Archive for February, 2006

Accelerated Productivity – Smartphones and E-mail On-The-Go (hunting the Treo 700p)

Treo650TypingSmallMy smartphone is a movie star. Normally reserved executives – strangers – spot the device, lean over and ask: “Hey, is that the Treo 700?” Smartphones are big time, and you can spot users everywhere – furiously thumb-typing in meetings, on buses and trains, standing in line, and in taxicabs.

There is a reason the RIM Blackberry™ phones and devices are called “Crackberries”, and that is because they elevate e-mail discussions to the speed of instant messaging. As soon as you get a message, you are alerted wherever your device has reception. As soon as you hit send on your response, it wings its way back.

However this is NOT all good:

Downside to e-mail everywhere:

  • Hello email 24×7, goodbye deep thought. There are two modes of work you mind does –  reactive, driven by interruptions (phone calls, emails, drop-in visitors), and what consultants DeMarco and Lister call flow1, where you are conceptualizing, designing, composing and otherwise pondering project work. It takes at least 15 minutes to enter deep thought, and a single interruption to yank you back out to reactive mode. How can an executive catch up an entire week’s overflow early on Saturday morning? No interruptions.
  • Your workday invades your personal time, or, the other way around.
  • Others begin to EXPECT instant response, and get impatient over what used to be reasonable response times.
  • Driving (and even walking!) is INCREDIBLY distracted and dangerous. I predict, just as smokers pay higher premiums, that courts and auto insurers will escalate penalties where a smartphone is recovered from the wreckage.
  • Both the devices and their wireless Internet plans are expensive, on top of your voice plan.
  • Setup is NOT yet seamless, and often requires a geek to get full benefit of the solution.
  • If you usually use a program on your laptop to filter spam, when the laptop is off (usually when you are traveling), ALL your spam finds your phone. Then, you start ignoring the device alarms, because you get so many of them.
  • Because the screens are so small, many mobile users react off the first 10 lines in the email, and ignore attachments and graphics. Consequently, it is easier to miss the subtlety, background and context in a message. This is not good in a medium known for “flames” due to misunderstanding. In addition, the cramped keyboard encourages highly informal SMS or IM “speak”, where okay becomes k, you becomes u, and see you later becomes cyal8tr. Sometimes informal is good. Sometimes.
  • In meetings, though all too common, it is just RUDE to check out and do your e-mail. Sure, you can blame the meeting facilitator for a boring session, but see how you like it when it is YOUR meeting, and all you see of the participants are the crowns of their heads!
  • The networks, while pretty good, are not ubiquitous. Data roaming is nowhere as evolved as voice roaming or even SMS. You might have US coverage for mobile data, but not Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia…
  • Baby boomers and beyond are losing near vision. Without big screens and automatic, interactive spell checking found on desktop e-mail clients, many have to resort to reading glasses (making driving REALLY interesting!).

Upside to e-mail everywhere:

  • No one needs to know you are at the beach (!) while moving that deal along.
  • You can turn a hundred little moments of downtime in a day into productive time. For domestic frequent flyers, this really rocks.
  • When, say, a client’s plans change, you find out in time to change with them.
  • No one else has to change their ways to communicate with you – learning special addresses and codes for a paging system, or website, or SMS on their phones. EVERYONE has, and uses, email.
  • Your response time can get much shorter – helping you seem more available and on top of it.

Advice for the adventurous:

  • Try before you buy. You might think from looking that most smartphone interfaces were designed by youngsters with excellent near vision and delicate fingers. For the 40 + year-old set, learn how to enlarge the type, and try it without your reading glasses. For people with big thumbs, make sure the phone recognizes the letters you meant to hit, cleanly and quickly.
  • Do NOT go with a price-per-kilobyte plan, where one website or attachment can push you over your monthly limit. Instead, get an unlimited plan. It can save you a thousand dollars per year. Really… thousands!
  • Insure your smartphone, then treat it with care. Don’t put it in your back pocket – your screen can crack. Don’t put it in your shirt pocket – it will end up broken on the ground, or in a toilet. Trust us on this one. If you lose or break your smartphone, you will experience withdrawal symptoms while you wait for the replacement.
  • Figure out how to filter spam server-side – that is, before it reaches your handheld e-mail client.
  • Public Service Announcement: Do NOT read or write e-mail while driving. You will be tempted, no doubt. The lucky among you will simply scare yourself silly. You CANNOT focus on a handheld 2-inch screen, type on AND maintain situational awareness in a vehicle whether moving in traffic at 55 mph, or navigating an intersection. Instead, use the time to talk on your phone (using a good headset and a voice dialing feature), or use the “windshield time” for some deeper thought.
  • Don’t expect much from the Internet browsers on these devices. Most websites are designed for 800×600 or 1024×768 pixel screens. Mashed down into 200×200 pixels, most sites are ponderous at best, and impossible to access, at worst.
  • Either get in touch with your inner geek, or hire a geek. Verizon Technical Support is good, but cannot be expected to configure your laptop, synchronization, desktop, supplemental smartphone programs, and protect your data – all over the phone.
  • Make SURE you figure out how to reliably synchronize changes to your calendar and contacts between your phone and your computer.The real power is in integrating your directory, complete with e-mail addresses, with anywhere e-mail.
  • Carefully weigh the device’s Operating System. I recommend Palm OS with its elegant interface, or the latest Windows Mobile platform and its easy Office integration, rather than the RIM Blackberry. While the Blackberry is a demon at e-mail, there are few programs available for the platform, when compared to thousands, for Palm OS and Windows Mobile. Also, RIM is in a protracted patent dispute that could shut down the Blackberry network if it doesn’t go well for them. RIM has settled the dispute, to the deep relief of all the addi – i mean, users out there.

What Ann and I use: (updated 2007-1-7)

  • Palm Treo 600 and Treo 650. (although I am coveting the new Treo 700p…) Ann and I both made the leap to the 700p in August – much better. These phones can be tethered to our computers as superfast broadband modems. Ask your cellular provider about Dial-Up Networking (DUN) options and plans.
  • e-mail client (POP and IMAP mail)
  • Now Up-To-Date and Contact for Macintosh (most people will use Microsoft Outlook on their Computer)
  • Plantronics Discovery 640 Bluetooth Headset. (Ann rates this device: Awesome! Well, it didn’t age gracefully. a design flaw interferes with proper charging, and now Ann rates it a PITA. We tried the Discovery 655 and Motorola H700 since, too. Her new Fave? The Jabra JX 10. Me – I don’t like the sound quality of any BT headset I’ve tried.)
  • 2007 Toyota RAV4. Ann’s new ride has Bluetooth and voice recognition for dialing – much safer, until her car starts warring with her Jabra headset – then it’s ugly!

  • Verizon Wireless Network with Unlimited Data plan.
  • TomTomCleesePalm Bluetooth GPS unit with TomTom Navigator 6. While the software has some flaws, and integration with the phone is imperfect, you can navigate to any address in your contact list. That said, I downloaded the voice of John Cleese for my navigation prompts. I don’t care what millions of Python fans say – he’s found his calling inside my Treo!
  • Documents to Go Professional on Palm OS from (For viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents, and viewing PDF’s, on the smartphone).
  • Protective cases. ( has some excellent case reviews – verging on obsessive…)
  • USB sync-and-charge cables from
  • Device insurance.

UPDATE 2009-8-24: The iPhone 3GS has blown all this away. Except for typing speed, which is still better than I would have thought possible when I first bought it, it is the best, most flexible device Ann and I have owned. Sorry, Palm.

Smartphones are the way of the future. I look forward to the day when voice commands replace the miniscule keyboards, when Bluetooth really works, and when pull-out screens give truly usable display sizes without sacrificing portability. Until then, our advice is: Try before you buy; set it up right; be disciplined and safe when using your smartphone; and set boundaries that enhance, rather than disrupt, your productivity.

1 pp 62-64, Peopleware 2nd ed. by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. ISBN 0932633439

Friday, February 24th, 2006 Executive Productivity, Main Page, Technology Comments Off on Accelerated Productivity – Smartphones and E-mail On-The-Go (hunting the Treo 700p)

To Accelerate Business Growth, be suspicious of the latest technology

Because technology is pushed to market at such a breakneck pace, quality suffers. A new, well, anything, really, is more likely to have flaws and bugs. Nowhere is this more true than in technology hardware and software. The old joke is that "Version 1.0" actually should be pronounced: "one-point oh, no!!!"

Talk to a seasoned geek, and they can bend your ear with tales of woe. Like an old-timer reminiscing about "the blizzard of '78", any of them can rattle off infamous hardware and software releases. No company is immune to this phenomenon. Microsoft's Windows XP Operating System wasn't truly safe for corporate networks until the release of Service Pack 2, months after initial release. Antennas would fall off the early versions of the popular Treo smartphones – the list goes on.

In the spirit of Accelerating Business Growth, let's examine when the latest is NOT greatest for you and your company.

Your company's IT needs break down into two general categories:

  • Production Machines – Servers, video and graphics production, science workstations, etc. used by true power users.
  • Business Productivity Machines – desktop and laptop computers and handheld devices used by the rest of us.

It is vitally important to realize the difference between these two groups. Production Machines are the backbone of your operation. Reliability is job 1, but Throughput is job 2. An upgrade to a faster machine can actually improve profits. Buying the latest might make sense.

Now, Business Productivity Machines are in another class. Properly maintained, no human can out-type year-old technology, so the speed of the unit is not so relevant. Portability, battery life, durability and ergonomics are far more important. Stability is Job 1. No one wants to lose work. Ever. Buying the latest rarely makes sense.

Gary's Theory of Productive Technology:

1) The most productive, cost-effective model is found one generation (three to six months) behind the latest model.

Practical Application: Leave the bleeding edge of technology to the geeks. Just as the latest and greatest device comes out, buy the best and last of the former product line.


  • Because it has all the hardware bugs worked out.
  • It is usually fast enough.
  • Plenty of accessories.
  • When the new models come out, they discount the old lines.
  • Stays compatible with your older software longer.

The Software and Operating System Corollary:

2)  Hardware, Application Software, Server Software and Operating Systems form an ecosystem* – change one and all the others are affected, often at great cost – in dollars and downtime.

Practical Application:

  • Apply maintenance and security patches to existing software, but resist major version bumps (e.g.: V2.0 to 3.0).
  • When the latest operating system is released, wait as long as you can before upgrading – at least one year, if at all possible.
  • When considering upgrading hardware, check if your existing operating system runs on it.
  • Do your Internet homework. Visit independent support forums for the hardware or software you are considering upgrading to. You should see happy or mildly complaining end users. If the postings look like a PR nightmare for the company, keep on walking – come up with a better alternative.

Bottom line: Unless closely managed, business productivity rarely benefits from the latest hardware, software and operating systems. Step back from the bleeding edge, and accelerate your ROI with up-time!

* the concept of OS ecosystem is hardly new. Personally, I credit ongoing discussions with colleague, Troy Angrignon, author of the Technology Buyer's Manifesto.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006 Executive Productivity, Main Page, Technology Comments Off on To Accelerate Business Growth, be suspicious of the latest technology

Executive Productivity – Mac Style

Ann and I like Macs because they are simple, elegant, low-maintenance productivity tools. One of our clients switched to Mac, recently, and asked for advice on productivity. Here are my thoughts, current as of 2006-2-21.

Applications: All apps can be found through

System Apps:

Operating system – use Panther, Mac OS X 10.3.9 if you can. Tiger 10.4 has more quirks just yet.
Cocktail – run monthly.
DiskWarrior 3 – run monthly.
SuperDuper – create a clone backup of your hard drive on inexpensive external drives
Iclock – menubar clock.
Default Folder X – recent file and folder manager. Priceless.
LaunchBar – super-intuitive file and application launching.
Norton Antivirus – adequate AV protection

Productivity Apps:

QuickBooks Pro Mac
Quicken Mac
Office 2004 – for e-mail, contacts and calendar, Entourage is adequate for most.
Omnigraffle Pro – for diagrams. Think VISIO for Mac.
Now Up-To-Date and Contact – if Entourage doesn’t cut it for you, this is the next best thing.
Acrobat Professional – when you need to do more advanced things with PDF’s
Adobe Photoshop Elements – manipulating graphics.
Either Palm desktop 4.2.1.d or TheMissingSync – synchronize your contact and calendar to your smartphone or PDA. – blog editor

Communication Apps:

Remote Desktop Connection for Windows – control remote PC’s.
Timbuktu Pro – the granddaddy of all cross-platform sharing applications.
Adium – manage multiple chat clients.

Websites for info: – the missing manual series is the best way to be a master of your computer and its applications. – news for Macs – troubleshooting for Macs

So there you go. A recipe for productive stability on a Mac.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006 Executive Productivity, Technology Comments Off on Executive Productivity – Mac Style

The Importance of Demonstrating Understanding

HandshakeGlobePhoto256wWith few exceptions, people want to be understood. They want someone to “get” what they are dealing with, and if possible, in a way that deepens their own understanding and command of their situation, and of their goals.

The same is true for you, the business professional. It is natural to want to establish yourself as credible by first telling people about yourself, your specialty, and your successes.

Unfortunately, deep trust with a colleague or advisor develops in a much different sequence. You cannot lead with what you can offer them. Before others care to listen about you, you must prove you understand their world.

Just passively listening is not enough. How will someone know you understand?

They will know in at least three ways:

1. The quality and relevance of the questions you ask.

2. Your ability to summarize the shape of the situation from the details of the discussion, with no distortion.

3. Your ability to present and test out important implications arising from the discussion – both rational and emotional in nature.

In The Trusted Advisor1, there is an excellent list of what great listeners don’t do.

They don’t:

1. Interrupt

2. Respond too soon

3. Match the client’s points (“Oh, yes, I had something like that happen to me. It all started…”)

4. Editorialize in midstream (“Well, that option’s a nonstarter”)

5. Jump to conclusions (much less judgments)

6. Ask closed-ended questions for no reason

7. Give you their ideas before hearing yours

8. Judge you

9. Try to solve the problem too quickly

10. Take calls or interruptions in the course of a client meeting (it seems so obvious, but watch how often it happens!)

Finally, to demonstrate understanding, you must be deeply present – “in the moment” with the person across from you. Expert in consulting practice development, Alan Weiss, stresses the importance of being in the moment to the success of the consulting professional in this way:

” You come this way once, I think we can all agree on that much. While you’re here, you might as well be cognizant of the world around you so that you can take best advantage of it. Listen. Look. Interact. Question. Poke. Probe.
Get in the moment.
Or the moment is gone.”2

So when you want to explore a deep and trusting relationship with someone, remember it starts with his or her world. Be present – in the moment and aware. Listen intently. Ask questions that get to the heart of the matter. Summarize and synthesize what you see. Voice the implications that occur to you as you piece together their world. Do this, and perhaps they will become curious about you and your world.

© 2006 Gary Ralston and respective copyright holders, attributed, below.

1 Source: pp 104-105, The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister, Charles H, Green and Robert M. Galford. ISBN: 0743212347

2 Source: THE MILLION DOLLAR CONSULTANT(tm) Private Roster Mentor Program Newsletter Issue #77: January 2006. (c) Alan Weiss 2006. All rights reserved.

About the Author: Gary Ralston, and his wife, Ann, founded Ralston Consulting Inc. to help clients across the US and Canada accelerate business growth while maintaining personal balance and integrity. Gary can be reached by email:, website:, or phone, 614-761-1841.

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Friday, February 17th, 2006 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Sales Comments Off on The Importance of Demonstrating Understanding

To Blog or Not to Blog… That is the question

Not one more thing to write!!  Articles, e-mails, proposals – and now, blogs!!!  Remember the days when you spent so much time on the phone, that when you came home the LAST thing you wanted to do was to talk to someone on the phone!!!

My computer is fast becoming my friend and my nemesis. I’m not a great writer. I make lots of spelling errors and my brain runs way faster than my fingers! So when Gary, my husband and business partner asked that I write 2 blog entries each week on top of a self-imposed article each month AND the plethora of e-mails that I pen each day, my fingers cried for relief.  What’s the value, who cares what I have to say, and why oh why would I want this stuff on the web for eternity?!?!

What’s the value?  Increased visibility.  As a consultant and coach, our business thrives on being seen!  Being seen in a positive light. Being seen as the company that we are, a great company that helps people accelerate their business growth, while maintaining perspective on life.  Can I nail down a monetary value of a $1000 or $100,000?  Nope – for me, Blogging is too young to know exactly where it will go.

Who cares? Not sure yet. Again, I think Blogging is too young, but perhaps people who are looking for some great feedback and advice on their business/life will.  Most of the stuff on Blogs is relevant to a few people.  Much of it is opinion, assumption and assertions. Certainly, I would be wary of believing that much of it is fact. Like everything else on the web, be aware of the source of the data!

And Why Would I want this Stuff on the Web for Eternity??  Now there you have me.  I don’t.  I’m sure it will make for interesting political campaigns 5 years from now, when the new media searches’s wayback machine and dredges old blogs from today for candidates, their positions, or what others said about them.  Imagine all the wonderful things you did in high school and college, when the logical/rational part of your brain wasn’t totally developed and you did stupid stuff… Imagine that, immortalized in bits and bytes!!!  Today, e-mail is searched, subpoenaed, owned by your company, requested by newspapers and then taken out of context, blown out of proportion or used in court! The going advice for e-mail is … Don't send ANYTHING in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times!!!  I think the same goes for blog content – a little discretion here could go a looonnnnggg way.

So for now… I’ll blog… But I’ll blog with a bit of care!

Thursday, February 9th, 2006 Article Archive, Business Insights, Marketing Comments Off on To Blog or Not to Blog… That is the question

A Valentine’s Day gift to the Entrepreneur in your life!

GitomerLittleRedBookI love Valentines Day! I think it goes back to the little gifts my parents would have at our place at the breakfast table on Valentines morning.  Just a little trinket – a charm, a toy… Always special!  I’ve found just such a special little gift for you, our clients and colleagues. It’s The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness, by Jeffrey Gitomer.

This is a sassy, savvy, practical and principle-driven book about sales and sales relationships.  I think it is relevant to all who are in business. After all, what is business, but creating a relationship, then providing, a service to another? It’s a sales transaction, regardless if you are a consultant inside an organization, or a dentist, or an entrepreneur.

Who are the best sales people that you know?  They are the ones who really hear what you need, and help you find a solution to your issues. More important, they are the ones whom you believe in, whom you trust, and who are passionate about the work they do. Gitomer has created this cheeky little book to help you think about yourself and others in a selling role. His “12.5 principles” address relevant issues for every businessperson.

Principles like:

“It’s all about value, It’s all about relationship, It’s not about price”
“Prepare to Win, or Lose to Someone Who is”
“If you can’t get in front of the real decision maker, you suck!” (I told you it was cheeky!)

While this book is important to anyone in business, if you have a sales team, I think it’s a must-read!

What’s my key learning this morning?  ATTITITUDE BABY!!! It’s all about attitude! It’s why I can sell non-profit causes til the cows come home, but haven’t had the confidence to sell us – I forgot to study the results we create for our clients.

Guess what?  We do great stuff for our clients. We remind them of their dreams, and help them get there. And when they have lost their personal or business vision for a time, we hold the vision for them – their vision of the company, or life they want to create – until we can transfer it back to them, stronger and clearer than before. We help our clients accelerate business growth while keeping personal balance – and we are good at it!!!

Bottom line – get this for yourself, for Valentines Day.

Enjoy, and great success to you and your company!!!

Ann Ralston

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006 Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Sales Comments Off on A Valentine’s Day gift to the Entrepreneur in your life!

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