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. 

 

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Nurture Networking Relationships and You Will Prosper

As a former business development executive, I miss my expense account. Seriously–it has always been a ton of fun to mingle with people and get paid to do it. Now running my own consulting firm, volunteering some time at a non-profit, and helping several other founders get their businesses off the ground, I have less time and budget to do one of the things I love: networking. Jeff Hoffman, a member of the founding teams at Priceline.com and uBid.com, and now launching ColorJar, gets this. In a blog post for Inc.com today, Jeff shares with other entrepreneurs what he has learned about the value of networking, as well as some tips to the uninitiated.Networking

Launching and growing a business is hard.  You need to find those relationships (that will help), and then cultivate and nourish them, to keep them alive and healthy.  When you are trying to go from point A to point D in business…people act as bridges from point B to point C, saving you valuable time and money.

… tips:

1. Identify people who could help you and your company. 

Make a list of potential relationships you’d like to forge, either by individual’s names, or by companies and positions.  You can’t pursue your targets until you know who and what they are…write down next to each name precisely what you think the person can do to help your business.

2. Contact these people on a regular basis, and stay in touch with them. 

The most important part of this regular communication is to make sure you are acutely aware of their needs, not just yours.  Ask them what they are trying to accomplish and how you can help.  And then do it when you can.

3. Find ways to give back to them. 

Make a list of the interests of the people on your go-to list…Let each individual know you remember and care about those interests.  Interesting article? Send it to the appropriate contact.  Meet a smart person in that field? Make an introduction.  (Cool, relevant) event? Invite (them) to attend.  Provide a value to your contacts, if you expect to receive it in return.

4. Acknowledge them in your social media. 

Discuss their work, congratulate their accomplishments, and keep them in your discussions.  Show them that you are not only aware of the importance of their work, but that you follow it and celebrate it.  

5. Schedule a time in your calendar to think about and research each contact. 

Once you make this relationship list, it needs maintenance and updating.  Set a periodic time to review the list, update it, and think again about how these people can help you and how you can help them.  Your needs have changed and so have theirs.

6. Make them feel 10 feet tall from time to time. 

Send out handwritten notes.  Or fruit baskets.  Make sure the people in your network know that you appreciate them and recognize their importance in your life.  A little gratitude goes a long way.

Great advice from someone who has obviously helped many other people along the way. Now that I am in the role of advising others, I frequently encourage them to “pay it forward,” helping someone else with their needs before asking for hep with your own. Go out of your way to make introductions for all kinds of solutions–that kind of capital is priceless! 

I also like Jeff’s suggestions on how to keep the conversation alive–good stuff! Remembering to do the personal touches mentioned above is not just good etiquette–it’s great business practice! Smart networking follows these best practices.

 

 

Dissimilarity Creates Innovative Thinking

How often does your organization examine ways to apply a concept from one part of the business to an entirely different component? I’d like to suggest that you do it far more often. Many innovative ideas flow from simultaneously considering two thoughts that, on the surface, seem to have little connection. For instance, what do you think of design mixed with meeting planning? Dennis Shiao, Director of Product Marketing at INXPO and author of the book “Generate Sales Leads With Virtual Events,” thinks this juxtaposition is an interesting one. After watching a 60 Minutes episode recently that featured an interview with David Kelley, founder of both IDEO and Stanford’s d school, Shiao was inspired:

Overview: Design Thinking
The design thinking process can be broken down into three components: inspiration, ideation and implementation. To quote a design thinking article co-authored by Mr. Brown:

  • Inspiration: “Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions.”

  • Ideation: “Ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas.”

  • Implementation: “Implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.”

Corporate events

Incorporating Design Thinking into Meetings and Events

I’ve (Shiao) taken a look at the tenets and methodologies of design thinking and considered how they could be applied to meetings and events. Let’s consider some.

Attend Your Own Event (Empathy)

Meeting and event planners should take off their “planning hats” and attend one of their events solely with their “attendee hats” on. That means that you can have no part in planning the event. Go through the entire cycle of registration, travel, sessions, workshops, social events, etc. Practice further empathy by understanding how fellow attendees are experiencing the event.

Deepen (and Broaden) Your Team Roster

Design thinking introduces the notion of “multidisciplinary teams,” in which people of assorted backgrounds (and schools of thought) ideate, iterate and collaborate. You need a group that creates divergent thinking, which, according to Mr. Brown of IDEO, “is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation.” I’d recommend adding folks from Finance, HR and Engineering. 

Where No Idea is a Bad Idea
If you make an early judgment on the quality of an idea, you may have just squashed a “germ” that would develop into a breakthrough. The ideation process is critical in creating the next breakthrough event. Instead, design thinking teaches you to build upon each other’s ideas, sort of like the “yes, and..” methodology in improvisational theater. 

Meeting and Event Prototypes
Recall that part of the ideation phase is “testing ideas.” It’s an iterative process in which you deploy a prototype, collect “real user feedback,” determine what you learned, then ideate on product refinements (repeating the cycle all over again).

Let’s say you’re planning next year’s 5,000 person sales kick-off meeting and you have innovative new ideas for it. Create a prototype using 50 sales people and actually implement those ideas in a “real prototype” (event). Determine what worked, make adjustments, then plan another prototype. When the “real thing” comes around, you’ll have a much better “product.”

This type approach is both novel and holds promise for adaptation to a variety of other tasks, disciplines and situations. What dissimilar business processes can be combined in a brainstorming session to help you approach your customers, employees, or suppliers differently? What may be the outcome of such crazy thinking? Does your culture support such “frivolous” exercises, or disdain them? While the temptation would be to apply the concept only to new product development, the value is cross-functional!

 

 

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. 

Your Online Content Needs a Strategy

Many of my clients have made the jump into the digital age with their marketing. They know that they need to be involved in social media, but often have never heard of content management. While I do not pretend to be a content expert, I have picked up on some best practices over time and try to apply those to my own firm and the clientele I serve. My email inbox receives regular updates to keep me abreast of what thought leaders have to say about content. Over the weekend, I read about “8 Content Marketing Mistakes to Avoid,” a whitepaper that was very well written. The authors/sources quoted include Heinz Marketing’s Matt Heinz, Marketing Interactions’ Ardath Albee, Babcock & Jenkins’ Carmen Hill, The Funnelholic’s Craig Rosenberg, and The Sales Lion’s Marcus Sheridan. 

Excerpts appear below, followed by my own formatting for emphasis, observation and commentary:

1. Don’t neglect to do the groundwork. Before you start any marketing activity, you have to know why you’re doing it. How does this activity translate to immediate or eventual sales and revenue? (Heinz)

You have to know (to) whom you’re talking, what they need and want to know, and where their interests intersect with yours. (Hill)

2. Don’t focus on yourself—focus on the buyer instead. Think like the end user, not like a business owner. Great content marketing is about education.  To be great at content marketing, the focus has to be about the reader, and not the company/writer. (Sheridan)

Our content needs a lot less “we” and a lot more “you.” (Hill).

3. Don’t pitch your product at every stage. Give the people what they want: interesting content that makes their life better. (Rosenberg)

What are your customer’s issues? What do they need help with, right now? That’s the content that will spread like wildfire for you. (Heinz)

Question words4. Don’t overlook calls to action. Every content asset should have a call to action. Build pathways and tell connected stories that help to build momentum through the pipe. (Albee)

5. Don’t forget that effective content marketing is a two-way street. To really accelerate your audience and impact, you must devote time to responding, commenting, engaging questions and so on. (Heinz)

6. Don’t produce content that lacks substance. Audrey Gray of American Express advised that we put our energy into what we’re making rather than the platform: “Create content that makes you feel smarter, celebrates human artistry, or that has with real-world value.” (Hill)

7. Don’t treat content marketing as an afterthought. Content marketing is a practice that integrates all of your content-driven initiative into a consistent and holistic experience for your target markets. Content marketing is at its best when it’s used to pull everything together so that an experience in one channel makes sense or adds value when the audience switches to another channel. (Albee)

8. Don’t underestimate the power of various formats. Written content may be the core of your content strategy, but don’t forget video. Or podcasts. Or short, embedded slide presentations. Or whatever other formats your audience naturally gravitates toward. (Heinz) 

Marketers will benefit tremendously by embracing the Rule of 5. Take one topic and develop 5 different angles to approach it, creating 5 different formats of content. (Albee)

Sound advice from some stellar content curators and marketers. Incorporate these principles into your own business environment. Become engaging, relevant, and indispensable. Doing so will build a loyal following that can be turned into either revenues or referrals that produce revenues. At the very least, your brand gains equity for your efforts and that is no small feat!