February 2014 v9no1
Building Capability
Minimalism and Performance
In This Issue
Content Display
The History of Visualization
Tools for Tasking

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Happy New Year (2014)!

PRH_4  I hope 2014 is going well for you. You may have noticed that we missed every single month of 2013 but we are still here! We've been busy (and we hope to continue to be) but we are "resolved" to keep up with our market presence more effectively in 2014.
  By way of explanation, here is a summary of what we were doing in 2013. We had a range of projects working with clients to:
  • Refine new services
  • Manage the development of various performance support tools
  • Map processes with eight teams to construct 24 process maps (using our format) for a comprehensive redesign of an entire quality system
  • Design and develop nine instructor-led and online training programs on five new products, services, and processes
  • Develop a user guide for administrators setting up a web-based facility management tool
  • Build an interactive online "Explore Tool" for self-directed learning and reference on system functions and components

  We have also been developing some new capabilities.  We created web-based training using Storyline, flexible presentations of large-size content using Prezi, and began exploring HTML5 as an authoring tool for training. Additionally, we had ample opportunities to improve our skills using Visio as a process-mapping solution. 


  We are also planning a website update. We are making some significant changes to convert it to HTML5 to make it work better on mobile platforms. It is going to be increasingly important for client companies to package content in a web-friendly format and HTML5 is the most flexible. So, we've committed to developing more capability in this area. Once we get some javascript chops, we will really be dangerous!
  In this issue, we talk about presentations, pennies, and the little prince. I hope you enjoy this issue of the newsletter. We are very interested in hearing what you think. 


Peter R. Hybert, CPT  

Principal Consultant

Content Display 
Less is Often More 

   We try to strive for a certain minimalism in our outputs. We typically have to work within constraints and expectations of the environment around us but in general we strive to identify the primary information the audience needs, whether that is the clearest/briefest description of a procedure or the two or three primary considerations in making a complex decision. The goal is to simplify and clarify as much as possible...without getting simplistic. 


   Ian found a great quote from the book "The Little Prince" that really captures the power of thinking minimal. You have to wonder if Apple designers had this in mind when working on the iPod. Here is the quote: 


"Perfection is achieved, not when nothing more can be added, but when nothing more can be taken away." 
   The thing is, it takes less time to "just throw in one more slide on X" than it does to really think about what you are trying to convey and ensuring the content is provided in as consumable manner as possible.
   The reason for reducing content where possible is that it really helps improve learning and performance. Less clutter, better focus, targeted actionable feedback all lead to improvement. To make that happen requires eliminating the unnecessary. 


   On a related note, there was an article on NPR's website last November that provided a really simplified description of how a rocket works. Maybe they went too far but the lack of jargon and the reliance on conceptual thinking provides a great bridge for a learner. Jargon can be an obstacle to learning because the learner has to stop listening to the concept in order to figure out definitions for unfamiliar terms. Eventually, you want people to learn the terms but not at the expense of the concept. It is pretty interesting to read the comments as well -- apparently, there are people out there who just like things to "sound technical." Feel free to draw your own conclusions about why this might be.
The History of Visualization

   We are seeing a continual push for better presentations lately. It is popular to complain about PowerPoint and reactions against the standard generic corporate presentation ranging from a renewed focus on "the story" to artificially limiting your presentation ala PechaKucha or TED Talk style. In the other corner, you have Prezi which seems to think the issue is of workspace and that the solution is to put all the information on a single page and zoom around visiting different sections of the whole picture.  

   It is interesting to note, one of PowerPoint's worst limitations is that presenters are only able to show a single screen at a time.  Prezi solves this issue by placing the pieces of information that would normally be fragmented across a string of slides into a holistic picture and hoping this somehow retains the context.  Whether it is successful can somewhat be attributed to the author, but eventually you arrive at the same problem as PowerPoint - you can't show more than can legibly fit on a screen or projector.  Also, the novelty of zooming around can begin to wear thin as you realize just how much time it takes to achieve the desired result.

   We have had to use Prezi in response to customer requests (therefore, we do have experience and capability) but we're still not sure there is a learning or performance benefit. Some of the Prezis are pretty creative though, so they do keep your interest...as long as you are not prone to motion sickness.

   Click the graphic to follow the link below to see some interesting things about visualization, including when maps were introduced, that blackboards emerged in 1801, and even, how Prezi is the pinnacle of evolution so far. (Keep in mind, Prezi built the graphic.) Makes you curious though about where things will go next.


Tools for Tasking
   We have to admit that we are suckers for the latest productivity tool. Each new tool has such promise, but then they don't have that one feature that would make it perfect, or the free version is too limited, or they don't work on one of your devices, or... You get the idea. Lot's of work to load your information in, then not enough use to build up the necessary habitual reliance, then the next tool shows up and the process gets repeated. 
   For awhile, we were using a tool called "Workflowy" just because someone cool mentioned it on the "Lifehacker" website. It definitely appeals to a certain type of working style. 
   The tool is actually pretty basic. It is a simple, text-based list tool. It allows you to build hierarchical sets of tasks related to a project, or just an un-ending stream of bullets that need to be handled. You can slide items up or down at will. Since it is text-based, it syncs really fast (pretty much instantly) and can be used seamlessly across a laptop, smartphone, or tablet. It works when you are offline (and syncs later). And you can share tasks (or sets of tasks) with others very easily.
  The best feature is probably that you can make tags by using the # symbol. Once you have a tag, you can simply click on it and it will show all items containing that tag. 
  So, you can make tags for people you work with, project names, or calls and, with a click, get just the tasks you want to find. For example, if you are talking about project A with person X and you check your tags, you will find everything else you wanted to talk to person X about, instead of hanging up the phone and then remembering later.
  Problem is, you have to get in the habit of using it. If you don't remember to tag things or to check the tags, it really won't help you.
  Another weakness is that it doesn't have a calendar connection. You can't put dates on it and set alerts or reminders. It is truly just a digital to-do list.
  Right now, we recommend "get" (because it is free up to a very high level of usage) and it is quick -- it doesn't slow you down to record an item the way Outlook Tasks or some of the other tools with greater functionality do. But, to be honest, we are still mostly using Google Tasks. The problem with Google Tasks though, is that it doesn't work offline. And it doesn't include reminders...if only...here we go again. Any comments?

   Every now and then there will be a debate about pennies. At some point, you have to wonder if they are worth the trouble to manufacture, carry, use, count, etc. Back in the 80's someone figured out that it wasn't worth Bill Gate's time to stop and pick up a $20 bill...in the time he would spend stopping, bending over, and picking it up he would have earned much more than that. It is somewhat flawed logic but it raises an interesting question. 
   How "micro" are we really going to go with cost-cutting and allocation or time tracking? I remember reading about the top leader at the beginning of NASA being sent to Washington to request the necessary funding for the new organization. Before leaving he had teams doing studies and going through planning exercises and, according to the story, as he was getting into the cab to go before Congress he still didn't have a solid answer. So, he took an average of the numbers everyone recommended and doubled it. Then, asked for it with a straight face. And got it. Because, nobody else knew better but also because he was smart enough to assume that they might encounter some unforseen problems and would need the resources to address them.
   Even though we spend a lot of time trying, sometimes you have to wonder if you lose something by squeezing every nickel and minute out of every plan or project. At some point, the effort spent to gain small savings might be better spend coming up with the next big idea instead.
   For example, recently some companies are bringing manufacturing jobs back to North America because the cost savings were either over-estimated initially or have been gradually eroding due to changes in the market. Lots of the costs of out-sourcing were invisible, or at least hidden. The cost of unemployment for one. All the costs of travel, oversight, shipping equipment and technology, etc. It might have been better for everyone had companies just focussed on making existing manufacturing more competitive than chasing the cost savings overseas.
   But, to get back to pennies. Have you ever wondered, if you carry pennies around in your car's ashtray, how long would it take before you wasted more gas carrying the pennies than they are worth? Here is your answer.



Thank you for your interest in PRH Consulting! For more about our company, approach, and experience, please visit our website at www.prhconsulting.com.  
We hope you think of us the next time you need help improving or supporting performance.


Pete Hybert, CPT


PRH Consulting Inc.
Wheaton, IL

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