Executive Productivity

Three Brilliant Podcast Series to Make You Think!

Podcasts rock!  I’ve stopped listening to NPR and even music when I drive. Instead, I’m enjoying and learning from podcasts.

If you haven’t explored the world of podcasts, you are missing out. You can find just about anything!

The bad news for beginners: you can find just about anything. :-((  There are so VERY many podcasts, with lots of clutter and noise, so let’s start you off right!.

Three podcasts in particular continue to change how I think about and perceive my world:

timferrissshowart-500x500The Tim Ferriss Show

On his podcast, author and entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, “deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.  This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more..”  His guests are amazing and DIVERSE. Actors, Athletes, Artists, Doctors, HIGHLY successful entrepreneurs, soldiers, writers and researchers. I’ve gone back to listen to MOST of over 100 shows.

Josh Waitzkin – A Chess Prodigy on Mastering Martial Arts, Chess and Life

Josh was the basis for the book and movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer. In the process of life as a chess prodigy, world champion in Tai Chi Push Hands, he has perfected learning strategies that can be applied to anything. Author of the incredible book, The Art of Learning, Josh now spends his time coaching the world’s top performers, whether Mark Messier, Cal Ripken Jr., or elite hedge fund managers. Josh also appeared on Episode #2, but this is the place to start…

tony-robbinsTony Robbins – Several Episodes!

I’ve not been a huge fan of Tony Robbins in the past, yet I really enjoyed all of these episodes:

cal-fussmanCal Fussman – Master Interviewer, Writer and Storyteller.

Oh, the stories! Cal is a New York Times bestselling author and a writer-at-large for Esquire magazine, where he is best known for being a primary writer of the “What I Learned” feature. The Austin Chronicle has described Cal’s interviewing skills as “peerless.” He has transformed oral history into an art form, conducting probing interviews with the icons who’ve shaped the last 50 years of world history: Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Robert DeNiro, Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Dr. Dre, Quincy Jones, Woody Allen, Barbara Walters, Pelé, Yao Ming, Serena Williams, John Wooden, Muhammad Ali, and countless others.

revisionist-history-gladwellRevisionist History with Malcom Gladwell

Malcom Gladwell, a brilliant storyteller “reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. Again, my favorite three, each a must-hear:

  • The Lady Vanishes
  • Generous Orthodoxy
  • The Blame Game – I hope it helps us reflect on how much the news media distorts information, and sadly, how quickly we believe them. We simply take what they say as truth, when it can be far, far from it.

abundancebookcoverExponential Wisdom with Peter Diamandis and Dan Sullivan

I found this podcast after our work with (and subsequent certification in) the Exponential Organizations Masterclass. The podcast holds “Insights from Dan Sullivan and Peter Diamandis on the Human-Technology Relationship”.  This is a fascinating conceptual playground, as the speed of change is outpacing our ability to govern, learn and understand the impact on our future world. Diamandis’ fundamental premise is that we are entering a time of abundance, globally, thanks to technological advances, with evidence that counters the media’s negative, sensationalist biases.

Diamandis and Sullivan offer a deeper understanding of topics such as Brexit, Artificial Intelligence, longevity, healthcare, education… each one fascinating! Go back to the earlier podcasts – even episode one – for the best flow.

I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the podcasts in these series.   Hope you enjoy!

– Ann Ralston,
  © 2016 Ralston Consulting Inc.

Join us for our next Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop in Columbus, OH.

To learn more and register your team, go to http://scalingup.cvent.com/columbusoh or contact Ann Ralston, events@ralstonconsulting.com or 614-561-5273.

more articles…

Friday, September 23rd, 2016 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Personal Mastery Comments Off on Three Brilliant Podcast Series to Make You Think!

Learn Even Faster From Podcasts – Overcast.fm app

overcast-itunes-logoxparentOvercast.fm is a podcast app for iPhone and iPad that saves me more time than any other player I have used, without sacrificing comprehension, and perhaps improving it!

By now, most everyone knows you can save time by speeding up playback of audiobooks and podcasts, and even web videos (see below). But after a point, increasing playback speed reduces comprehension. I can easily listen to 1.25x playback speed, and even up to 1.5x, but I start to fatigue beyond that as the words and phrases get too compressed.

The ‘Smart Speed’ effect analyzes the podcast and intelligently removes silence between spoken words and phrases.With the playback set to 1.5x, effective playback speed increased to 1.8x, 2.1x or faster depending on the material, and I experience much less fatigue. The result is more intelligible speech in less playback time. A win-WIN!

The Overcast app is also a great podcast manager. Subscribing to podcasts has been seamless. Automatic downloading just works. If you sign up for an optional online account, Overcast.fm synchronizes your record of what you have listened to across your iOS devices and even offers a simple web-based podcast player.

BONUS TIP: If you have a spoken-word mp3 file you want to listen to faster, you can upload up to 2 GB of files it at https://overcast.fm/uploads .

Overcast.fm. Get it. Learn faster. Have more time to put it all into practice.

videospeedcontrollerscreenTip: Accelerate HTML5 Video Playback

Video Speed Controller is our new preference for watching HTML5 video on Chrome on our desktop computer. It is particularly useful in speeding up videos from our executive education partner, the Gazelles Growth Institute.

– Gary Ralston
© 2016 Ralston Consulting Inc.

more articles…

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Personal Mastery, Technology Comments Off on Learn Even Faster From Podcasts – Overcast.fm app

Flu Pandemic or Not – Time for your Business Continuity and Sustainability Plan!


When the WHO global alert level for swine flu hit phase 5 (imminent) in April ’09, some well-prepared business leaders were moving swiftly to enact existing plans to ensure they could continue to do business even if their employees and customers faced restrictions on travel (including commuting) and gathering in-person. Thankfully, a  full-blown pandemic did not materialize in the weeks after, but it still begs the question: Do you have a business continuity strategy?

A flu pandemic is only one of the ways your sales, production and distribution activities could be disrupted. Increasingly, weather extremes (with accompanying fires, floods, ice and snow) and unreliable power grids are making themselves felt. Last September, almost no one in the Midwest was prepared for the fallout of Hurricane Ike, the third most destructive to make landfall in the United States. In Ohio, alone, 1.8 million customers were without power – some for more than a week. In his excellent book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman explores, among other things, the increase in severe or unusual environmental activity we are living with. From that point of view, Global Warming is more aptly described as Global Weirding, and leaders should take heed that their past experience with weather trends may no longer prepare their business for what lies ahead.

Interestingly, when teams explore strategies around new models of sustainability for a business, they can sound much like the business continuity group planning down the hall. Options for conservation, telecommuting, distributed generation (generate power where it is needed, thus reducing transmission losses), solar heating and passive cooling, and reuse of “waste” streams as “feed” streams for other processes – all can help an organization be more resilient to disruption in infrastructure.

Strategies for business continuity vary by industry. A manufacturer – especially with only one production location –  faces a far less portable business than a knowledge firm. The manufacturer’s continuity strategy might, for instance, revolve around prevention of damage (i.e. from wind, fire or flood), combined with plans for distributed power generating capacity, letting them survive for some time off the grid. That said, most companies have a more portable “white-collar” or knowledge function, and it is here we will focus for the rest of this article.

Just recently, we were delighted (a bit amazed, really) to encounter a small knowledge business with a truly effective continuity plan. In a nearby community, a fire broke out and destroyed a good portion of a city block of retail and mixed use buildings. Sadly, the local retailers were hit the hardest, with insurance coverage their only hope. But while most tenants were sifting through the rubble, this one firm was actually attending meetings and getting on with business, thanks to mirrored offsite infrastructure and home offices. We reached out to offer help and alternate operating space, and were amazed that they were inconvenienced, but not at all desperate. Such foresight and planning is all too rare.

Business leaders who haven’t recently reviewed the cost of offsite backup for their knowledge and communication functions will be pleasantly surprised. A client in the “knowledge work” business recently compared the price of a 20-person state-of-the-art virtual office with the cost of a conventional “bunch of servers in a closet at headquarters, with a geek to run them” setup. The virtual office design relied on hosted servers and VOIP phone service, meaning that headquarters had only Internet service (with backup service), and each user had a laptop and VOIP phone on their desk. Everything else, including the phone system, was somewhere else in a datacenter – a datacenter with the resources for a truly robust continuity plan. Should anything happen to HQ – extended power outage, fire, flood or plague – the workers simply route their extensions to cellphones, pop their laptops up at home, or on a wireless card, and keep on producing.

Startup and running costs per year, including utilities, A/C, space savings and rent reduction, and technical support for this small operation were calculated to be tens of thousands of dollars per year less than their existing costs. What opportunities exist for savings in an operation of your scale?

For leaders and executives who have not already arranged for their knowledge workforce to work remotely, we have an article on Remote Collaboration from a Home Office (also good for Road Warriors). We’ve freshly reviewed and updated it. Also, ask your IT department about accessing your work computer remotely and securely via programs and services such as Virtual Private Networking (VPN), Microsoft Terminal Services, Remote Desktop Connection, Citrix Services, LogMeIn or GoToMyPC. Mac users are not shut out, either. Often, a Mac can control a PC just fine. If you happen to have a Mac at work, Google: “access your Mac remotely” for plenty of options, or try LogMeIn for Mac. Standard access is free.

Business continuity planning, as important as it is when disaster strikes, is neglected when it is not aligned with the overall business strategy. The forces of disruption are on the rise, the cost to implement a business continuity plan is falling, and the synergy with sustainability efforts is growing. Review and revise (or create!) your plan to protect your customers, your employees, your community and your profits!

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Technology Comments Off on Flu Pandemic or Not – Time for your Business Continuity and Sustainability Plan!

WSJ bestseller – The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

4hourworkweekcover2Love it or hate it, this book is bound to offer new views on cherished assumptions.

And boy, does author, Tim Ferriss have the power to polarize opinion. This controversial Princeton University guest lecturer has written what I consider to be an innovative antidote to a problem for our clients and their colleagues – trapping themselves into working for the sake of work. Right from the start, I would recommend you separate your opinion about Tim and his choices, style and values from the ideas and tools presented.

But read it you should. There is a good chance that your top performers, road warriors, independent thinkers and millennials (those born roughly from 1981-2000) have at least heard of Lifestyle Design. His premise is simple: working long hours for many years, deferring the activities of retirement until we are too old to participate in them (and possibly, can’t even afford them) is a broken model. As an alternative, he presents the concept and practice of Lifestyle Design – separating earning power from activities, incorporating mini-retirements throughout life, and re-focusing new-found free time on learning and service as a worthy pursuit.

I think this last point is important to highlight. Were I Tim, trying to reach the likes of Ann and me, I would have mentioned sooner that it’s not all about globe-trotting sybaritic pleasures. Many, if not most of the experienced Lifestyle Designers interviewed in the research discovered that they faced the challenge previously connected to retirees: When your income is no longer dependent upon your activity, you’ve given yourself a long holiday (or three) and you don’t care if you ever photograph another wild gazelle, then what do you do? Fortunately, there is a chapter on filling the void and inventing your next purpose.

For some entrepreneurs, especially, this book will shine a light on the common pattern of leaders who weave themselves indispensably into their business model – becoming a growth bottleneck, a key-person risk and a prisoner all at once. Similar to Gerber’s “The e-Myth, Revisited“, Ferriss offers leaders ways to disentangle from their processes – to move from self-employment to owning a business system.

Available in book and other formats, I recommend The 4-hour Workweek to anyone who must manage or collaborate with Lifestyle Designers, or aspires to become one. See you at the beach!

©2008 Gary Ralston all rights reserved.

Download a brief audio presentation by Tim Ferriss here.

Monday, May 19th, 2008 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page Comments Off on WSJ bestseller – The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

GeekNotes: Business Learning, iPods and the Spoken Word

promo_whichipod_img20070905Today, a colleague of mine wrote to ask about making the best business use of his new iPod. It’s a great question, and applies equally to people who have purchased the iPhone, or any other portable media player. While this article is aimed at personal use by the busy executive, consider that many corporations and universities are using iPods to deliver training and communications with great success.

Ann and I have purchased over 200 audiobooks since 2003, a mix of business, non-fiction, fiction and instructional material. I have also tried a variety of podcasts and instructional videos, and have experimented with recording meetings with iPod microphone accessories. Beyond work, our entire family is into audiobooks. We have – no lie – SAVED summer holidays with the right selection of family-friendly audiobooks to while away the highway miles.

Ease of use and balance of features are keys to the iPod’s market success. We use iTunes to sync our library of media to our iPods. This setup is simple, elegant, and available on both our Mac and Windows computers. If you have another brand of media player, or are using Windows Media Player, the concepts should still apply.

Here are a few thoughts:

iPods are great for multitasking, but audiobooks, podcasts, and video all take more focus.

We listen to audiobooks when we can control interruptions for 15 or more minutes at a time. It’s easy to pause music, or even pop out the earbuds without a worry about your “place”. Not so with audiobooks. You don’t want to lose your place, or miss anything, so interruptions are awkward as you try to be polite while pulling out of the universe of the book and fumbling for the pause button. So we save the audiobooks for exercising, mowing the lawn, in-flight, walking the dog, or our regular three-hour drives to Indianapolis to visit family.

Video on my little iPod Nano is surprisingly sharp, but it requires my full, seated attention. I have instructional videos loaded, but don’t often have the occasion to watch them. If you fly much, or your commute involves public transit, video blogs may work better for you.

There is no shortage of material – but the narrator and the writing can make or break the experience.

If you are reading Harry Potter novels, you know J. K. Rowling, but if you are listening to books you come to know and love the voicings of narrator, Jim Dale. While I love and recommend the writings of business consultant, Ram Charan, I fatigue when he narrates his own material. Some books come alive in your hands – Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” comes to mind – but flop when read aloud. Ann had to stop listening to a lovely book narrated by actor, Brendan Fraser, because she couldn’t reconcile the book’s content with her images of Fraser’s cartoonish Tarzan character from Disney’s “George of the Jungle”!

Almost all audio storefronts let you listen to a sample from the audio production. Make sure you can handle the narrator’s voice for 5 to 20 hours.

Watch out for abridged versions.

Audiobooks come in Unabridged and Abridged versions. Ann and I almost ALWAYS get unabridged versions of fiction. I accidentally bought and listened to an abridged version of “The DaVinci Code”, by Dan Brown – spoiled it for me. With his next book, I was extra-careful to select, “Angels and Demons (unabridged)”. Abridged versions of business books are usually okay.

iPods since the ‘mini’ can play Audiobooks faster or slower than normal.

Why would you change the speed?

  • FASTER (For flying through business books – they CAN be dry, yes?),
  • NORMAL (for fiction and listening to the incredible narrators,) and
  • SLOWER (for note-taking or language study, I guess – I’ve never had occasion to use it).

The neat trick is that this doesn’t drive the voice pitch up to ‘chipmonk’ (Sorry, Alvin!) To set audiobook play speed on an iPod, choose Settings > Audiobooks and choose a speed. Setting the play speed affects audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Store or audible.com, or files converted to .aa or .m4b formats.

There are LIFETIMES of audiobook, podcast and spoken word media available.

Our favorite sources:

  • audibledotcomAudiobooks: we subscribe to Audible.com. The iTunes Music Store also carries the Audible.com inventory, and has a few exclusives, but an Audible.com subscription is much more affordable.
  • podcasts_icon20070905Podcasts: including free content, we use the iTunes Music Store. Great podcasts include David Maister’s business master class; CBC Radio 3 – new Canadian artists, eh?; BBC, PRI, PBS and NPR productions; Newspaper and newsmagazine blogs, including WSJ, NYT, WIRED, Globe & Mail…
  • i_in_sessionInstructional Media and Lectures: Apple collaborates with universities to present “iTunes U“. Much of the content is free, and the calibre of the lecturers is, well, genius.

iPods can be high quality RECORDING devices, too.

iLoungeNeed an audio recording of a presentation or meeting? There are a host of microphone accessories that turn your iPod and iPhone into a stereo digital recorder. Read all about it at iLounge.com.

These are simply starting points. Go to your favorite websites and publications and poke around for podcasts you can subscribe to, directly, or through other storefronts. And while there’s plenty good for your business brain here, treat yourself to some of the amazing best selling fiction and incredible narration available, in every genre, both at the iTunes Music Store and Audible.com. Happy multitasking!

Monday, May 5th, 2008 Article Archive, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Technology Comments Off on GeekNotes: Business Learning, iPods and the Spoken Word

GeekNotes: Remote Collaboration from a Home Office

TinCanMenToday, a colleague in private practice asked a very timely question about collaborating from a home office:

My partner and I are looking at expanding our telephone coaching practice and would like to find some screen sharing and collaboration tools…. What are you using these days to coach / consult at a distance?

More and more, our globe-spanning customers need to collaborate from a residence or on the road. They do so to be more productive, to support balance between life and work, to access new markets, and to reduce the number of climate-heating airline flights they are responsible for. While collaboration tools have advanced and become more reliable, some of the basic services – voice, cellphone and Internet connections – are not. Further, today’s executives face many of these IT challenges on their own.

This summer we have conducted remote meetings with clients and colleagues who were participating from their offices and homes in Colombia, Brazil, Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, Switzerland, Canada and the US. We have hosted meetings from our own home office, in hotels, airport lounges and coffee shops, and on occasion, stuck in a rental car. In almost all cases, at least one attendee was relying on residential-grade broadband, Voice over IP (VoIP) or “found” WIFI access, and a few key tools.

If you plan to RELY on remote collaboration, it will take a bit more than the typical home network, but it can be done. Here are some observations about what works for us, in our home office or on the road, when conducting remote business meetings:

Make sure your voice connection is bombproof (or have a plan B)

VoIP. Cellular Phones. Skype. Compared to the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS lines), the new tools of voice communication can be, well, moody. Yes, you can save a bundle. Yes, you have many more features. Yes, you can make phone calls from far-off places. No, you cannot count on them. So what do you do?

  • Use a high-quality telephone conference bridge. If all your other technology fails, as long as the dial-in voice bridge is up, and you circulated documents ahead of time, the meeting will continue.The gold standard is still conference service supplied by a major wireline carrier such as AT&T in the US. Volume levels are balanced between callers, voices are clear and free of echo, lag is low and reliability is high. That said, competing services are getting really good. We use the dial-in bridge built into our Zoom.us account, and it works well.
  • Look for an unlimited monthly plan, with optional per-minute fees for toll-free callers. Don’t over- or under-pay, and see if you can find one that complements your screen-sharing meeting application. Dedicated conference bridges, with live operators and per-minute, per-caller charges for access are very reliable, but in my opinion, overpriced – especially for their toll-free options. Now that almost all business users have mobile phones and near-unlimited long distance calling plans in their region, toll-free numbers are of most use to the traveler dialing from a hotel phone.
  • Free bridges make you pay. On the other end of the spectrum, there are now many free conference bridges (ie. freeconferencecall.com) that are unreliable in my experience. Meaning no disrespect, I have never had an incident-free meeting with them.

Consider TWO broadband connections at home – NOT overkill

Our home town, Columbus, Ohio, was an early market for Time Warner’s broadband over Cable. As a result, we saw how a cable system ages in a neighborhood, and it isn’t pretty. In fact, over the past 10 years, we’ve seen both Cable and DSL broadband suffer significant disruptions. In 2007, for instance, our business-class cable service was unreliable for 6 months. It was JUST fixed, when our DSL line quit for a week. So there are two reasons to have BOTH a Cable and an alternate connection in your house:

  1. When (not if) one service goes down, you can switch to the other.
  2. Video, screen-sharing and file downloads can interfere with Voice over IP (VoIP) – and remember, we need a bombproof voice connection.

Your alternatives are increasing, and in the U.S. include DSL, Fiber-Optic, and Cellular Router. Satellite connections are not the best for voice connections because of the lag.

  • Ensure VOIP has priority over other kinds of internet traffic. We use VoIP.ms service because it sounds good, and has great long-distance plans. We make sure our network router knows that VOIP traffic has the highest priority in and out of our network.
    • Tip: Let the VoIP adapter control your bandwidth. If you use a VoIP adapter, look for instructions to hook the VoIP adapter up  BEFORE your home router, like this:
      [Cable or DSL Modem] <–> [VoIP Adapter] <– >[Router] <–> [Computers]
  • Competing for bandwidth. If you have teens or power users, you have yet another reason for a separate internet connection: Video downloads and bit torrents. Download a whole season of a show at once – a 2 to 5 Gigabyte package – and you trash your remote meeting in the process. (Remember when kids just wanted a car? Now they need their own cable modem! Sigh.)

If you are the outsider, use the tools the client uses

Since we are the “outsiders” in our clients’ worlds, we must use what they do. That means I can be contacted through (big breath):  AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Google, Skype, SMS, ICQ, Jabber, E-Mail, Facebook, Linked-In, Myspace, Cellular Phone, Telephone and Fax, and work with you using PPTP, IPSEC and Cisco VPN, Polycom, Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Acrobat Connect, GatherPlace, Xerox Docushare, eRooms, Basecamp, several flavors of Microsoft’s collaboration tools (they really should stop re-branding the stuff!)  and some more I can’t recall just at the moment.

This is a drag. Someone, hurry up and unify this stuff so we all can use whatever client we wish and not have to know (or pay for!) all these nearly-almost-but-not-quite-the-same services designed to lock us in.

The reality is that established corporations have policies about what they will and will not allow on their networks. They also choose by the reliability of the products, and these days, that means the service provider has invested intensively in a global network of servers in the hope that all participants get uninterrupted connection.

  • My top enterprise-grade screen-sharing and presentation choices: Zoom.us (my absolute first choice), WebEx (now owned by Cisco Systems) or GoToMeeting (from Citrix.com).
  • I can’t recommend Adobe Acrobat Connect. Some may love it, but for me, it has frustrated and disappointed too often.

If you are the host, use what is compatible with your client’s platform – and screen size!

Being a good host means making your participants change as little about their computing environment as possible. Macs are now experiencing double-digit market growth, and are making ground in corporations. Linux is much more uncommon as a desktop, but it is out there. Many people are reviewing your presentation on their smartphones… Bottom line: If any of your customers use another platform, then choose a solution that works for them, too.

  • Know your roles. Each application may have a slightly different label, but the roles are:
    • Host – you set up the meeting;
    • Presenter – you display your screen;
    • Participant – you view a Presenter’s screen.
  • Not everyone needs to host or present. Many tools allow you to pass the role of presenter around, but NOT for all platforms. If your customers will ONLY watch YOUR screen, it is enough that the solution offers them a “Participant” – often a simple Java client in a web browser.That said, when Ann and I collaborate with clients, we often reverse roles and have them work on their own files while we observe their screen. For our practice, we insist the solutions we use include cross-platform Presenter as an option.
  • CinemaDisplay3sizesTip: Be aware of your screen size when presenting. That new 2560 x x1600 monitor looks drop-dead gorgeous on your desk, but when you go to present that report with Zoom, you run into a problem: Your participants (those with smaller monitors) might only see the top-left corner of the document, or get seasick scrolling around to see the whole of the presentation. And remember that guy on the iPhone? Screen-sharing software has a ‘fit-to-window’ function, but it might be better for you to reduce your monitor’s resolution for a more consistent experience. (Photo Credit – Apple, Inc.)
  • Tip: Watch your own presentation. At times, Ann and I will connect to our own meeting with a second computer or via our iPhone / iPad just so we can have immediate feedback about our participant’s experience, and catch a stalled session before the participants even have a chance to notice.

Mix and Match for your needs and your budget

  • “Free” just might work for you. Zoom.us offers free meetings up to 40 minutes in length with no monthly fee. Google Hangouts is free, if your team is in the Google ecosystem.
  • If you will need to conduct more than one meeting at the same time, you need enough paid host accounts. Ann and I each have host accounts under our corporate Zoom subscription.
  • If your clients are connecting from a country with more tightly-controlled internet, such as China, check regularly if your solution still works.
  • At this writing, 2017-08-23, I am pretty much sold on zoom.us for the best rates, great features, ease of use and reliability.

Audio: How you sound is even MORE important in a remote meeting

Radio personalities and podcasters count upon the right microphone and studio environment to create a more intimate, right-there experience for the listener. Indie film producers also know that great audio can make weak video ‘look’ better. With a little care, you can increase both clarity and impact of what you say in remote meetings.

  • Record yourself. Few go to the trouble of recording how they sound on their cellphone, bluetooth headset or computer microphone. At the very least, call and leave a voicemail on your own office system (not a cellphone).
  • Get a decent phone. Some 2.4 GHz cordless phones interfere with your WIFI connection (try 5.8 GHz or DECT 6.0 models). Some phones interact poorly with VoIP and cheap conference bridges and trash your voice. Some phones just sound bad. We use Uniden cordless phones at present, and like them.
  • Get a headset with a noise-canceling microphone. Plantronics, HelloDirect, Sennheiser and Logitech all make decent noise-canceling headsets for any common device or phone.
  • Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones usually suck. If you are NOT in the main conference room or a properly-equipped “huddle room”, avoid speakerphones if at all possible. If you must, Jabra makes decent portable speakerphones for your computer. Bluetooth headsets are a work in progress. Ann has gone through many supposedly top-of-the-line Bluetooth devices, and the ONLY one that has stood the test of time is the new Apple Beats X, working with her iPhone and MacBook Pro. See also Zoom hardware recommendations.
  • Just say no to background noise. Background noise is a double-whammy – you sound bad in the meeting, and you end up SHOUTING WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Stuck in a noisy location? Use the MUTE button on your phone to give relief to the other participants until you need to speak (from the background noise, that is!). If it is comfortable enough, consider sitting in your parked car – a virtual sound booth on wheels!
  • Get your nose out of the mic! Okay, everyone knows what I’m talking about – the rumbling downdraft we hear when you exhale through your nose or mouth onto your microphone. Position your mic at the corner of your mouth, out of the ‘wind’!

Video: I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille…

I like video in my remote meetings. I think it adds an important element of presence, and a dimension of communication that minimizes misunderstanding. However, it can make things MUCH more complex.

  • Start small. If you plan to experiment with video,Zoom.us is free for the first 40 minutes. Skype video is very good, easy, and free, as is Google Hangouts. Apple has built FaceTime into every iPhone 4 for video chat over WiFi. Logitech provides decent external webcams. Pay a little more for their high-end models to get better optics. All recent Apple computers and iOS devices have excellent webcams built in. Most of the instant messaging services offer video, but they can be a pain to configure.
  • Set the stage. Most workspaces are designed to light your work, and not you, so out of the box, most people look ghastly, if the face can be seen at all. (Think: videos of informants on a current events expose…) A professional who chooses to use video often should really re-think their office, furniture, lighting, wardrobe and background so they can send a presentable image. A doorway or a window in the camera’s line of sight can alternatively distract and blow out the image. New video software offers the option to put in virtual backdrops, but again, this requires even more control of lighting and camera vibration. Or, you can get a pop-up backdrop, as seen here. For an EXCELLENT, accessible introduction to making your cheapo-webcam look great, visit this article at Strobist. (Photo Credit: David – strobist.blogspot.com)
  • Use a Telepresence Robot! Double Robotics offers an amazing, mobile option that lets you operate a robot at a ‘client’ site, from your home.

Bringing it all home

So yes, it is possible to achieve great remote collaboration on a budget, but it requires a whole new suite of products, services, choices, skills and sensitivities. Start with the premise of a bombproof voice connection and reliable telephone bridge. Add redundant Internet service, then select a remote collaboration tool compatible with your colleague’s environment, and with a reputation for reliability. Tune up your audio quality, and add properly-lit video when all else is solid.

When it all comes together, we’ll be more productive, form better remote relationships, and hopefully do it with fewer carbon-spewing airline flights! See you online…

Updated extensively 2017-08-24 – GKR

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007 Article Archive, Business Advisors, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement, Technology Comments Off on GeekNotes: Remote Collaboration from a Home Office

Taking Strategic Daily Action

BinocularSaltFlatsJoe, the executive, (not his real name) confided in me: “A year since I started, and I’ve been assimilated. I’m now part of the problem I was hired to solve.”

His plight – dealing with an almost overwhelming amount of operational detail, while trying at the same time to effect strategic change – is not unique. Even when executives know they need to keep their eye on the business goals one to three years out, they struggle to connect their priorities this quarter, this month, this week, and today, to the long-term goal.

Once we have helped the organization develop a sound business strategy and goal, our role changes to one of implementation coach. Now, Joe, an experienced executive, really does know what to do. Our role as a a thought partner is to help interrupt the immediate demands on him. We instituted a brief  Shape of the Week meeting every Friday.  Conducted using Skype video and screen-sharing, the goal of the meeting is to help Joe review and sequence the key priorities to act upon in the upcoming week to best build momentum toward the three-year business goal.

Example topics of discussion:

  • Capacity for Accelerated Growth – of the people you need to bring on board in order to fuel growth, in what sequence should you hire to both produce cashflow, this quarter, and momentum, long-term? Are you hiring builders and not maintainers where your strategy calls for new growth or significant change? (see our post Oct 29, 2004 for more…)
  • Management Capacity – What changes in your managers will increase their capacity to manage, and thus, give you more capacity? How effectively do they mentor to grow productivity in their own people?
  • Critical Decisions – What decisions about the next quarter and the next year need to be made, now, so that they do not become crises when the moment of action arrives? (With Digital Decision-Making, effective decisions can be made well in advance of the point of action.)
  • Emerging Market Trends and Discontinuities – What is your future scan turning up? What is your Plan ‘B’ for trends and potential disrupts to either your industry or your business model?
  • Culling for Growth – If your strategy calls for a change in the future, what should you stop doing? Why? When? How?

My broad recommendation for leaders and executives is to create your own planning discipline – a breathing space, a thought partner, a walk in the park – for getting above the daily demands and making the upcoming week count in the journey to your strategic goal.

Friday, October 19th, 2007 Article Archive, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Taking Strategic Daily Action

The Managerial Moment of Truth

New course in improving organizational performance is missing link for business leaders and managers

Our capacity to have truthful, effective discussions at all levels defines our organization to our employees, suppliers and customers. The capacity for honest, direct conversation fuels our success, and when it is in short supply, can lead to erroneous decisions, diminished performance, strained relations and missed objectives.

Every day in our practice, we see business leaders and their managers tested with opportunities, large and small, for direct conversations to improve performance. Too often, they falter – it is just too difficult, and too risky, to say what they need to. From departments of huge multinational firms, to partners of the smallest startups, managers are (and need to be) asking: Is there an easier, better way to talk candidly about the stuff that is critical to our success?

MMOTCover150x219This crucial question is at the heart of a course developed first for Blue Shield of California, called: The Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT). Created by organizational consultant and bestselling author, Robert Fritz, and proven in practice by Bruce Bodaken, CEO at Blue Shield, the course is now available to the public. Ann and I have been very fortunate – we were introduced, during program development, almost a year ago, to the principles found in the course and were the first to present the new training. Here’s an inside look at what we are finding.

For the manager, A Managerial Moment of Truth (MMOT for short) begins with two parts: Recognition and Decision.

  1. It starts the moment we realize that the result is not what we expected. The outcome can be worse than expected, or much better than expected, but there is clearly a difference that matters.
  2. It continues with the very next decision we make: Do we, as manager or leader, decide to open up a discussion to address the discrepancy, or do we turn away from a priceless opportunity to strengthen our organization?

About that “priceless” opportunity – if we can address the difference, change behaviors and learn from the situation, we increase productivity and move closer to the results we, and the organization, want. But since managers often turn away from these opportunities at step 2, we must ask the next question: Why?

Frequently, as managers we don’t bring up the issue when it first arises because we don’t want to stir up emotional conflict – will giving accurate feedback regarding performance hurt the employee’s feelings? Will it (further) demotivate the employee? Will they react badly, leading to increased conflict or retaliation? Few managers seek out conflict, so the path of least resistance is to put the discussion off.

Another common reason we don’t promptly move to discuss such situations is that we speculate. In the training, Fritz brings up an excellent point to consider:

“When you think you know the answer to something, do you ask a question?

As human beings we create theories to explain the unknown. A better approach is to really ask questions about what we don’t know. When we speculate, we think we know what we actually don’t know.”

Whatever the exact reasons, the outcome is the same: a person or group misses the information and feedback they need to improve performance – they can’t change what they don’t know about.

The Managerial Moment of Truth course presents a real alternative for leaders and managers. Helena Hörnebrant, an organizational consultant at Sigma Exallon Sweden, reported the following results from her course participants:

“Two of the top managers said ‘Finally I’ve got tools for my everyday situations. All other management methods just tell you to deal with issues immediately but not how – but the MMOT method really gives me tools to act and help in situations which I normally don’t know how to handle’.”

Our own clients really like the MMOT. As Ann observed:

“It gives them a way to think about and structure a successful conversation about difficult stuff – invaluable for successful implementation. We have seen people starting to use the MMOT very quickly and in crisis situations, picking it up, working with it. We conducted the first Managerial Moment of Truth 6-hour course over two days. Two of our participants, after the first day, leapt in and actually handled a tough MMOT with a problem employee.”

Another client took the opportunity the day after the course to dig into why their management meetings were so very unproductive. They used the techniques from the course, including analysis of design and execution issues. The three managers sent each other e-mails documenting their learning and action plans. The following meeting was significantly better. All participants were well prepared. The team stayed away from off-topic discussion and unnecessary detail. Instead of blaming, individuals took accountability for their results – both good and bad.

There is a real complement between doing a business strategy and participating in the Managerial Moment of Truth training. After an MMOT program, our managers and leaders are more likely to succeed in implementing the changes required by the business strategy. They have the tools with which to study reality, to diagnose problems, and to frame, discuss and implement lasting solutions. The MMOT course helps the business strategies succeed as never before.

Fritz and Bodaken’s excellent book, The Managerial Moment of Truth (Free Press), comes with the training materials. The book, itself, was rated by BusinessWeek as among the “Best Business Books of 2006”. It is available in hardcover and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and all major booksellers, as well as in eBook (pdf) at simonsays.com.

Please contact Ann or Gary Ralston to learn more about the course, and to see if it is right for your management team.

About the Authors: Ann and Gary Ralston founded Ralston Consulting Inc. in 1997 to help business owners and leaders accelerate profitable growth in their organizations. They serve emerging and middle market companies across North America, from divisions of Fortune 500 firms to start-ups and family-owned businesses. They can be reached at info@ralstonconsulting.com, 614-761-1841, or www.ralstonconsulting.com.

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 Article Archive, Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on The Managerial Moment of Truth

Apple iPhone disrupts yet another product category…

applereinventsphoneSteve Jobs, one of the great showmen of our time, has done it again. Following on the heels of the Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iTunes and OS X, Jobs demoed the new iPhone at the keynote presentation for MacWorld Expo San Francisco.

Meanwhile, nearly 2500 miles away, in Columbus, Ohio, a group of geeks young and ol… uh, seasoned, were hungrily pushing the refresh button on their browser to get the latest word from Ryan Block, a reporter from Engadget.com covering the closed keynote and posting transcripts and photos to the website in near real time, thanks to the wonders of wireless. (Does anyone remember the press corps running to the phone booth after an announcement to file their breaking news???) Between the four of us, we have owned countless phones from Motorola carphones and handhelds of the 80’s to the latest Treo and Razr and Q, and used almost every cellular service in the region. Any cellular company would be privileged to have us as a focus group.

And we were in awe of what we saw.

yourlifeinyourpocketApple has not taken an incremental approach to improving the cellphone. Instead, as they so often have, they have rewritten the rules of interaction with the device in ways that seem so patently obvious and intuitive that it makes you think: ‘That’s how it should have been done from the start!’ This phone is ALL touchscreen. No stylus. One button on the front. Use one or more fingers at a time to operate it. Beautiful scrolling. Turn it sideways and it automatically goes into widescreen mode. Simple. Except here is Apple, clearly thinking so far ahead of the pack, and already to market – shipping in June from Cingular / AT&T. Explore Apple’s new iPhone, here. See the full presentation, here.

One anonymous quote we saw on the blogs: “Today, it would suck to be any other cellphone manufacturer.” We would agree.

If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs in action, watch Apple’s previously-recorded Keynote presentation, here. Oh – one more thing: they also released a box that plays your digital content on your TV. And changed their name from Apple Computer to Apple, Inc. And had Yahoo and Google onstage at the same event. And ended the presentation with a mini concert from John Mayer. Busy bees…

Now here’s the big business strategy question coming out of Apple’s example: Does your organization see itself as an innovator? Is it putting up the resources and doing the head-hurting thinking, planning and execution required to redefine your product category? If not, what will it REALLY take to rewrite your organization’s destiny?

Photos appropriated, with appreciation, from Engadget.com.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007 Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Marketing, Technology Comments Off on Apple iPhone disrupts yet another product category…

Innovation – The Toyota Way

ElegantSolutions317x2One million ideas a year. A culture of innovation. An intrinsic belief that good enough never is. Matthew May, a longtime Toyota business partner, shows you how Toyota’s principles and practices will help you engage your creative spirit and bring elegant solutions to your work and life.

This fast-reading article is based upon the book: The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation, by Matthew E. May and Kevin Roberts.

Yet another gem from ChangeThis.com – download here.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 Book and Media Reviews, Business Insights, Executive Productivity, Main Page, Process Improvement Comments Off on Innovation – The Toyota Way

Contact Us Today

Let’s talk! – more options, here…


T 614-761-1841 ext 2
Schedule a Meeting

Call me! - Ann Ralston


T 614-761-1841 ext 3
Schedule a Meeting

Call me! - Gary Ralston

Page Info

Current Page URL: http://ralstonconsulting.com/category/executive-productivity/
Date: Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 - 11:38:34am

Copyright © 2013 Ralston Consulting Inc.
Web site designed by Fensons