Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dynamic Gathering

I just got back from a great networking event. Dynamic Edge, a fast-growing local IT company hosted the quarterly member reception for the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce. As an Ambassador to the Chamber, I like to attend these events whenever I'm in town.

What a party! Dynamic Edge really threw a tremendous bash. Great food, fun music, and an awesome crowd of guests and "DynEdgers". I saw a lot of friendly faces -- Angela De Smet of Vintage Financial Services, a classmate from my Leadership Ann Arbor group, Mark Schory of mschory consulting, LLC, whom I had welcomed to the Chamber when he first joined and who is now a fellow Ambassador, and, of course, my good friend Rebecca LopezKriss, the Director of Business Development at Dynamic Edge and the hostess of the party (yes, Rebecca, I did snag a few cookies on the way out the door ;-) ). Of course, this list doesn't even include all of my friends from the Chamber.

I met several new folks and reconnected with old acquaintances left and right. Some of us had crossed paths at prior networking events. Others I had met through friends. One of the DynEdgers even came up and shook my hand and told me that I had been his daughter's Karate teacher.

The funny thing is, prior to a year ago, when I first joined the Chamber, I didn't know any of these folks. If I hadn't made the effort to join and participate in the activities that this wonderful organization supports, my life (and my business) would have been that much poorer.

So, I guess it all comes down to this one question:

Should I be having this much fun building my business?

So, what groups do you belong to and how do they support you in your business and your life?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Trying to Change

JengaI've been a bit lax about writing lately and I thought it would be better to write something small tonight rather than nothing at all.

As chief cook and bottle washer of Cyber Data Solutions, I've been burning the candle at both ends -- trying to meet with people, maintain the office, do the work and keep some semblance of balance in my personal life.

One of the areas in which I felt I was achieving less-than-stellar results was in the area of my health. Exercise quite often went by the wayside with more of a general "I'll get to it later" intention than with any real sweat. I finally decided to shift my schedule a bit -- going to bed earlier and getting up earlier so that I could get my workout in at the beginning of the day.

The only problem is that I tend to write at the end of the day. Going to bed earlier eliminated that time.

So, now that I've made one change, the ripples are starting to spread through my life. With any kind of luck, I'll figure out some sort of equilibrium before the Jenga tower which is my schedule comes crashing down.

Wish me luck!

So, when was the last time you tried to remake your daily schedule? Did it work?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Graduation Day

Greg graduates
Lindsay laughs as I receive my diploma
In the midst of my hustle and bustle last week, our Leadership Ann Arbor class had its final gathering. On Wednesday, June 13, we graduated.

Unlike the rest of the year, when we ran from location to location throughout the area, this time we spent our time together in one place -- Zanzibar, a restaurant down on State Street in Ann Arbor. Terry McGinn, our facilitator from back when we first started this whole thing, was there again to help us review our experiences and synthesize a larger viewpoint from everything we'd learned. Some of the surprising things that we had discovered, individually or in groups:
  • The jail overcrowding situation and why we should be concerned.
  • The presence of the African American financial community and the events that it promotes.
  • The strain placed on law enforcement agencies due to those with mental health issues in the community.
  • The length of time it takes for anything to change despite Ann Arbor having a diverse and talented populace.
  • How many facets go into making Ann Arbor the city that it is -- and how the loss of any one of them would diminish the town more than you would think.
We spent some time in groups discussing possible changes for next year. While we did come up with a few suggestions, by and large we found that Lindsay McCarthy, our glorious and long-suffering leader, had really done an exceptional job with the program.

After a delicious lunch, we heard from Marianne Clauw, our classmate and an advisor to the BoardConnect program at the NEW Center. Now that we have seen a little more about how things work in this town, she wanted us to be aware of the opportunities for us to help one of the many organizations which help make this place a good place to live.

Then it was time for us to "walk the stage".

No, we didn't have a boombox playing "Pomp and Circumstance" over and over, just Lindsay calling out our names and us walking up to receive our certificates from Pat Davenport or Greg Bazick, the two co-Chairs for our class. Still it was a pretty significant time for us -- the capstone of nine months of shared discovery, education, and more than a few laughs.

What the future holds for our class is yet to be seen. We have had some movement toward working together on some sort of shared community service, but that is still in the planning phase. Until then, I guess school's out for summer. Time to sit back, relax, and maybe reflect on all I've gained from the experience.

So, what was your latest great achievement?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tying it All Together: Photos

My buddy, Dan Cooney, sent this one to me. It's a presentation at the TED conference which shows some of the potential for aggregating photo data. It starts off a bit slow, but wait until he gets to the bit on Notre Dame. Pretty amazing stuff!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quick Updates

Update #1: Business

I'm working on a quick database project with Sagient, a web development and design firm in Ann Arbor. It's on a bit of a tight deadline, so I may not be posting much this week.

Update #2: Useless waste of time

If you feel like blowing a couple of hours, check out Desktop Tower Defense. It's a remarkably simple game, but with an addictiveness level similar to Tetris for me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On Retreat: Amazing Customer Service

Kim KroupaAs I mentioned, I'm up here in Traverse City on a self-directed business retreat. My goal is just to relax and think about my business. I've got a list of several items that I can work on, but really, they are just the filler -- something solid that I can get my hands on while I let my brain consider more esoteric things. Basically, I don't need to walk away from here with all the answers, but as I drive away tomorrow, I do want to have a good list of questions in hand.

That all being said, the location I'm using has been perfect for my needs. I'm staying at Pinestead Reef, a timeshare resort which also has nightly rentals. My room looks out on Grand Traverse Bay and, it still being during the school year, my fellow residents are a pretty quiet bunch.

The stand-out star of this peaceful oasis has been a young woman by the name of Kim Kroupa. She's been working at the front desk since I drove in on Tuesday and has been a font of great advice from the first day. One of my practices when away on a business trip is, on the first night, to order a pizza from a local pizza place. I always ask the front desk their recommendation. Most of the time, I get a half-hearted listing of the pizza shops in the area -- often including such "local" fare as Pizza Hut and Domino's. Not so with Kim. She spoke right up and pointed me to "That's a Pizza!", then provided me with a menu and her recommendations for a vegetarian like me.

Great Pizza!

Nor was her behavior just a one-time thing. She had a willing smile and a helpful attitude for anyone who wandered in. Moreover, she really knew her stuff, including the history of the area and the current events of the town. I wish more front-line staff were just like Kim.

For dinner last night I asked Kim for recommendations on a restaurant within walking distance and she pointed me to the Red Mesa Grill. I've got to say that this was a real find. Tim Middaugh, the general manager was the one who answered the phone and later greeted me at the door. He assured me that they could take care of a vegetarian like me and, boy, was he right. The had a variety of southwestern and Latin dishes that tempted me. I ended up with a plate called the "Vegetarian Fiesta". It included a burrito, an enchilada, and a Cuban black bean cake. All three were quite delicious, though the latter was definitely the tastiest.

I think my biggest problem with the meal was just that. It was huge! By the time my server, Bert, brought the fried ice cream (with habenaro hot fudge sauce) I could only finish half of it (and that with almost half of my dinner in a box waiting to be heated up for lunch today)!

So, if you are going to be up in the area, you might want to drop by to say hello to Kim. You might even see if there are any vacancies! And, if you are really hungry for some great food (or don't mind some leftovers), you should stop by and have lunch or dinner at the Red Mesa Grill.

So, have you ever been up to Traverse City?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A New Way of Asking

Little Black Book of ConnectionsFrom my Certified Networker training, I know that the best way to succeed in business is to be willing to help others first. In fact, in the CN training course, there is a whole chapter on possible ways you can help other people other than just passing them business. After all, you'd like to be able to help people right away, but it's kind of hard to pass them business when you don't know them at all yet, right?

So one of the challenges I've run into, especially when I first meet with people, is asking the question "How can I help you?". OK, just to be clear, for those of you who, like my good buddy Dan, enjoy interpreting things literally just to get my goat, I am capable of vocalizing the question and, in fact, have no moral or ethical qualms about asking it. The problem is that I am perpetually misunderstood.

Everyone assumes I am asking "Do you have work for me?"

Today, over lunch, I was reading Jeffrey Gitomer's "The Little Black Book of Connections" and came across a better way to say this simple phrase: "What are your needs in the coming year?" (which, of course, could be followed up with "How can I help you with them?").

I'll be attending a few Chamber networking events in the coming weeks. I'm looking forward to trying out this new approach.

I'll let you know how it goes.

How would you ask this question?

OK, Now I Don't Feel So Guilty

Cyber Data Solutions LogoWhen I was updating the Cyber Data Solutions website, I decided to "go cheap" and whip up my own logo. I thought that, maybe someday, I could afford to have a professional do a better job.

Then I read Seth Godin's post today.

Seth just wrote up a great piece about the nature of company logos. Some of the most powerful corporate images in history are among the simplest and cheapest and have no real inherent meaning to them (how does the Nike "swoop" represent athletic shoes?). His advice is that if you must come up with a company logo, don't try to make it mean anything, don't pay a ton of money, "Just Do It".

Then make the brand into something special.

So, I've decided to stop feeling guilty about my home-grown logo. Now maybe I'll just stick with what I have and make my company into the best in the world!

Thank you, Seth!

So, what do you think of my logo?

Quick Extra! Extra!

NewsletterJust a quick note: I sent out the most recent issue of the "Clearing Up the Confusion" e-zine on Tuesday. If you'd like to check it out (and you haven't already subscribed) you can read it online at the Cyber Data Solutions website.

Questions on Retreat

The Dip by Seth GodinSo, here I am up in beautiful, sprawling Traverse City. My hotel room looks out on Grand Traverse Bay. The sun and blue sky as I pulled in this evening filled me with excitement of the possibilities of the days to come.

I'm here, in my room by the bay, on a self-directed business retreat. No seminars, no gurus, no group team-building exercises. Just me, my laptop, and plenty of time to consider questions like "How do I want to grow my business?" and "What sort of products can/should I create which will serve my target market?". Oh, and don't forget the ever popular "Just exactly who is my target market anyway?"

I did bring along a few business books, for those times when I want to just relax on the beach. In fact, I just finished Seth Godin's "The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)". It has raised a few questions which I'll be adding to the list for consideration over the next few days:

Under what circumstances am I willing to quit? Obviously, I can't continue trying to build this business if it starts causing hardship for my family. What other conditions might be valid reasons for quitting? Deciding now will go a long way toward helping me stay in the game when the going gets tough.

In what market will I be the "best in the world"? This falls back on some of my old Certified Networker training: Picking a tightly specified target market is likely to make us more successful.

What tactics can I use to influence that market? How will I know when they are working? Is continuing to attend the Chamber networking events going to make a difference to my target market or should I be looking elsewhere?

How much effort can/should I invest to influence my market? Will it be enough? This ties in with specifying my target market. If the market is too big, then I won't have enough time or energy to become the number one website superhero in their world.

Do I want to do the best I can, given my constraints, or do I want to be the best in the world? This one should technically be a no-brainer.

So that's just my short list courtesy of Seth. Mix that in with all the other things that I want to work on and I'm beginning to think I should have scheduled a full week instead of just a few days.

Ah, well, wish me luck!

So, what significant questions have you been pondering in your life and career?

Friday, June 01, 2007

I Are Smart

brain mapOK, I was reading one of my new favorite blogs tonight, TechCrunch. They report on all sorts of cool developments in the world of technology (my only complaint is that I sometimes have a hard time keeping up!).

Anyway, one of the articles tonight was about a site called Lumosity, a creation of Lumos Labs. What does it do? It provides a series of "brain games" supposedly designed to help improve your cognitive health.

For a person like me who loves puzzles and used to spend hours playing Tetris back in college, it's like crack cocaine.

The games aren't particularly difficult. The trick is just to beat your own score. I only cleared the first session (so far), in which I had to complete three different games. In one, the computer presented me with a grid representing a garden. Briefly, I saw a series of monsters hidden in some of the grid cells. I then had to walk my little gardener character through the cells without stepping on one of the monsters. When I succeeded, I could earn bonus points if I could remember which monster was where.

I know, not exactly "Halo 2", but I still had fun.

Lumosity is currently in beta and therefore free. I only noticed one small bug: In the Spatial Speed Match game, I couldn't turn off the annoying sound effects. Other than that though, the game play was pretty smooth.

You might want to give it a try, if your afternoon Sudoku is starting to get a little old.

It's good for your brain, too!

So, what is your high score in "Speed Match"?