Archive for July, 2008

Too Much Info Stifles Original Thought

Chasing Innovation

Since starting my blog in March, the amount of time I have spent online has exploded. I’ve become addicted to news and am a fully signed up member of the blogosphere. I twitter, I blog, I comment, I am LinkedIn to business colleagues and I Facebook my friends. I’m constantly reading new sources of information relating to all aspects of the web game. To put it mildly, I’m hooked.

Sound familiar?

If you’re nodding your head, I know how you feel.

Taking an active role in the online community is now an absolute necessity for anyone involved in any kind of web based business. It’s also very enjoyable.

Despite it’s importance however, it’s not without its draw backs:

  1. It is very time consuming
  2. It influences my judgement and opinion
  3. It does not help me reach my goals
  4. I use it as an excuse to postpone the really important things (I’ll just read one more blog post)

To be honest though, these are only mildly frustrating issues and nothing that some self discipline and a good dollop of time management couldn’t handle. However, there’s one more problem that all this information consumption causes and I believe that for entrepreneurs it’s the most serious. It stifles original thought.

True Innovation is Revolutionary

It took me a couple of months to confirm my suspicions but after reading the 4 Hour Work Week (kindly sent to me by Gordon Murray) I firmly believe that knowing too much information in your area of business will have a fiercely negative affect on your ability to think outside the box whilst trying to be innovative.

I started blogging with the belief that if I connected with the online community and engaged in interesting conversation while also keeping up to date on the latest news from the web industry that I would be perfectly positioned to invent the next best thing.

After 5 months of exactly this sort of activity I am happy to say I no longer believe this to be true.

Knowing the state of the art will not help you define it in the future.

This is not a new idea, it’s been discussed before:

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking”

- Albert Einstein

I can’t help wonder how the great man would have fared had he been glued to his feed reader for two or three hours a night.

Thinking Outside The Box

I have come to the conclusion that the only way to think outside the box is to forget what’s inside it.

If I am constantly updating my knowledge on the state of the art then I am playing a game of perpetual catchup. One that I will never win. What I really need to do is blur the lines, think outside the box and take my own approach.

Do you think that Steve Jobs spends his morning on Twitter micro blogging to his followers? Or that Richard Branson loads up his feed reader for an hour before bed every night? I doubt it. True innovation comes from independent thought and great execution.

Question The Status Quo

I constantly read news on new web startups, social media tools, data aggregators, web services, data portability, and other similar topics, but have found despite how interesting and compelling I may find all this information, that it has a large influence on my efforts at original thought.

Does my new killer app really have to integrate with the Twitter API? Probably not. Must it use open data standards? That’s probably overkill. Do I really need to leverage it’s viral potential? If it’s a genuinely great tool it won’t need to. And does it really need to integrate with my desktop calender? Maybe in version two.

Much of the ideas that I produce during a brain storming session are evolutionary not revolutionary. They build on existing technologies and use adopted standards within the web development community. Shame on me for not being more original.

So, what am I going to do about this problem? Simple. I’m going on a low information diet. I’m going to cut out as much noise as possible to help me focus on my real goals.

The Low Information Diet

In an effort to fight this constant stream of influential news and commentary I’m going to cull large portions of my subscribed feeds. I’m going to shut out as much of it as I can and cut myself off from the constant flow of information that sways my decisions both consciously and subconsciously.

By dramatically reducing the amount of news I consume on a daily basis I hope to become more productive, more efficient, more innovative and more original. As for the news that will undoubtedly pass me by, I’ll just have to live with it.

If it’s really that important, I’m sure I’ll hear about it one way or the other.

1Time – A Time Tracking Web Application

Derek Organ\'s 1Time Web Application

As part of the Tuesday Push series, Damien has picked Derek Organ’s time tracking application for this weeks community effort.

A Different View

Rather then just tell you what 1Time is (lots of people have already done that) I’d like to take a slightly different approach and show you why an application like 1Time and other’s like it are the future of software.

1Time is great because it’s:

  1. Web Based – The Internet is becoming the de facto way to deliver software to customers. It can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection.
  2. Multi Tenant – Hosted software that’s centrally managed makes it easier to update and fix bugs because there’s only one running instance of the source code.
  3. Multi User – The software supports different access levels so managers, workers and clients can all use it to see information suitable for them.
  4. Multi Interface – A web based application needn’t be restricted to the web browser. RSS updates, email alerts, and an API help data to be accessed in new ways across multiple devices.
  5. Usage Based – You only pay for what you use and you can cancel any time. It’s a low risk billing model perfect for businesses of any size.
  6. Exportable – Paradoxically, allowing your customers to leave actually encourages them to sign up. Nobody likes to get locked in to a particular piece of software, so providing this option makes your software more appealing.

There are lots more reasons why 1Time and other SaaS based software have the edge over their desktop bound counterparts. Maybe you could think of a few more?

The best of luck to Derek and his team. Find out more on the 1Time website.

Please Sir, Can I Have No More?

Don\'t Lock In Your CUstomers

Locking in your customers doesn’t work. People use what they want to use. If they’re not happy with your service they’re going to leave whether you want them to or not. So opening up your service and giving your customers the choice helps your company look honest and encourages people to trust you.

Earlier today I had a run in with a company that clearly doesn’t get this concept.

Last week I needed to send a fax in a hurry. I didn’t have a fax machine in the office and the faxing service that’s offered in the main building hadn’t opened yet. I was running out of options. So I decided to look online for a faxing service that could send the fax for me. After a short search I found eFax which were offering a 30 day free trial. This sounded perfect because I only needed to send this one fax, after which I could close the account and avoid being charged.

A Decent Online Fax Service

First impressions were good. The sign up process was easy and once logged in, finding my way around the system was fairly intuitive. The eFax system works by assigning your account with a unique local phone number which you can use to send and receive electronic faxes as if they were normal paper faxes. It’s not a new idea, or a new company, but I hadn’t used anything like it before and was pretty impressed by it all. (Actually, any service that helps to break down the barriers between the offline and online worlds usually impresses me.)

Anyway, I sent my fax and I was happy. Crisis averted.

All I had to do now was cancel my eFax account. Unfortunately it wasn’t as easy as I had expected. In fact it was downright difficult. Here’s what happened:

There Was No Cancel Button

As part of the sign up I had to hand over my credit card details. eFax charge a minimum monthly fee of about €7 but with the free trial you get the first 30 days for free. I was keen to cancel my account before this subscription fee kicked in but was disappointed to find that you couldn’t cancel from within the service. There was no cancellation button to be found anywhere.

Online Help – Was Not So Helpful

I decided to try their FAQ section to see if there was any tips on removing or cancelling an account there. But just like in their logged in service, there was no mention of it.

Live Chat Was Like Talking To A Robot

Having given up on the FAQ section I decided to use their live chat facility to manually request that they remove my account. After a short wait, I was through to one of the operators. I quickly explained that I wanted to cancel my account but received a stream of unhelpful, pre-written replies that could just as easily have been delivered by a robot.

Eventually I discovered that I was using the wrong live chat service (sales only) and that eFax had a special dedicated chat line for people who want to cancel their account. It’s also hidden and unadvertised. So here’s the link: https://www.efax.com/en/efax/twa/page/chat

Clearly, they don’t advertise this link on their site to make it even more difficult to cancel an account.

Queue Position 8  – Not Good Enough

Once I managed to get the second live chat up and running (it doesn’t work in Firefox) I was greeted by the message that I was number eight in the queue and that I would have to wait approximately 20 minutes before someone could chat to me about cancelling my account.

The frustration was starting to get the better of me.

After 16 minutes of waiting and a fresh cup of tea I got talking to a support monkey who was eventually able to cancel my account. But that wasn’t before he tried to convince me to stay on until the end of the 30 day trial or before he asked me to fill out a questionnaire on why I wanted to cancel my account.

Lesson of the Day: Trust and Openness Matters Online

I left the chat with a sour taste in my mouth and a severe dislike for the underhanded way in which eFax have designed their ‘free trial’ service.

Let’s not forget, I was happy with the service up until the point where I decided to close my account. Yes, I was cancelling it but there was every chance that I might reopen it in the future and also recommend it to others. But now, after the way that eFax tried to lock me into their service I will never use them again and I won’t be referring them to anyone.