7:30 am - Mon, Jul 28, 2014

Blog Post: 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up For Cognitive Success

Stop me if you’ve ever spoken or heard this during the work day:

“He was depleted after a long day of meetings.””She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and just didn’t hear you.””He didn’t bother to check whether what he said made sense.”

Once, I would have thought those to be incongruous statements. Each has happened to me many times, and looking back on each situation I could easily explain the reasons why. The meeting was not as stimulating, I was rushed by a tight deadline, or I had too much on my plate at the time. See how easy it is?

While they have to do with some sort of mental capacity, it’s easy see them at face value and miss the deeper message: we are sometimes misled by our fast and slow-thinking processes. That’s what Daniel Kahneman is teaching me through reading his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The Israeli-American psychologist, along with a long-time collaborator, did so much research into our instinctive and deliberate thought processes that he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002. The 80-year old academic did so much for the psychology community that the APA give him a lifetime achievement award seven years ago. The man is a legend.

Our mind works in two states. There are some things our mind is asked to negotiate intuitively, and on the spot. A question that qualifies is, “what is your favorite color”. This is referred to in the book as System 1.

Some things take a little more thought. If I were to ask you to count the number of punctuation marks on this post, that would qualify as something that takes a little more concentration and time to accomplish. Kahneman refers to this as System 2 in full effect. It is possible that some activities could become more intuitive, as does our driving ability. Just takes effort and time.

The research in Thinking, Fast and Slow blows you away when you see what exactly it takes to be a deliberately thoughtful person on a daily basis. So much of what we do during the day, and how we behave, can be explained with science. Got me thinking of how this could be applied to improve things, if even only a little.

I’m not even halfway through the book, but here are five things you can try tomorrow that will show immediate improvements.

1. Mentally challenging tasks should be saved until you are not just rested, but fed well.

This is because of the revelation I learned that thinking takes actual energy. Eight parole judges in Israel were unwitting participants in a study that measured how we perform cognitive activities throughout the day.

Spending entire days reviewing cases, their response time and approval rates were measured. The overall approval rate of parole during the study was 35%, but the approval rate jumps to 65% right after meals are eaten. It dropped to nearly zero right before the next meal.

What does this mean for your day? Why not schedule your most difficult mental task, such as a tough feature to implement or that meeting you really need to concentrate during, right after lunch? Your brain not only needs that energy, but will respond better.

2. Our intuition lulls us into a false sense of security when problems arise.

Quick, give this math problem a quick glance and blurt out the first answer that comes to mind:

“A ball and bat cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball.How much does the ball cost?”

Most would say the ball costs $0.10. When I say most, 80% of college students give that answer (ivy leagues aren’t immune either, 50% of them fall for it). The correct answer is actually $0.05, and no I did not get it right either.

It’s important to note that our mind would preferably solve problems quickly, because there are surely more important problems in the world to solve. Kahneman calls this concept a “Lazy System 2″. If we can negotiate something quickly, our ego kicks in and sorts the task under System 1 as opposed to question how easy a problem actually is. Action item from this section is to do just that: question your problems more. Are you putting the right amount of mental effort into this task? Don’t let your mind be lazy!

3. Slow down; we are never as hurried as we think. 

Another reason the ball and bat problem proves difficult is we are prompted with the request to just give the first answer that comes to us. If we were prompted with the directive to take 3 minutes before answering, I think the correct percentage rises.

Part of the mind’s need to solve as many problems intuitively as possible is because we all have an internal metronome. As Kahenman states in the book:

“Just like the juggler with several balls in the air, you cannot afford to slow down; the rate as which material decays in the memory forces the pace driving you to refresh and rehearse information before it’s lost.”

If you are feeling hurried by something that you doing during your day, there is a good chance that you’re mind is just juggling different ideas at the same time. In fact, the more ideas a task involves, the more hurried we will feel. A little organization and reflection on your task can take these multiple ideas and transform them from airborne balls to grounded principles. Kind of like a mental Kanban board.

4. There is something to be said for batching your tasks.

After we are fed, set aside laziness, and organized our thoughts, what have we done to ourselves? Quite simply, we have prepared ourselves for long periods of effort without having to exert willpower. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. The book defines this term as:

“People who experience flow describe it as, ‘a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems,’ and their descriptions of the joy of that state are so compelling that Csikszentmihalyi has called it an ‘optimal experience.’” 

The quickest thing that can pull us out of our flow is having to exert mental energy to switch back and forth between certain tasks. Instead of taking advantage of this heightened mental state, we stay stuck in Interruptville. Cut to every single developer on my teams nodding their heads vigorously.

It takes effort to set this zen garden in our mind up, why would we intentionally trash it with answering the text you just got? Pomodoro is a technique I have written about before, and can easily give you the freedom to offload unimportant tasks until you have the time and mental capacity for this. 

5. You can prime your mind for success.

Ever hear of word association? It’s a fun game that we’ve undoubtedly all played, but did you know we can be primed to give specific answers?

Take the word “SO_P”. Now if I were to mention food before asking you to tell me what word you are thinking of, what would you say? This time, if I were to talk about washing my clothes, would you answer differently? Kahneman thinks so. The greatest example is in a study that uses the “Florida effect”.

An NYU study asked two groups of students to assemble four-word sentences from a group of five words (the example is “finds he it yellow instantly”). One group involved words associated with the elderly, such as “Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle”. The others didn’t. Once finished with the task, each set of students was timed walking down a hallway to exit the room. Which group do you think walked significantly slower than the other?

As funny as that study was, we can prime ourselves for mental success with some playful word association. Instead of the family photo as your desktop background, try using a solid color or a positive trigger word. Before you have a difficult call or meeting, there’s nothing wrong with pumping yourself with some stickies with positivity abounding. Triggering success can be that simple every day.

Which ones have you tried before, and what kind of effect did it have on your day?




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5:34 pm - Sun, Jul 27, 2014
Blog Post: 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up For Cognitive Success

Stop me if you’ve ever spoken or heard this during the work day: “He was depleted after a long day of meetings.”

Blog Post: 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up For Cognitive Success

Stop me if you’ve ever spoken or heard this during the work day: “He was depleted after a long day of meetings.”

7:30 am - Mon, Jul 21, 2014

Blog Post: Do You Really Think You’re All Alone In This?

Back in my teens and 20′s, I knew each Sports Center anchor better than my own family. I memorized their catch phrases, read their books, and laughed along while ESPN was making each and every one of them a star. My first job out of college was as a sports anchor, and I shamelessly imitated. After Chris Berman, and before Bill Simmons, these men and women walked the earth like rock stars. 

Of course, getting older and more domesticated has all but ceased my connection with Sports Center anchors. Even if we weren’t watching highlights in a new way today, I still wouldn’t be devoting time to the show because I have commitments elsewhere. As such, I wasn’t even aware of Stuart Scott’s fight with cancer.

Apparently, it was found by accident, sent to remission, and then returned with a vengance. I hurt for the man as much as I can, and hope he beats it a second time.

Last week, because of his profile and fight, he was presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at last week’s ESPY awards. Almost like a Make-a-Wish kid, Stu was presented with the award by his favorite actor, Keefer Sutherland. I would have gone with Jim Carrey in Joker makeup, but you go, bud. 

In his speech, he was humble in comparing himself to previous winners, declaring his intention to keep fighting the good fight, and stating his responsibility in winning the award. It was rote in nature until he got to this critical part in the speech.

“I can’t do this ‘never give up’ thing by myself.”

In the sports world, we talk about individual achievement like it’s second nature. Insurmountable odds are overcome by people every day. They see the goal, and train day and night to reach it. How in the world could Stuart Scott be highlighting the important part of his survival is relying on others?

“When you get to tired to fight, lie down and rest and let someone else fight for you.” 

Deep down, we all get that. There’s only so much time in the day, energy in the tank, desire to overcome. At some point, we are going to have to lie down and let someone else pick up the baton.

“I couldn’t fight, but doctors and nurses could,” He stated.

 The next few minutes were accolades for family and friends taking his calls. Bosses that offered to bring over meals. His two daughters that helped him feel like a normal dad, while still providing all the inspiration he needed.

So what happens if he dies? Does that mean he failed? Scott disagrees:

“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

All of this reminds me not just of the little success I have had in my daily fight with Type I diabetes, because it was only when I asked for help that my numbers improved. I was reminded of the fight my teams face every day in trying to march together towards a single goal with insurmountable odds.

Some days are just really hard. Clients demand the best from us, complex systems are difficult to integrate, and last minute polish items sometimes throw us into a tailspin. In those moments, we try to just push through and tough it out. Scott reminds us that sometimes, it’s okay to just rest and let someone else fight for us.

That’s what teammates and communities are for. 

Agile coaches often help me find the right result, development circles frequently post issues and help each other up, QA groups sit together and help find the issues often missed. In each of those situations, along with millions of others, relief only comes when we admit our struggle and raise our hand.

Scott understands this, mostly because he doesn’t have a choice anymore. Would he know how to let others fight for him if he was in this same spot? Tough to tell, but often many of us think we are all we need until we are at our weakest. One thing I want to teach my kids is not to wait that long. Admitting you aren’t an expert not only raises your profile, but can also help remove your problem sooner.

Whatever your situation, just take Scott’s word to heart and take steps to widen the circle:

“This whole fight is not a solo venture.”




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7:30 am - Mon, Jul 14, 2014

Blog Post: What Is The Makeup Of A Great Leader?

One of the beauties of the Agile framework, specifically with a Scrum implementation, is that 10 different teams can work 10 different ways. One team can run early morning stand-ups, with a regular grooming meeting, and combo retrospective with planning. Another could run late stand-ups, skip the grooming and run a longer planning session separate from a retro.

There’s no one way up the mountain, and the anarchist inside all of us loves it that way.

Same thing goes for types of Agile leaders, there’s not one specific type of person that can accomplish all of these ceremonies. My boss loves to tell people that he doesn’t hire one specific type of PM, he wants a toolbox filled with different skills that he can use at any time.

So how do you know if you have what it takes?

In my experience, leaders fall into two basic personality types. This applies whether you are a project manager on an IT team, an NFL head coach, or CEO of a billion-dollar organization. You are either a macro-oriented or micro-oriented leader.

Oh sure, there are many flavors of those two archetypes. You might be really detail oriented, but an awful delegator, which is the traditional “micro manager” we all tell horror stories. Other types of micro-oriented leaders end up alright, though. If you can see every detail, while at the same time having a vision for execution and actually allow others to handle it, you might be alright.

Macro-oriented leaders tend to be great at delegating and planning. Some are creative, and possess the ability to adapt to whatever comes their way. Others are great mentors and coaches, but don’t function well on the day-to-day management of their team’s needs. Look at these macro peeps as the “player’s coach” persona. As much as I would love a little of the other camp, I’m a macro-oriented leader to the core.

Identifying where in the range you fall is important to your development. While many tend to see themselves as only one type of leader, I’m here to tell you that the world is your oyster. If you paint yourself into the corner as not being detail-oriented enough, difficult in one-on-one relationships, or “not enough of an arse” to succeed, then you might as well not try.

While we each have different skill ratings in areas such as creativity, vision, or guidance, those can be used to still succeed. This post on the 8 types of leaders was shared to me from my boss once and it completely changed my view on what a “successful leader” meant. I may not be in a position to be a Super-Bowl-winning coach or use drones to deliver packages, but I can identify with the leadership style of Tom Coughlin or Jeff Bezos. Sure, they were both micro-oriented leaders, and could be called a few colorful names by former employees, but they put them in a position to be successful leaders.

So, that leaves us with one simple question. How exactly can we take how God made us and craft a leader?

  • The parts of your job (yes I’m talking to the man in the mirror, too) that you don’t enjoy, that needs the most attention first. If it’s a report that doesn’t make sense, work on it every morning for a week. If there’s a relationship on your team that needs some gardening, ask them to lunch once a month. If you can’t seem to plan beyond a few weeks, spend 30 minutes a day on the roadmap.
  • Find other leaders that can do what you want. There’s a distinct possibility you have a skill they desire as well, which makes the pairing fortuitous. Either way, shadow them a bit. Volunteer to ride side saddle and learn. You will learn a lot more, a lot faster, than you realize. Just make sure you write about it and validate what you are observing with them.
  • Get some fresh air from your comfortable surroundings. That may mean you ask the company to send you to a conference or training. If that’s not an option, though, there’s plenty of monthly user groups to get acquainted with. Reach out on LinkedIn to peers at other companies and ask a ton of questions. Any of these will give you perspective and embolden you to stand before your team with panache.
  • Read, a lot. I’ve said this on Twitter before, but any book on how to be a successful CEO applies to you as a team leader. As a PM, I’m the CEO of my team and need to act like one if we are going to meet our objectives. My latest suggestion is this book by Ben Horrowitz, but you can’t go wrong with some of the classics like Collins, Fried, Christensen, and others.

This effort will not be easy, but will bear fruit that lasts your entire career. It won’t be smooth, so let me offer this: when you get down, please don’t think that you don’t have the right personality to be a successful leader. I recently had a conversation with an amazing co-worker who wondered if you needed to be a jerk to have the respect of your peers.

Took me a few days to realize the truth, but this idea couldn’t be further from it. Yes, there plenty of examples to the contrary, but you don’t need a particular makeup for success. While some people are gifted knowing what they want and going after it, they might also struggle with opening their mouth too fast and stepping on their own toes. As I said earlier, there are skills we all have, and you just need to understand yours to best use them. 

Knowing yourself, and working with what you have, will generate a lot more success than trying to be someone else. Now go do it.




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7:30 am - Mon, Jul 7, 2014

Blog Post: Do Push Notifications Really Bring Value To Users?

Let’s say you’re average. Yes, I know my readers are a cut above, but just place yourself in the “normal” category for a few minutes. How often do you think you look at your phone per day? Over 30? What about 50 times a day? Twice that?

Try 110.

That’s where the most recent numbers I could find pegged it. After you get off work, the average person looks at their phone every six seconds. That’s on the low end of the spectrum, too. Others think it’s closer to 150. Nir Eyal, wrote the book on addiction and we show it every day when we pull our mobile devices out. In the midst of all that usage, there’s a question I haven’t been able to shake this past week.

Why in the world do we need to be “notified” of anything on our phone other than a call?

Every time I open my phone, there are badges directing my attention all over the place. My boss emailed me, my wife texted me, my brother tweeted at me, I have a voicemail from my doctor’s office, and my photo was liked on Facebook. Every app telling me, “Come here first! We have what you need right now, don’t mess with those other jokers!”

That doesn’t even get into all the games reminding me it’s time to come back and log some resources so I can build my town or army up. If I allowed notifications from games, I would never sleep.

People are about fed up with notifications as well. Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of my favorite app Buffer, announced recently that he turned them off on his device. Was a revelation, and I have spread the gospel as fast as I could. If all a notification does is beg for attention that I’m already giving my device, why would I need them?

Then along came Yo.

Since I don’t live in Northern California, it’s hard for me to understand if Silicon Valley is the main reason apps like Yo, Secret and Slingshot become popular or not. Regardless, Yo is a thing right now, and it thinks the push notifications you get are silly.

When someone messages you from Yo, that’s all the notification says. It’s that simple, and Yo CEO Or Arbel thinks that’s enough. In an interview on Product Hunt’s podcast, Arbel talked about the end goal of the app changing how we look at the technology.

“Everything you need to know is in the notification itself,” he said. There is nothing to open. There is nothing to read. There is no badge”

So, now we are notifying each other just because? Granted, ideally you would receive your “yo” and then hop on the app to respond in like. If the goal isn’t really to elicit anything from users, what is the real end goal of notifying them of a new message?

In response, the community has done what it does best and create a ton of silly knockoffs. Now, if you don’t really want to send someone a “yo”, you now have the option to send them a “hey” or “Hodor“. I started to search for more and quickly realized I had better ways to spend my time. Trust me, they are out there.

Does that mean the new “hello world” app has shifted from Flappy Bird knockoffs to Yo clones?

There is some gold in the Product Hunt interview, though, and if the app can get enough traction there might be enough app developers fed up with how we talk to our users. Instead of throwing junk in front users begging for attention, we should be asking what the purpose the event should have.

As Gascoigne stated in his post, the key to notifications is seeing the interaction for what it truly is: a dessert mirage.

“Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all. I don’t need to know right now that someone liked my status on Facebook.”

It’s important to note that the main push Joel has behind turning notifications off is to gain control over his device again and choose to engage in what he wants, whenever he chooses to do so. I can’t help but think, however, that some of that comes from the deluge of pop-ups developers have decided to bombard us with. Things with true value don’t have to be “turned off”.

Much like direct mail, which strangely enough is still an effective marketing technique, the notification gained some notoriety for reaching users and is now utilized by every single app we download. This will only change when we stop allowing them and tell startups to deliver more value if we are going to allow them to “send us” their message.

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7:30 am - Mon, Jun 30, 2014

Blog Post: How To Set Your Failure Up To Succeed

failure

Failure is a scary word in our work today. While the startup culture has embraced failure as the best learning took in the market, the word still has chilling effects on today’s business leaders. An Amazon search reveals over 22,000 books include the word “failure” in some fashion. Another few thousand can be added on this list by changing the word to “fail”, as Ryan Babineaux does in his popular tome. Failure, as it seems, seems to be yet another cottage industry.

For the most part, we still do everything we can to avoid it. In my most disturbing Google search to date, I even found that certain project management circles are using something they call “best practices to avoid project failure”. I sat there wounded for a good five minutes.

Yet, the tide seems to be turning.
ForbesThe Next Web, and Harvard Business Review have done their best to change the tenor of the word with pieces positing how important it is for companies to embrace the idea of not getting everything right and start learning from their mistakes. It’s tough sledding in some industries, but every little bit helps.

One of the tenets of agile is the idea that we, “move fast and break things,” to quote Zuckerberg. We have the first part down, or at least a little better. Accelerating the speed of work delivering causes some friction in all aspects of business, and I for one am happy to see the lessons learned from this attempt. It’s amazing the stuff you can live without when you force yourself to do so.

Being a bull in a china shop leaves a gigantic mess, though, which brings me to the second half of that famous phrase.

Countless blogs wrote about the amazing lessons everyone was learning in the absence of success. Since we can’t really read more than 1,000 words at a time anymore, we read how important it is to fail and we set off with that goal. The result is advice from some you should, “fail a lot”. Hopefully, nobody is reading that seriously. That’s why an equal amount of blog posts have been devoted to denouncing the idea that failing fast is a good thing.

Failure has a price, which many are willing to pay, but only if you do it with a few caveats. If you are starting off on your own venture, please dont be scared to try something and not succeed. That’s for another generation. Just keep these things in mind to help set your failure up to succeed.

  • Define what success looks like for you. I can see I’m already losing you, so let me caveat this caveat: it’s okay if you don’t know what success looks like in every situation. While metrics can be hard to define, most of the time we know what it will look like if we do something right. You just have to think about it in advance. Oh, and for the record it has to be more detailed than “get a crap-ton of users”.
  • Let the world know. Even if “the world” is defined as a few members of your team who you want to bring along for the ride, it’s important to write it down for others to see. There’s a little accountability involved, and if you tell others what you are trying to get out of them they are usually more receptive to the concept.
  • Measure along the way. Don’t wait long before you measure the success of your idea and adjust if needed. I’ve written a few times about retrospectives if you need a nudge in this area.
  • Courageously change course. Takes a big person to admit they failed. Humility is the trait that will serve you best in this endeavor. The small amount of respect I have garnered in my career has come on the heels of me owning my faults and asking for a change. Either your data or people around you will have the answers for you, but true failure comes only if you don’t heed advice.
  • Finally, don’t rush headlong into failure. While you do learn immensely when you aren’t successful, it would still be nice if you set your people up for success. Show me a team that has failed a ton and I will show you a team that is beginning to lose faith in it’s leader.

Failing is not something to blindly embrace or run from in fear. I see it as the one key stakeholder in the room nobody wants to address, yet can be the biggest pigeon in the room. Once you come out of the closet and have that difficult conversation with failure, though, it’s easy to simultaneously avoid and learn from it.

Your team’s and company’s success, depends on it.


Tagged: agile, fail, failure, learning, scrum, startup, success

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7:30 am - Tue, Jun 24, 2014

Blog Post: Coming Out Of Your Own Closet

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While I’m not proud to admit it, I am a people pleaser by nature. I’m inclined to go an extra step if I think it will gain favor in someone’s eyes, and I’m hesitant to lovingly speak tough truth if I think it will cost me that relationship. It’s debilitating to picture myself in those situations, and downright paralyzing to actually go through it. I’ve gotten a little better over the years at facing the music, but part of me will always struggle.

What’s worse, I know I’m not alone.

In one of the most powerful TED talks I have heard recently, I came across this TEDxBoulder talk by Ash Beckham on coming out of the closet. While her sexuality is addressed, she used the phrase in a more broad sense. A closet, according to Ms. Beckham, is any difficult conversation we are faced with.

Imagery immediately flooded my mind. I can picture myself having to call a client to say we needed an extra day to ship. My wife sitting me down with that serious look on hear face because we needed to “talk”. My boss asking me to come into his office and shut the door. Each time, I can see myself in a dark closet needing to come out and face the light.

This is not to compare or contrast those feelings with the more traditional sense of “coming out of the closet”. I have never been in that spot, and I can only imagine how it grips a person needing to have that conversation. It was Beckham, however, that gave me the courage to see that while circumstances surrounding the conversation are different, the challenge is more similar than I thought.

Take those situations I mentioned. What do you think most likely happened when I got up the courage to gingerly wade into those waters? Quite simply, it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. The client, while disappointed in the delay, understood the reason for it and thanked me for being proactive. My wife just needed a clarification on  something I said earlier and accepted my apology when I admitted it came out differently than I intended. My boss actually wanted to ask my opinion on something, not chastise me, and ask for help in implementing a new policy in the office.

Each time, the dread of what each conversation could mean was worse than it’s actuality. While a closet could turn into hurt feelings and lost relationships, experience says that many times it was the best thing in that moment. Just like Will Wheaton said in his famous comic convention answer last year,  someone else’s problem with you rarely has anything to do with you.

Beckham’s insight emboldened me to not only face tough conversations in front of me, I was actually excited to have them for once! My encouragement is not to fear your closet. In her talk, she mentions that it doesn’t matter what color it’s painted, you just know it’s dark. That’s what unites us all. Stepping into the light is the only way to move toward healing, progress, and certainly a heaping amount of respect along the way.


Tagged: challenges, conflict, culture, leadership, work

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7:30 am - Mon, Jun 16, 2014

Blog Post: How Owning A Useful Device Might Have Changed My Mind On Wearables

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In the past 12 months, most of the conversation around wearable technology has related to how “useful” the devices are. When I say conversation, it’s not necessarily questioning if current the technology is useful. There’s no question of that, when you compare devices released by Pebble, Samsung, Nike and others. The only reason anyone is questioning how useful any of these devices are is because they aren’t really selling up to expectations.

That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with their reasoning why wearables aren’t useful yet. I’ve been on that same bandwagon, espousing the duplicitous nature of these gadgets. They promise more than what your smartphone is providing, yet when a blogger’s Fuelband or Fitbit has issues, more and more aren’t making the same effort to get them back into action.

I’m here to potentially backtrack that rhetoric, slightly.

At the suggestion of my doctor, and some trepidation on my part, I joined the wearable revolution recently by adding a continuous glucose monitoring system to my health regiment. Pictured above, the Dexcom G4 connects a sensor and transmitter attached to my body to a wireless receiver via bluetooth. While it does not necessarily “test” my blood sugar constantly, it does use the numbers from my regular glucose tests as part of a complex algorithm to show me where I currently stand and how my body is trending.

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In a sense, I made myself a cyborg to get better real-time data into my current health to make less drastic decisions during my daily care of Type I diabetes. 

Before I get all the comments on Twitter, I realize there is quite a difference between a small circle that tracks how many steps I have taken every day and an implanted sensor that delivers real time blood sugar stats to a device. What time with this technology has taught me, however, isn’t that different than the current challenges in this product category:

  • This was completely optional. I was not required to have this device to live. Giving you control of it wouldn’t put my life in your hands (unlike an insulin pump), just gives more relevant data throughout the day. That said, real value was generated from this device and made it’s purchase and use well worth it.
  • Data is not always 100 percent accurate. The device woke me up four times in the middle of the night when I first brought it home even though I knew I wasn’t as high or low as advertised. It took several days before the algorithm really started to get to know me a bit and adjust to my body accordingly. There were also many days where the device was 50 points off — which is a gigantic disparity in Diabetesland.
  • My dashboard of information fails a bit in terms of data overload while at the same time of not putting it into relevance. Anyone with a fitness band knows what I’m talking about here. While the current number I’m at is the only vital data needed, there is a ton of other stuff that might help diabetics if the UI helped frame trends properly.
  • It’s more than a pain that I can’t have this thing connect to my iPhone. My Dexcom receiver uses bluetooth, as does my smartphone. It would be awesome to carry only one piece of hardware. For the record guys, we make apps for a living, we should talk.
  • With all the talk of data security in health, I haven’t met one person that feels strange about this information being public. My wife can check my numbers without even waking me up in the middle of the night and have peace of mind. That fact right there make the G4 invaluable to me. Putting data in patients hands only improves the job of doctors, why can’t we stop the stranglehold on medical information and release a bit more?

I could go on, but honestly this is just after a short while of use. As I use my device more, the learning will improve and my ideas will crystalize more. Does this really change how I feel about smart watches, fitness bands, and the future of wearable technology? I would initially say, “a little” with the caveat that the same takeaways from my medial wearable should be utilized for consumer devices.

We need to help consumers understand how valuable the right kind of data is. Instead of selling devices based upon the glut of raw data available, companies should help write apps that put the right context around really useful data. My blood pressure by itself isn’t very helpful, but taking the number in context of my work calendar and combine my glucose numbers to help me understand how my day went in the office.

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Consumers also can’t expect perfection in the data department, and learn to look at a single reading for what it is: part of the larger picture of your life. I don’t freak out when my receiver beeps at me anymore, because I know that I don’t have to overreact anymore. The number may be off, or I may need to make a small tweak. See the bigger picture.

Finally, we need to understand that the smartphone will be the hub of our lives for the foreseeable future. Recent tablet sales numbers have shown that as much as we want larger screens, nothing is replacing my iPhone anytime soon. As such, I don’t need devices to replicate any of the functionality I currently enjoy. There’s no different between raising my arm to see a text and raising my phone as long as I have to push a button either way. I have to carry my receiver because I can’t get my CGM’s numbers, but you can bet as soon as I can get Dexcom to make an app I will be ditching the device.

So, I may not be ditching the dis on wearable devices anytime soon, it won’t be because I don’t really see them as useless. I just know what they are capable of if the focus on delivering true value is chased after. If I can help one small bit in making that happen, I will be one happy diabetic.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to implant some more technology into my body. It’s time to shift testing areas.


Tagged: apps, bluetooth, dexcom, diabetes, fitness, g4, health, mobile, technology, wearables

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7:30 am - Mon, Jun 9, 2014
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Blog Post: Solving The, “Am I The Only One With This Problem?” Problem

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Whether you are a team of one, or one hundred, we are presented with the daily opportunity to introduce positive change into our work environments. Asking tough questions is a challenge to say the least, but it is also imperative to foster growth in today’s climate. With teams somewhere in between those two numbers, my biggest challenge and thrill comes from championing this effort every day.

Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to widen my scope a bit from team-oriented change to company-wide. In an effort that has taken a few months to get going, I would like to share about my experience.

At your place of business, some of you have large projects. Having spent a few years consulting in the telecommunications industry, I can sympathize with gigantic road maps involving hours of work in the thousands. Product teams have work that seemingly never ends, because the product is always out there being improved. To introduce change, you simply take your steady team and perform regular retrospectives. Gather information, assess the cause of what ails, hypothesize change, and prioritize the most important at the top of your next backlog.

It doesn’t happen this way at Bottle Rocket.

Our projects have a short life. Some apps are shipped in as little as two months, and the average time a team has together is five to seven months. The project I currently run is tracking to last about 12 months, but we have staffed up and down to meet the client’s needs several times.

We don’t get to stay together for very long.

My call is to still lead with transparency and ask the team to inspect and adapt regularly. Regardless of the timeline, agile leaders can still demonstrate the principles we learned long ago. The question I kept getting asked was, what happens to all that change we shepherd on projects?

Once the project is over, the team is broken up and moved in several directions depending on the sales pipeline. The PM picks up a new client, and a new team. Most likely, they aren’t the same as their previous project. Often, we have to start over from scratch. To boot, when a colleague has an issue on their team, a recurring question is asked.

“Am I the only one with this problem?” From the CEO of our company, all the way down to the newest employee, we all ask that question.

The final problem to solve was how retrospectives are run. Project managers are given a tremendous amount of freedom in running our teams, including retrospectives. We are just asked to do them, regardless of the method. As a result, mine looks different than all the others. Tough to compare apples to apples in that sense.

With the help of our analytics expert, I tackled this problem and am now pilot testing a unified method of inspecting and adapting. The call on me was straightforward:

  1. Gather the same information company wide.
  2. Keep it anonymous.
  3. Still give PMs the freedom in executing their retros.
  4. Move the ceremony to be more solution-based instead of focusing on the problem.
  5. Organize information into a concise repository to allow full transparency to the company.

I’m not the first agile coach to suggest a survey in advance of the ceremony, nor am I the first to acknowledge that retros are sometimes glorified “gripe sessions”. What I did try to do, though, was carefully curate what kind of information would help my company gain insight and incorporate a rating with each question (value-stream mapping style). The questions may evolve over time, but I wanted to share the first iteration of the survey to get your feedback:

  1. How satisfied were you with this sprint?
  2. How productive was the team during this sprint?
  3. How effective was the communication among the team?
  4. Rate the quality of the deliverable/brand experience the team created during this sprint.
  5. How effective were you in fulfilling your role on the project?
  6. What recommendations do you have for future sprints or projects?

The first five questions have a rating of 1-10 associated, as well as a follow up question of why the responder felt that way. It allows for some metrics to be gathered as well as help people identify their feelings better and assess the team’s progress.

Looking forward to getting some results and get feedback from the pilot teams. Thanks to my fellow PMs for allowing me to execute the desires of many and get smarter information towards improvement. The point isn’t to be more organized, although that can be a benefit. The point isn’t to insert “one more thing” for our teams to do as part of our process. It isn’t even to more closely watch from above what’s going on.

The point is to measure better to grow stronger.

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Tagged: agile, growth, measure, project manager, retrospectives, scrum, scrum master, transparency

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7:30 am - Mon, Jun 2, 2014

Blog Post: How Do You Lead In Agile Without Power?

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For the many flavors and leadership caucuses in the Agile community, it’s a wonder we all manage to get anything to a consensus these days. New scrum masters and product owners are being minted every day — in countries all over the world — often without much in the way of mentorship, and that has caused a great bifurcation of thought.

I learned of one such disturbance in the Force recently after a tweet from Easter Derby:

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The post in the Scrum Alliance community boards proceeds to outline a dilemma many an Agile leader faces today. We are responsible for delivering quality products to our stakeholders, yet we don’t really have any power over others in our daily scrums. New teams tend to lose their happy-go-lucky feel (if we ever had it to begin with), and you try to grasp at any foothold to elicit productivity from team members.

That’s where I think articles like this come from. Santosh is merely asking a question that many of us have pondered: how do we lead those around us when we don’t really have any power over them?

Since there’s a variety of methods for achieving Scrum certifications, I might as well disclose that both my CSM and CSPO are from the Scrum Alliance. I’m not here to advocate or vilify them, because we are all invited to participate in the community and as I said before there are newcomers starving for mentorship without a place to turn.

Running quick search on the site lists 12 posts in the last 15 months with the words “performance appraisal” in them. Jeff Sutherland wrote about it in 2010, most likely thinking the subject could be considered closed. Having listened to him speak several times, his “matter-of-factness” comes across clearly in the post. Avoid it if you can, but if you must do so there is a simple approach. A Google search would indicate there is far from a consensus on the subject.

It’s confusing, and traditionally structured companies struggle with performing the rituals of running a business with a framework that flies in the face of tradition.

Vivekananda was merely trying to take a task he was given by a legacy structure and trying to apply his newfound principles to it. He may not work in a place like I do, but the first question he should have asked was why he was the one who is conducting these appraisals.

My teams don’t respond to me because I’m the one with power over them, that’s the kind of project management I rebelled against when I was younger and have no desire to return. Scrum is not something to run on people. It’s a framework of trust that can be abused just like any predecessor. We lead through trust, transparency and the assurance that we are all equals in light of keeping the cards moving.

Twice a year, my company uses an online tool to do something called “360s”. You are responsible for asking those who work around you to participate in providing feedback as to how you are doing at your job. It’s anonymous, brief, and ripe with opportunities for growth as long as you take it seriously. Granted, I usually get asked to write a 360 for all of my team members, but it’s not because I’m their boss. They just know I pay attention to them and desire to help them improve. I feel the same for them.

Honestly, if you are running retrospectives in a thoughtful manner, the need for formal reviews should go away. Your team will know how they can improve, and it’s your job to help them to it.

Look at performance appraisals the same as a sprint retrospective: if the scrum master is doing all of the talking there isn’t a lot of productive change being suggested. Titles and power are not something to gather and wield, you don’t need it. Hopefully I am the type of leader that doesn’t need any of that to be effective.

Finally, if you are an Agile leader who hasn’t had a chance to be taught or mentored by one of the greats, you don’t need a flight to Boston to meet Sutherland or hang on every word of Derby’s. Ask for it on Twitter or LinkedIn. Search for presentations on YouTube. Ask if anyone has read a good post by a thought leader lately.

Material is out there. While I have a long way to go, that’s what I did a while back and it has meant the world to the product of my leadership.


Tagged: agile, appraisal, management, performance, retrospectives, reviews, scrum

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7:30 am - Tue, May 27, 2014

Blog Post: “Improve Yours, Or Help Someone Else Improve Theirs.”

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Loved the hashtag #BRMakeIt

While it’s one thing to set the pace of creativity in your workplace, it’s completely different to be swimming in a sea of creativity pushing you to create your very best. In my first year at Bottle Rocket, I have been challenged harder than ever before to be at the apex of what is possible. We say every day that we “embrace the impossible”, and that was manifested recently with our annual Rocket Science event.

If you have ever participated in a company hackathon before, just picture that effort on caffeine and steroids and you are getting close to it’s description.

With my genius idea, and team of motivated stars, I imagined it would be short cakewalk to completion and success. My phone camera was at the ready to take pictures of co-workers doing keg stands and laughing uncontrollably. Instead, people brought the same level of effort we bring to our apps every day of the week.

My fellow Rocketeers were serious about creating something amazing. Several even contributed on several projects during the evening, which ran from noon Thursday to 10 AM Friday. The enduring comment I took away from the evening was around two in the morning after we shipped our movie. When someone asked how our work was coming, to which I said, “Done, so I’m going to catch some rest before breakfast.” His response was telling:

“You can’t be done. Either improve yours, or help someone else improve theirs.”

I laughed, partially from exhaustion, and walked away thinking they were just razzing me. When I saw the other projects, some solo efforts, I realized what my friend was referring to. 

My movie was as done as it was going to get. We realized that any additional effort was going to be varying levels of diminishing returns. I shouldn’t have been done though. Several projects were amazing, and it would have been awesome to give them a little help to get more done. Others were good, but I would have loved to sit with them for an hour to chat about it. Not to say that I would have been the necessary voice to push it over the top, but it might.

I got caught up in my silo. How often does that happen in our offices every day?

As much as I’m happy to present our Rocket Science 2014 submission, I do so with a promise for every day after: I don’t want to ever be in the same position again of wishing I had looked across the way for who I could help. There are people at your work that need your help. You might not know who it is, and neither do they. Regardless, the two of you need to collaborate (plus a few other people in the world). 

Go find them, and lift each other up. 

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The movie poster from my team, Scrum: The Movie.


Tagged: bottle rocket apps, collaboration, improve, rocket science

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7:30 am - Tue, May 20, 2014
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Blog Post: What Analytics Are Teaching Me About Retrospectives

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Having prided myself on being well read on industry information, I thought I knew how to have an intelligent conversation on analytics. I’ve pitched A/B testing in previous jobs, explained value-stream mapping, and collected more than my fair share of metrics on team success. With all of the sites devoted to gathering and analyzing feedback, you can fool yourself to thinking you know enough.

Then I met a real analytics expert.

Our agency hired one shortly after I started, and I made it my mission to understand how she thinks. Why something should be measured and why it shouldn’t. What should the real value in a particular question or the numbers associated with it be. LB was a life saver, because she taught me the value in asking the right question.

Over lunch, one day, we discussed gathering data on Agile teams. Having sat in on a few project teams, she saw a retrospective up close and personal. My frustration was that we gather all this useful information on how to improve our work, and because projects are short lived at Bottle Rocket the data from retrospectives sort of disappear into the ether with the close of a project. I sought to institutionalize the lessons learned, but I didn’t know how to get my fellow PMs on board.

I took her through ideas like Jeff Sutherland’s happiness metric, Deming’s performance appraiser formula, and the various ways we currently gather feedback in Scrum retrospectives. It was a sea of isolated information, without a way to contextualize it for senior leadership. Her face then lit up as she explained how she runs usability testing for our apps.

“By itself, a number is simply that…a number,” she told me. “Value-stream mapping holds value only if you point the survey to the right follow up question.” 

She guided me to the conclusion that asking open ended questions is great for mature, self-aware team members who can easily pinpoint what’s happening with each sprint. Paring it with a scale of 1-10, however, can prime Agile teams to understand how exactly they feel in the moment. Once they establish how they feel about something, it’s that much easier to put an explanation with it.

For example, if you ask me to rate my personal performance in the last sprint from 1 to 10, I could say that I was a 7. When I’m asked to follow up with why I would rate myself thusly, I could point to me meeting my sprint goals and all the associated tasks. What I wasn’t great at was communicating with my strategist because I was really heads down on other work. If I can’t communicate better, then the team will silo off.

That, my friends, is valuable information that leads to immediate action items to be gathered.

To boot, if I can get questions like this answered in advance of the retrospective, we can be more solution-based in our discussion and focus on what the right action items are to address in the next sprint. Imagine how productive your time together as a team could be if the agenda is that clear. Trust is established. Performance gaps are identified, griping is minimized and improvements are maximized.

Thanks, LB, for helping me realize that the time I devote trying to understand the team is not something to keep to myself. If your work is like mine, and resources tend to move around a lot, wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to standardize retrospectives and collect the improvements for all to share? It establishes that you aren’t the only one to experience a particular struggle, and helps the company keep from making the same mistake 20 times. 

Now, I can sell to leadership that we can settle for making a mistake only once.


Tagged: agile, analytics, big data, data, metrics, retrospectives, scrum, survey

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7:30 am - Mon, May 12, 2014
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Blog Post: Never Assume Your Users Are In On The Joke

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It’s startling when you know you’ve read the best book you’re going to buy all year…in January. It wasn’t because I am too cynical about the work of my fellow authors. I just new Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products was that good, and I detailed my thoughts of Nir Eyal’s brilliance here. If you are in any way involved with making consumer products, I urge you to get your hands on this tome.

I dont bring this up just to give Nir another plug — although, you should still buy his book — but it would seem that he has a new case study of what happens when you aren’t careful with the product you are putting into people’s hands.

The top free app on iOS is a game called Make It Rain, developed by Space Inch. Not only does it have download numbers to boast, it has the revenue to accompany it. After a stellar week of about 250,000 downloads a day, it’s cranking out about $50,000 in daily income based upon in-app purchases and ads.

According to MIR co-creator Josh Segall, the company spent about $1,000 worth of Facebook ads got about 3,000 installs. He swears they haven’t spent any money doing promotion since then.

We should be patting Segall on the back for his gold mine he spent only $10,000 creating. Instead, he’s getting a bit of flack because of the premise of the game. All you do is swipe as fast as you can to fill up your buckets of money, and then spend it on whatever you want. According to the description in the App Store, you can:

“Maybe you’ll invest in venture capital, loan sharking, or offshore drilling. Maybe you’ll start a lemonade stand or a casino or a clown college. Or maybe you’ll buy off a federal judge and watch the dollars roll in! Or maaaaybe the FBI will showa up on your doorstep and grab your cash. You better be careful… or just be ready with a bribe.

Some are not amused.

Segall was quoted as describing the game as some sort of ironic statement about society. “Some people are in on the joke and really get it and love it,” he said. “Some people it takes longer to get, I think.”

The ad copy even seems to think you get it. “Is it a stupid game? Or are you just falling behind your friends and looking for excuses?”

Readers of Hooked will immediately know what I’m about to point back to. At the height of Farmville’s power on Facebook, developer Ian Bogost created Cow Clicker, which mimicked the game mechanics of the Zynga giant. It was supposed to be a light-hearted jab, but users didn’t get it. After the game garnered thousands of fans, Bogost took down the game and delivered a post expressing his regret.

Eyal uses this illustration as a word of caution: create with care, because your product might not be used as intended. And the consequences could be dire.

This isn’t to say that Space Inch isn’t ecstatic at the revenue they are generating, but at what cost? Regardless of what happens next for the team, they are going to be known as the Make It Rain dudes. For what it’s worth, the goal of the app was intended to push users to another app and broaden their audience. Instead, they have spawned an army of male capitalists trying their darndest to accumulate enough virtual coin so they can buy off another judge.

What could ever go wrong with that.


Tagged: addiction, apps, engagement, hooked, mobile, users, ux

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7:30 am - Mon, May 5, 2014

Blog Post: Value Transparency Over Doubt

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Of the four agile manifesto principles, the one I find myself being drawn to over and over is valuing “individual and interactions over processes and tools”. As much as we try to pin what we do from 9-6 in a box, there’s only so much you can do without collaborating with co-workers. It also pushes me to reach out to leaders for advice and ideas instead of trying to do it by myself.


A few weeks ago, that’s exactly what I did with Jeff Sutherland. As valuable as his time is as an Agile leader, I love the fact that he values interactions enough to respond to me on Twitter. It all started with a simple question:

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There wasn’t anything specific that I was dealing with at work to prompt the question. I wasn’t doubting myself, but sometimes even the simplest of questions by a team member can stir the seeds of doubt. Because these questions are constantly being posed, I just hankered for an opportunity to be proactive and prepare.

I wasn’t 100 percent sure I would get anything in response. It was on Good Friday, and many were in the middle of trying to wrap things up before the weekend. I was certainly traveling, so I understood. Thankfully, my wife was driving because before I knew it I had stirred up something. A notification first came that he retweeted the post, then his first response.

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This does two things: it allowed himself a chance to ponder the best response for someone in search of answers, and brings others into the conversation. We all win when that happens, and as a result I was allowed to engage with some very thoughtful leaders.

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What I think Paul means is dictating what our process “is and isn’t”. If you “require” anything of your people without first talking about it, doubt creeps in and overtakes any sort of confidence you intend to sow in those around you. He was just the first of many responses.

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Philippe is pulling on the same thread. Personally, I’m not necessarily a great “people manager” because I tend to try and make everyone happy and probably waffle back and forth a lot. Instead of worrying about them, if I look at what kind of expectations are on the table and then forecast where it could leave things if left unchecked we can get out in front of any doubt that can kill productivity.

Mr. Sutherland caps things off effectively with some great parting words.

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Do we have the ability to execute our goals and reach a shippable conclusion? Absolutely. Do we always know that in advance? Probably not. Question is, what kind of help do we need to get there?

  • Realize you won’t get there by sitting on your hands. I was not brought up in a house with a healthy set of boundaries. We walked in on each other all the time, hugged every person that entered our four walls, and volunteered opinions without being asked. As troublesome as that was as I started dating, it comes in real handy leading Agile teams. Often, the best thing is to lock everyone in a room and rip the bandage off. Address the elephant in the room and announce if everyone wants things to change we have to start today.
  • Challenge everything. If nothing is seen as sacred, you can question it in a healthy way and move towards a resolution. Easier said than done, but very possible.
  • That means calling yourself out. When we suggest improvements, I will admit it’s easier to point out the flaws of others before myself. Usually, it puts others on their heels and shifts attention to others. Instead, suggest how you could help things first and announce to the team you aren’t infallible. Most agree that they aren’t perfect, but if you aren’t willing to lead with your own transparency, how is anyone to follow you when you suggest things of others?

Fortunately, all Agile practices afford us opportunities to try these things out. I’m not here to tell you that in tomorrow’s standup this kind of transparency will be met with unbridled enthusiasm. Most likely, people will wonder what you are up to and see if it continues. Try it once in every ceremony, and at the end of this cycle ask someone else on the team if your message is coming across correctly.

Doubt will never be erased until Skynet replaces all of us with T-1000s, but by showing little efforts to identify and discard any kind of untoward expectation can minimize it’s effect on you and your teams. If we are trying to improve our happiness and productivity, I can think of no better catalyst for change than erasing doubt.

Thanks to Jeff Sutherland, Paul Ralph, and Philippe Sauve for their contributions to this conversation. Gave me an amazing boost with this pot.


Tagged: agile, doubt, expectations, performance, scrum, transparency, twitter

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7:30 am - Thu, Apr 24, 2014
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Blog Post: The difference between invention and innovation

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God bless the Internet and the speed at which venom can be spewed towards tech news.

As Easter weekend was just getting underway, CNET broke a story that involved the Nike FuelBand team being fired and the product line retiring. Since wearable technology is the newest darling amongst tech writers, this was a big deal. One of the original entries in this product category was changing course, and it’s tune.

Rumors spread, and speculation consumed. Just like it always does. For me, however, this was neither a shock or cause for concern. It merely gave credence to the notion that wearables have a long way to go, and companies can’t merely keep trotting out inferior products.

Any product person knows the difference between inventive and innovative products. For something to be inventive, it just has to do something new for consumers. To truly innovate, though, it has to bring a true utility and usefulness.

That’s why Pebble, FuelBand, Shine and FitBit owners enjoy their purchase for a time and then move on. It was inventive to strap a piece of technology to your wrist for a time, but we don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

This is not to say the category doesn’t have it’s defenders. I had a passioinate discussion with a sales rep from AT&T the other day about his Samsung Gear and how useful it was. He purported to save a lot of time by managing his notifications from his wrist, and it made driving a lot safer. Pebble owners at work feel the exact same way. What they don’t realize is for most consumers, until there is a true utility difference between a wearable and a smartphone the product category will go nowhere.

Apple knows this. That’s why they are taking their sweet time on a product offering. They are taking the time to make the software useful and simple. So much so that they met with the FDA to get their blessing. Nike probably knows this, and will most likely have a prominent place in iOS 8 and the Healthbook functionality.

Instead of asking consumers to purchase a product they will discard in a few months, they want a seat at the table for what’s coming next.

Rumors of turmoil on the team and project probably ring true, but if the FuelBand was selling like hotcakes I don’t think the Portland-based monolith would have had any issue making things work.

Om Malik made a great point on Twitter in the aftermath of this announcement. “Nike has a wearable. It’s called a shoe. All they need to do is figure out how connect it to the phone. That’s their unique value proposition.”

It all points to one simple fact: the only wearable device that matters to consumers right now is the smartphone. Until someone figures out a better way to tell the story of my data and notifications in a unique way, more products will go the way of the dodo.


Tagged: apps, fitbit, fuelband, gear, mobile, nike, pebble, Samsung, shine, technology, wearable

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