The key question is – What is the user trying to do

If you’re in the business of producing anything for anybody; I’m sure this question may have popped into the back of your mind every now and then – What is the user trying to do? Perhaps it has always been there but just hasn’t come to the forefront.

I have great respect for people at work and outside of work who just simply seem to be able to focus in on that question so often. We all get caught up in the daily fire fights, focusing on resolving the issue of the day that we forget the big picture. What problem is the user facing? and are we solving that? or are we just trying to get stuff out the door?

Every time we decide that something is good enough, are we really thinking – Is it good enough to help our users solve what they are trying to do? or is it just good enough to satisfy our immediate need to declare success?

This could apply to politics or product development or research or what have you. For example – Politicians should ask themselves – What are our citizens trying to do? or what problems are they trying to solve? and how can we help them solve their problems?

The question of course is not – Can we solve it for them? Its how can we help them or how can we enable them or how can we provide them tools that can help them solve the problems by themselves.

In the coming days there will be some news on Elsevier’s effort to provide people the tools to solve some of the problems for themselves. More specifically related to finding and using scientific articles. Hopefully that’s more along the ‘what is the user trying to do’ line of thinking and I sincerely hope people see it that way. Will be great to find out.

Accelerate Science

Elsevier is integrating the world’s most trusted scientific content from ScienceDirect and Scopus into a single platform with productivity-driving enhancements. View this short video to learn more.

via Accelerate Science.

The future belongs to the companies and people that turn data into products

Are you looking at your hidden assets, how usage of your data creates new data? Are you mining it and creating newer products? This post speaks to all of us. It also talks about

The future belongs to the companies who figure out how to collect and use data successfully. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn have all tapped into their datastreams and made that the core of their success. They were the vanguard, but newer companies like bit.ly are following their path. Whether it’s mining your personal biology, building maps from the shared experience of millions of travellers, or studying the URLs that people pass to others, the next generation of successful businesses will be built around data. The part of Hal Varian’s quote that nobody remembers says it all: The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades.Data is indeed the new Intel Inside.

via What is data science? – O’Reilly Radar.

Data science democratized

Interesting post. I always wondered how people might use all the scatter diagrams and other data visualization graphs that are available in various scientific fields. Here’s a thought from Mac Slocum at O’Reilly radar.

Significant implications emerge when you can bounce a question, even an innocuous one, against a huge storehouse of data. If someone like me can plug questions into a system and have it do the same kind of processing once reserved for a skilled minority, that will inspire me to ask a lot more questions. It’ll inspire a lot of other people to ask questions, too. And some of those questions might even be important.

via Data science democratized – O’Reilly Radar.

How to innovate

Innovation is a funny thing. You have all sorts of ideas that spring into your mind at weird times – in the shower, during your morning jog, when you’re ready to go to bed, etc. You get excited, you want to immediately tell the world about it and get it implemented. Of course reality strikes. You either forget about it, or the idea loses steam or you are not able to sell it. OR you are able to sell it, build it and take a shot at making it successful.

The question is – is that really innovation? What is the basis of innovation? Just a crazy idea that pops into your mind? Maybe but its got to be more than that. For instance – You have to know it will sell. How would you know that? It has to based on some facts. The internet is filled with resources that will tell you how to innovate and there are countless blogs, courses, webinars that do that same.

Here’s are some methods i have read, learned and practiced in my day to day work.

Method 1: (inspired by this podcast on the Product Management Pulse blog) This is the best and most valuable approach. In your industry (or area of interest), meet with as many users of your solutions or services, as you can. Not to find out how they use your product or service but instead focus on their situation. What is they day like? What is a good day? What’s a bad day like? What frustrated them? Think about how you can help them. Remember – the ideas to build your business lie outside you office. Get out, talk to people.

Method 2: Conferences, seminars are a gold mine of ideas. I’m not talking about sitting in your booth and making presentations or just visiting the competitor’s booth. Talk to the people who are attending the seminars. Why are they there? What are they looking for? Now i haven’t personally done enough of this but i have been to a few training sessions and public seminars where i have met and talked to a few people. I can only imagine there is a lot more focus and broader range of people at conferences related to your industry.

** The next 2 methods are more internally focused and certainly not the best way to come up with useful ideas. But if you dont have enough support to routinely engage with users or attend seminars then these would be alternatives. **

Method 3: (Inspired by the Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Challenge) For your business or personal interest, identify what your core strengths are. Look into the past and identify your key success factors. Think about the factors that led to those successes. Keeping in mind where you are now, think about where you would like to be a few years from now. Now think about how you can extrapolate your core strengths and past success factors to get to where you would like to be. While doing this exercise you might stumble upon ideas you need to implement today to get where you want to go.

Method 4: Talk to sources inside your company. Your sales force, your customer service people, your marketing folks, your usage research/business intelligence folks. They all interact with users or study/influence user behavior. They can give you valuable insights that you may want to consider as well.

Last but not least is social media. Pay attention to what people are talking about on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs about your company, your product, your interests. Try and learn from them. Of course take everything with a grain of salt and dig deeper if you find a nugget of information.

These are just some thoughts but the point is the more you can learn about your users/customers the more you can innovate successfully. You should be passionate about getting close to your customers… to genuinely try and help solve problems for them.Find ways to engage with them face to face or when all fails at least over phone. While the Apples of the world may innovate behind closed doors those are very few success stories. You will have far more chances of successes and innovative ideas if you engage closely with your users.

Focus on facts and go make it happen.

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CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud – Love it

It would be silly to say i’m jealous but its like they know what’s on my mind. To paraphrase a known commercial… This was my idea 🙂

Provide educators a personalized way to prepare course material for their class and students. I think this is now possible with CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud

via CloudCourse: An Enterprise Application in the Cloud – Google Open Source Blog.

Congrats Google!!

What Surprising Number Will Change Your Business? Harvard Business Review

Business isn’t just a battle of products and services. It’s a battle of ideas about priorities, opportunities, values, and value. Ultimately, those competing ideas get reduced to competing numbers. So, if you can arrive at numbers that matter, you’ve got a better chance at winning the battle of ideas.

via What Surprising Number Will Change Your Business? – Bill Taylor – Harvard Business Review.