,” responsive products and services drives business competition for customers. A computer, for instance, with a faster processor is worth more than one with a slower one because faster page loads mean either a more enjoyable gaming experience or work productivity. Consequently, a higher price can be charged for a faster computer. In many markets, people are willing to pay a rush charge for added convenience or quicker availability. Why is the need for speed, then, missing in typical product development efforts? My friend, Jeffrey Phillips, addressed this issue with a recent blog post:

Three innovation clockspeeds

The pervasive lack of enthusiasm or even awareness of time in regards to innovation is a constant source of amazement for me.  In organizations transfixed by time, speed and efficiency, innovation and product development are often the slowest out of the gate, the longest efforts to accomplish and seem completely unrelated to the real world. There are, of course, reasons why innovation is slow:
  1. Innovation is uncertain and risky, so organizations try to move slowly to reduce risk
  2. Innovation (if done well) is often ahead of the market, so organizations try to time innovation to market needs and demands
  3. Innovation requires tools and techniques that are unfamiliar, which slows the process
  4. Innovation and subsequent product development processes are sclerotic, like blood vessels full of plaque, stuffed with unimportant but time consuming activities.

My stipulation is that you should do innovation as fast as humanly possible, even at the risk of skipping steps or bypassing checkpoints, because your internal clockspeed is almost certainly out of synch with the market’s clockspeed.

Your internal clockspeed

Your clockspeed (how fast your organization works) was set by management – this means that your clockspeed is relatively high when working on (the) familiar … and very slow otherwise.  Your operating models slow innovation down at exactly the time that they should be speeding up.  The strange thing about internal clockspeed is that it is similar to the weather – everyone complains about it but few do much about it.  

Clockspeed

External market clockspeed

Your markets are likely moving faster than your internal processes, since the markets are subject to competition, new entrants, substitutions and other factors that Porter and others made famous.  The real problem is innovation clockspeed.

Innovation clockspeed

If you compete in a lucrative market, there are a host of firms innovating right now, seeking to disrupt your market, create substitutes for your product or to simply replace the need for your product or potentially your market.  Clockspeed isn’t simply about bringing a new product to market faster, but about making the product or market obsolete or unnecessary.  

Getting obsolete faster 

Nobody cares about how efficient or fast your existing processes are to provide existing products and services.  What will differentiate firms in the future is an accelerated ability to innovate, at least as a fast follower if not an innovation leader, carefully tracking the external market clockspeed and anticipating innovation clockspeed.  

The challenge — should you choose to accept this mission, is to synchronize the clocks! Within your organization, take a long hard look at impediments to rapid prototyping. Examine systems that disincentivize risk taking and experimentation. Determine how to reject more ideas faster so that your organization is known for the rate of idea generation and implementation rather than the amount of time taken to vet one idea at a time.