Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Choo Choo: Railinc launches their internal Inkling marketplace

Railinc is an IT Consultancy for the Rail industry. They support business processes and provide business intelligence that help railroads and rail equipment owners increase productivity, achieve operational efficiencies and keep their assets moving.

After running a trial, Railinc has decided to move forward in formally launching an Inkling marketplace. The person running it for them has a blog post about it here. We've been learning some interesting things about the rail industry and related technologies from the rest of his blog too!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hustle, a gift from my father.

Father's Day brought some things to mind.

A close friend lost his father recently. He sent me a letter he wrote to his dad, and the whole letter is remarkable. But this really caught my attention

"I look back at my childhood and I remember all those nights. You would come home and eat dinner, help me with my homework and then return to work. You would work until hours after my bedtime and then get home, sleep for a few hours and get up and do it again. What drives that behavior? Love for the job? This work ethic is not found today. When I worked retail I would work similar hours. I would work 10-12 hours a day, get off at midnight and be back at work at 6 or seven in the morning. That was the job. No questions. You work until the work is done. Period."

One of the most powerful things my father taught me that I'll never forget is hustle.

I'm not exactly sure at what age. Sometime in grade school. It was definitely a lesson that came along with playing sports as a kid.

It was a lesson taught over and over through things like baseball and basketball.

After seeing way too many baseballs pass through my legs as an infielder as I grew to fear the baseball getting hit by stronger and stronger kids, my Dad taught me, "the pain won't last. So what if the ball hits you in the chest. Make the play, and rub the pain out afterwards. You'll feel better"

He was right. I mean, what would you rather choose: look like a goof because you were too afraid and let a ball go through your legs or let a ground ball hit you in the chest, pick it up, throw the man out at first, then rub your chest a little afterwards.

You might have a few more bruises playing this way, but you're gonna swallow those down with two huge spoonfuls of pride.

I became an awesome third baseman. I didn't have the greatest arm, but I can't even remember a baseball getting past me when I decided that I'd rather get hit than let a baseball get past me. I took quite a few on the chest and off the shins, but the feeling of making a play completely trumped the sting.

My dad taught me the joy of doing well, and not giving up felt better than avoiding a couple bumps and bruises.

Same lesson in basketball. I learned that it feels so much better to dive on the floor to get a loose ball and leave some actual skin on the court than it is to just stand their looking around.

Floor burns don't hurt forever. Giving up does.

I played with everything I had. I even broke my wrist in one game. But went back out to finish the game, until I was forced to leave the game with a bloody nose :)

Yeah, a little like that.

Hustle is something that's followed me through my whole life. And it's been incredibly valuable to me.

School was hard. Took a bunch of sacrifice and all nighters. But I hustled through it and it's gotten me far.

Quitting my job and starting this business took some major hustle. And still does. There are still long nights and some painful experiences.

But so what. Walk it off.

You might lose some skin, you might start wearing some black and blue marks. But you don't give up. You keep hustling. You might not even win the game every time. You might not even make the play in the end. But you don't give up because you're scared. And you don't give up because you're lazy. You're gonna feel good playing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Talk to Yourself

I recently read a great list of things to do to write better blog posts by John Graham-Cumming. Or rather it's really just about writing better in general.

If you are reading our blog right now, you may have noticed we've been working a bit harder on it. And I personally am working really hard to be a better writer. I believe it's paying off, as we have a good number of posts that get anywhere from 2 to 10 thousand people show up and read them. And our clients and potential clients are starting to reference some of this writing in our conversations.

I'm not trying to brag though. I feel like it's not too terribly hard to achieve this with some work.

There's a few more tips I'd like to eventually share about being a better blogger or writer that I started mentioning in a comment on John's post. Here's probably the most important tip to expound on:

Talk to yourself.

It's kind of a mashup of some things John was talking about. He mentioned spending time offline thinking about your post, and also reading your post aloud.

Similarly I've started talking to myself. Like a lot. :)

I'll just stand in the shower or walk around the house giving improv presentations to no one.

I'll pace around like I'm on stage for 15 or 30 minutes just arguing to the invisible crowd about how to do something better, or how to get off their ass, or how stupid something is, whatever.

Some of the reasons why this is so awesome include:

Writing more naturally

For some reason people, myself included, can start sounding wooden when writing. But for whatever that reason is, it tends to disappear when I'm talking about that same subject to someone or to no one.

A few months ago I was helping some high school kids prepare for their college applications. These are kids who are the first in their families to be able to go to college, so they tend to need a little additional help with getting prepared.

These kids are friggin smart and motivated and accomplished. And yet, when I'd read a few of these essays for these college apps, they were robotic. You could probably write a computer application to spit this stuff out, just by scanning their college transcript.

So I would just ask them, "dude, you are doing some really cool stuff, just tell me about it". And out of their mouths comes this stuff that over and over again gave me chills. These kids were kicking ass. One kid couldn't even speak english when he was a Freshman. Now he's an A student and in charge of the tutoring program for kids in school that need help in Math and Science. Awesome accomplishment.

But it's forgettable in his current essay. So I just started typing stuff the kid was saying out loud to me. A totally different essay emerged, and one the kid now was super pumped about.

You get to argue with yourself

Face it, some stuff you write or think about shouldn't see the light of day. Because it's terrible or wrong. But sometimes you write it and realize that later.

I find having a talk to an invisible audience actually gets a bunch more of those naive thoughts out there for debate in my own head better. I'll get through talking about such and such, and now all of a sudden I find I can punch 10 holes through all of it. Or realize, you know that's not really how I think of this topic most of the time.

I don't know enough about brain science, but I do know that different parts of the brain obviously do different things. And it sounds like the part of the brain that makes speech is different than the part that interprets speech. Maybe it's even a different part of the brain that interprets writing too? Who knows, obviously people learn to understand speech before they understand how to read. Maybe that makes us much better at being able to take in even our own thoughts if they come through our ears rather than our eyes.

Writers block be gone

One last point is that, I've definitely felt like I have nothing to write about. Lot's of people get to that point. But I guarantee if I called someone with writers block on the phone, I doubt they are also mute at that point :)

See? People can talk much more fluently and prolifically than they can write. Usually.

Just doing a talk to the aether, can do wonders creatively.

So I dare you. For the next week, give the air a lecture on something. Whatever you're thinking about. Just improv 15 minutes out and really listen to your words.

Then go write that stuff down. I think your going to like the results.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Feature - Stats Page Completely Revamped

One of the big draws of social networks is the ability to see what other people are up to. Another is to feel like you are part of a community - part of something bigger than yourself. That's from the user's perspective. In a business context, decision makers also want to have actionable information, not just "interesting" information. Building on those ideals, we've completely redesigned the stats page in all our marketplaces to give everyone much more insight in to what's going on.

We've broken down the information in two ways: insights about individual users, and insights about the marketplace as a whole. For an example, check out the stats on our public marketplace.

We've always known we have lots of data about users but it's always been available in a raw format only. Now we're trying to expose some of it.

First off was some low hanging fruit. Having a leaderboard to keep track of how people are doing monetarily was a no-brainer and something we've had since day 1. But what about some of the other activity on the marketplace that we'd like to encourage: making comments, asking questions, and earning karma? So we created more leaderboards for those:

Things get more interesting from there. We started to look at how "accurate" people are in their trading. We didn't want to focus on money made, but simply if they traded in the right direction in a particular answer. Then we broke that down even further to see who was the most accurate per question category and per tag, in essence identifying the experts in the trading pool in different topics: "competition" or "financials" or "project x"

Trying to identify who the experts are in your company is not new, but those expert networks are typically based on what you say you're an expert in in some profile you create. Now we're identifying expert networks too, but we're making you prove it through the predictions you make and not basing it on your title or previous experience. You want to know who in your company you should be talking to about some problem or strategy in a given area? Look at your Inkling stats where that list has been generated not by HR or from what you think you know, but by what you've proven you know. Pure meritocracy and empowerment.

Our new marketplace stats are geared to helping everyone understand the health of the marketplace. How active is it? How many users are there and how many have completed the registration process? How accurate is the marketplace overall?

One question we often get is "how are we doing compared to some of your other clients?" So in almost every one of our new stats pages, we include a comparison between your marketplace, the global average, and the "best" in any given area.

We're already working on providing additional stats in some other parts of the marketplace which we'll announce in the next few weeks. If you have suggestions or questions for what's there already or what we should be including, don't hesitate to let us know at [email protected]

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"It’s my firm belief that all websites eventually attract the attention and respect that they deserve."

-John Gruber (via Daring Fireball)

Don't think outside the box. Just think inside different boxes.

I can't stand the term "think outside the box".

Most managers or leaders use it as some kind of cure all expression. Some super smart way to charge their workers to innovate. "Hey guys we need some fresh ideas to make money, think outside the box."

Problem is, even telling your employees to do something like this is the exact opposite of what you want to do.

Here's 4 great reasons why.

Name things that are white

The book Made to Stick brought up the example of:

1. Give yourself 15 seconds to name as many things that are white that you can think of.
2. Now give yourself 15 seconds to name as many white things in your refrigerator as you can think of.

Most people find the second one easier. I've tried it with just naming foods.

1. Just start naming foods. Go.

And people start to get stuck at like 20 foods.

2. Tell them to list food in their fridge, and now they have a breakthrough.

It's neat, but it goes to show you that people need some kind of constraint or anchor before their brain can start to rev up and get creative or start contributing.

Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This

I've brought up this book before. I highly recommend it as a book to understand creativity better. In one section the author, Luke Sullivan, describes a process he would use to come up with headlines for an ad.

So here's a guy often challenged probably to "think outside the box". But instead of just sitting their staring into space thinking about the killer headline or two. He comes up with hundreds of headlines for one product.

But he does it with constraints.

Bourbon was an example. He had to come up with a headline.

So he started with the constraint of aging bourbon. This bourbon takes 9 years. So he creates dozens of headlines and false starts just about "9 years". "Order a drink that takes 9 years to get", "Like to hear how it's made? Do you have 9 years?", and on and on

What about 9 years can be altered? He then makes it about the slow passage of time. "Continental drift happens faster than this whiskey".

Then more exploration of age happens. How long has the brand been on the market. And that's dozens of more ideas about the history of the company.

Then they change the age angle to where is the bourbon made. So they go off on Kentucky for dozens of other ideas. Then they move to how people drink bourbon and what time of day.

And they come up with hundreds of ideas that he couldn't have gotten if he just sat there thinking about whiskey. He was thinking about whiskey sometimes, but really he was thinking inside a new box he had given himself over and over and over again.


Jim Coudal has a great talk at South by Southwest about the creative process. A thing he's grown to realize is that the creative process is matching something that's constant with something that's variable.

He describes a fun game they came up with to get the creative brain working. Booking bands.

"The idea is to mash up the name of a book with the name of a band"

It's just a good example of how people can come up with some really creative ideas with the constants of "band name" and "book title" but still manage to be wildly creative.

Corporate brainstorming sessions

I've been in plenty of corporate brainstorming sessions. And the problem is, the room usually doesn't contain a single person who's studied how to help people get more creative.

Sure we all know we are supposed to write down whatever ideas come up no matter how off the wall they are, and whittle them down later. But that's usually the only idea to help the group get going.

A lesson similar to all the examples above I've learned is to start giving people even random constraints.

You want people to get unstuck? Just open up a dictionary to a random page and pick a random word. And now tell your colleagues that all the ideas for the next 15 minutes have to be related to that word.

Say we're at NASA trying to come up with better food available to astronauts. And the word is zebra. You could go all over the place. Zebras remind me of black and white, stripes, animals, zoo, food at the zoo. They also remind me of referees and umpires and food at baseball and basketball games. Yum. Maybe zebras make you think of temperature or binary possibilities of cooking.

Regardless, the list could go on and on, just because of the mashup of what seems to be two totally non related things.

I was in the car with my wife who works at an insurance company. I thought lets try this trick and see if we come up with any crazy ideas for what this insurance company could do to generate even more business.

We passed by Long John Silvers and I said the constraint is "fast food". So ideas started rolling like well they could sponsor happy meals at McDonalds. They could make little action type figures. If kids love an insurance company their parents have to. Look at Geico and their lizard and it's ringtones.

On and on this could go.

The point is, stop staring out into space hoping you come up with some revolutionary idea just because you think you can start thinking about anything and everything.

Instead, keep giving yourself a new constraint or two to think within. Then do that over and over and over again. You'll be amazed at how many more ideas you can arm yourself with.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 - Tiger Woods would kick your ass with 3 golf clubs

I got an email from InformationWeek about the Enterprise 2.0 Conference happening in Boston this week.

"IT pros attending the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, June 14-17 in Boston, will get a chance to learn about and weigh in on a number of crucial new technologies, from social networking to cloud computing, that promise to change the way businesses access and use information."

Looks like there's going to be a lot of talk about technology. And how's the conference going to start?

"SAP chief of new products Franz Aman opens the conference portion of the event Tuesday, 10:50 a.m., with a keynote address that looks at "Collaboration within Context." Aman will spell out the possibilities that can emerge when social networks and enterprise collaboration tools are married to traditional enterprise software applications."

Tools, tools and more tools.

Our obsession with tools isn't new. But this obsession with tools for Enterprise 2.0 may be a little worse because of its attachment to Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 is also a term muddied up with an obsession of technologies: ajax, blogs, tags, rss, mashups, etc.

But Web 2.0 could have probably just been defined as:

"it doesn't take a lot of money anymore to start a software business".

2.0 could be the time when we realized a couple guys in a garage (even OUTSIDE of Silicon Valley) with $0 could start a business on the web. They could start the business, get customers, and prove that this is a viable business BEFORE getting funding, if they even needed it at that point.

The 2.0 label might be about the time when people started to realize "VC money is hard to get, let's start a business anyway. Computers and technology are cheap. We don't need bosses with money. We're smart and can do this on our own. Let's make something".

For me, Oddpost marks the start of Web 2.0 because the 2 founders had a working business from just working "homelessly". They worked in libraries and cafes with a wireless internet connection. One guy sold his car to fund the business. It wasn't until they had customers coming in and paying for their service that they took on some additional funding a couple years after getting started.

And so here we are now with Enterprise 2.0 and it sounds like it has an unhealthy obsession about tools.

Here's the thing about tools.

Tiger Woods could walk into Kmart, grab 3 clubs from the cheapest, shittiest bag of golf clubs in the store and still kick your ass on the course.


Because it's not about the tools.

The dude practices every single day and has an incredible knack and talent for the game.

Success is about the method not the tools. But we get so caught up in buying our way to success.

unfortunately our brains seem to be wired like this. We have a hard time associating cause and effect. We know Tiger is one of the best ever and he plays with Nike equipment. We also know about his diligent practice routine. But our brain has a hard time making a strong causal link to only the reason of practice instead of the equipment he uses.

Similarly, this is why Joel Spolsky gives a presentation and he opens with a picture of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. He delivers a great presentation regardless, but finds more people remember the presentation when he shows the picture of the pretty people.

The pretty people make our heart beat just a little faster. And our brains have a hard time filtering out that data point.

That's why women should be asking men out after they walk across dangerous bridges, or you should be taking your first date out for coffee.

So what should Enterprise 2.0 be all about?

Just like Web 2.0 was the realization that 2 people with very little resources could create a lot of value for the world, Enterprise 2.0 should be about what company employees can accomplish with very little.

Without any fancy collaboration tools like internal social networks, internal twitter, and yes, even prediction markets, a couple of your employees with very little time and resources could create a whole lot of innovation if you just get out of their way.

Zappos is a company that really gets Enterprise 2.0.

And it's not because of any tools. It's because if you took the Zappos customer service department and stuck them in the same room of phones as any other customer service department. The Zappos guys will run circles around everyone else in there making customers happy.

Their employees aren't any different than your employees. They don't need tools. Instead they've been given the freedom to do whatever it takes to make those customers happy. It doesn't matter how long they have to talk on the phone. It doesn't matter if they even make the sale. Zappos customer service reps may even help lose a sale by helping a customer buy shoes from a competitor.

Zappos gives its employees a mission and then gets out of their way. Any tools they buy just helps make this process more efficient.

The concept of the wisdom of crowds and its derivatives is a cornerstone of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0.

But here's a dirty secret we've discovered selling an "Enterprise 2.0" tool. A lot of companies, especially technology companies(!) aren't ready for these tools. They don't need to buy a single thing to have better collaboration, or better ideation, or better Enterprise 2.0 buzzword du jour.

They just need changes in their culture. It could start with scribbles on paper and a peg board in a common area. With phone calls. With email groups. With spreadsheets. They can use what they already have to start getting to the holy grail of "wisdom of the crowd". On a visit to Google we noticed they have an entire wall made of white board where there was all sorts of graffiti about ideas made by hundreds of people. At Intel headquarters in Santa Clara, many of the conference room walls are made of white board material, floor to ceiling.

So instead of just asking one guy for his forecast, ask 10. Ask 30. Send around a spreadsheet or just tell them to get back to you over email. Let this be a start and see if people take to it versus immediately deciding you need to bring in a new tool. Instead of telling your employees what they should be working on for the next quarter, give them some time to tell you what to do. Let them boss you around. Instead of starting with more blogs and tools to hear what your employees are saying on the front line, go spend a week working as a Target checkout clerk, or flipping burgers at White Castle, or cleaning the floor at 7-11, or wherever your company is actually spending time with customers.

When you realize there is a lot of value asking groups of your employees for help on the decisions and forecasts you make every day as a company, then LISTENING and USING the information, only then is it the right time for tools that make that process easier.

Enterprise 2.0 is about getting out of the way. It's about tapping the potential your employees have to run your business better and produce awesome things without you.

In essence, it's about letting go.

And once you've done that, all the guys wanting to sell you tools will still be there. :)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don't Be Like Seinfeld - Break the Chain

"Don't break the chain," - Seinfeld

There was a popular meme floating around a few years ago about how Seinfeld increased his productivity. He basically put Xs on a calendar for each day he wrote. And made himself feel like shit if he broke the chain of X's. The guilt encouraged him to write every day.

I call bullshit. Who knows though. Maybe it's true, maybe it helped him write and write and write. But I can't help also take in the evidence that if you want to improve at something or perform your best you shouldn't be doing the same thing every day.


They don't run and run and run.

Look up marathon schedules on Google. You'll find hundreds of schedules and training plans. 99% of them have one thing in common. Some days you run long, some days you run faster, some days you run short, some days you just don't do anything.

Here's a podcast of Jim Coudal at South by Southwest. He talks about "A General Theory of Creative Relativity". The whole hour long is good, which is a whole other blog post. But fast forward this thing to the last 50 seconds.

The comment maker brings up how an athlete can peak on a Saturday. Train normal on Monday, walk on Tuesday, nothing on Wed, medium on Thursday, and a short hard workout on Friday.


I'm doing p90x. You've probably seen the infomercial. It's this crazy home fitness thing.

"P90X is a revolutionary system of 12 sweat-inducing, muscle-pumping workouts, designed to transform your body from regular to ripped in just 90 days." Blah blah.

This thing has been working. And it's not magic. It's just hard friggin work for 90 days.

I get one day off a week. The other 6 days, it's a different workout every single day. Yoga, resistance, cardio, abs, plyometrics. It's all over the place.

p90x likes to call this "muscle confusion" :) Fine, muscle confusion. Seriously though, I've been doing some kind of fitness training for years and years now and if you meet with a trainer, I doubt you'll find a single one that would tell you to do the same thing every day without taking a day of rest.

Ad Copywriters

I've been reading a book recently called Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan. Amazon will tell you it's a "A Guide to Creating Great Ads". It's not. It's a book about: creativity, working better, working with constraints, being simple.

Luke mentions:

A guy named James Web Young, a copywriter from the 1940's, laid out a five step process of idea generation that still holds water today.

1. You gather as much information on the problem as you can. You read, you underline stuff, you ask questions, you visit the factory.

2. You sit down and actively attack the problem.

3. You drop the whole thing and go do something else while your subconcious mind works on the problem.

4. "Eureka!"

5. You figure out how to implement your idea.


So Inkling is now encrypting all our sensitive data (market questions, comments, etc.) for clients who want it in our database. One thing we use to do that is a plugin a guy named Sean Huber wrote for Ruby.

We had tested extensively but the night it was released. Bang, broken. But not broken all the time. Just randomly it was broken. We couldn't figure it out.

I spent the next 3 days just staring at this code every single day. I had no idea what was wrong. But I had a weekend at my in laws. Weekends at my in-laws I appreciate for a lot of reasons, but a huge one is that I rarely even crack open the laptop for 2 days.

As I was driving back home staring at the car in front of me, I decided to let my mind wonder on our problem again.

But since I had worked already so hard on the problem, I could see the code in my head. And sure enough, just sitting there in the car thinking about the code, it came to me why we were seeing such random bugs we couldn't reproduce. I could see in my head the exact line of Sean's code that was causing the problem.

And on Monday morning, I patched up the plugin to handle the problem.


There's tons of different takes on this. But the point is, if you want to play at a peak or you want to avoid reaching a plateau, you don't do the same thing every day.

Maybe for the Seinfeld thing, my issue isn't so much about just not breaking the chain, but you give this advice to someone and their likely to go out and work on the same project every day, on the same thing. Develop, develop, develop.

And how come we do this at our jobs?

How come when I worked for other people, all I got told is tasks that needed to get done, and I was expected to develop develop and develop.

I worked on moving a pretty large Java application from Weblogic to Oracle's application server. I worked on this day after day. After day. For months. Maybe that works well for routine work, but this wasn't routine. It might have done a lot better had someone been like "yo, don't work on that every day, it's not right".

Go look for a formula somewhere else. But the point of all of this is that for some reason most workplaces just don't get that if you want creativity and optimal awesomeness, you can't expect people to work and work and work.

And not just workplaces and your boss, but I don't think individually we really get this either.

When we started Inkling I remember coding 12 hours almost every single day, every day of the week for many months. We got great stuff done. But I can't help wonder if I could have performed even better had I made sure I was taking at least one day a week to not work, and some days I only code 4 hours, some days I work on SEO, and some days I talk to clients, some days I work on something I've never even considered working on before, variety variety, etc.

I'll leave this subject with this (found on Kitsune Noir):

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Get Up Earlier and Do More Work

"One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that if you drive into London at 6am, half of the cars on the roads are Porsches and Astons. Whereas if you go in at ten to nine, they’re all Renaults. Simple solution, then. You want a nice car? Get up earlier and do more work."

— Jeremy Clarkson reviews the Porsche 911 GT3 (via Nick Cernis)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Email Marketing Disobedience. Some great tips on doing the opposite of conventional wisdom.

Whether you give a crap or not about email marketing, this blog post from MadMimi is an interesting take on a field filled with conventional wisdom.

Some gems:

1. Share expertise

Wrong—share ignorance. Consider the old Zen adage "the more I know, the less I know."

2. Tell a success story

Wrong—tell a failure story. It humanizes your company and demonstrates your high standards.

3. Conduct a relevant interview

Wrong—conduct a gloriously irrelevant interview.

Much more at the full article.

It's a great example of taking inspriation from doing the exact opposite of what you think you need to be doing.

You can apply this to anything you need some new thinking about. You might not come up with a list of things to do 100%, but I'm sure you'll get some ideas on how to do things that stand out or are better than the routine you were following before.

Related: Ignore Everybody, but take a shower.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Inkling About Town

Here are some recent articles and mentions about Inkling.


We helped contribute to an article at Six Revisions on "How to Grow a Community: Insights From Experts". The articles tackles questions like:

- What are some successful methods you use to grow your community?
- What are a few strategies you use to engage your community, encourage participation and keep them coming back?
- What advice do you have for people just starting out and trying to develop an active community?

If you're thinking about or currently building a community you'll probably find some food for thought in there.


"Chicago May Be the Next Silicon Valley @prepme @songza @tgethr @threadless @37signals @jasonfried @feedburner @groupon" - Seth Kravtiz

Woah, we are totally pumped that Inkling and tgethr got a mention alongside Groupon, Threadless, and 37signals.


"If there is a better writer for entrepreneurs than @natekontny I am unaware of who they are. Another brilliant post." - Andrew Wicklander

Well of course, that really made my day.

Andrew is the founder of the Ideal Project Group and is doing something pretty cool and inspiring with the "What can you do in 30 days?"