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Discovering my life’s themes: it’s all about Alignment

September 7, 2009

I feel like I’ve uncovered the deepest vein of gold so far during this long weekend of instrospection and self-discovery and wanted to write about it while the discovery is fresh.

As background, I’ve spent the majority of the last few days studying and applying concepts in The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide, You Majored in What?, and Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0.  My motivation is to find meaningful connections between my vast array of academic, industry, and personal life experiences that will help me understand where to focus my career for maximum personal satisfaction and benefit to society (followed by learning to communicate this to potential employers effectively).  Before beginning this exercise, my unifying theme was something like, “I like applying new technology to help improve human life.”  Wreaking of vagueness, this statement needed an upgrade in order to differentiate myself.

What I discovered just minutes ago is that the underlying theme driving what I love to do and what I do well is creating alignment.  Why did I work like mad teaching myself Microsoft Access and creating a database that replaced the post-it-on-whiteboard process of collecting and sorting unmet clinical needs?  Why did I introduce Brightidea at my last job for soliciting and evaluating new business opportunities and innovations from our employees?  Why did I insist that my team record all their research results in Microsoft SharePoint—and then take the lead on creating the structure and process used that helped the team reach it’s conclusions and recommendations?  I observed that I’ve been using tools like this for my teams to work with for nearly a decade.  Only today was I able to distill the underlying motivation into a few words: I have an underlying passion for creating alignment in the world around me, and use my knowledge and skills to achieve this alignment.

My brain is actively making connections to so many other past accomplishments, activities, and experiences.   I’m going to predict that you, the reader, may not get the connections made above, even if you know me well.  That’s OK for now.  I’ll provide more examples as time allows (or as you ask for in the comments!).


The race for Web 2.0 mind mapping—no winner, yet

September 6, 2009

Those of you that have worked with me know I’m a die hard mind mapper—a mind map evangelist you might say.  For the past 6 years I’ve exclusively used MindJet MindManager in Windows XP.  Having moved to a Mac and because of my attempt at frugality, I no longer have MindManager at my fingertips.  Yesterday I went shopping for mind mapping tools and was pleased to see some good competition in this space.  After quick reviews of the top delicious bookmarks tagged with mind mapping tools, I narrowed it down to MindMeister and Mindomo.

MindMeister and Mindomo attracted me because:

  1. SaaS model: no software to install, available anywhere at anytime, platform independent, easy collaboration, continual improvement
  2. Low-cost entry: Free basic service and additional features for a small monthly fee
  3. MindManager friendly: maps can be imported and exported to/from MindManager

Each of these three tools has some work to do to get to the finish line, in my opinion.  Here are the key features I think each needs to add:

  • MindManager
    • Offer a free SaaS version: there are always people that will only start using a free version, especially given the other free choices available.  Get MindManager Web into their workflow and they will likely upgrade to the $120/yr version after realizing it’s superior to the others.
  • MindMeister
    • Allow orphan topics: sure, mind-mapping is all about relationships.  When populating a map for the first time sometimes it makes sense to do a mind dump that doesn’t require everything to be immediately related to the main topic.  It also helps for creating a separate topic for a legend, for example.  The lack of this feature alone turned me away.
  • Mindomo
    • Auto-save: every change made to the map must be saved on the server immediately.  With services like Google Docs, it’s what customers expect today.  This also prevents inadvertent loss of data if the browser crashes, which happened to me twice while using it yesterday.

These are just the top features I personally think each vendor needs to work on; this is not expected to be a comprehensive evaluation of mind mapping tools.

What’s your favorite mind mapping software?  Does it offer the features I describe above?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Elegant process for using visual thinking to solve any problem and sell any solution

September 2, 2009

Whether preparing a poster for an academic conference, presenting project plans to executives, or even designing this blog, I have always found joy in seeking out the simplest way to communicate a concept to my audience.  It may come as no surprise then, that I loved Dan Roam’s four napkin animations explaining the basics behind his book, The Back of a Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures.  I will definitely reference the visual guides he shares on his website next time I’m creating a presentation.  I’m also looking forward to reading Presentation Zen.

To see the napkin-style presentation in action, check out American Healthcare: A 4-Napkin Explanation.

What can a comedy theater teach us about innovation?

September 2, 2009

I heard John Sweeney give an enthusiastic and inspiring talk about innovation to the engineering and scientific audience at Medtronic a few years ago.  Included in his book was this handy card summarizing the innovation process and guidelines he used with his team at the Brave New Workshop. You’ll notice that the process and guidelines are quite similar to other processes you may have seen, such as those used at IDEO.  What can a comedy theater teach us about innovation?  My takeaway was that there are fundamental principles to the process of innovation that can be applied in any situation in which unanticipated, breakthrough, customer-thrilling outcomes are desired.


Want Bluetooth hearing aids that work? Hello Phonak!

September 1, 2009

Here’s a response I just posted to  Note that my comments only relate to Bluetooth functionality, which is clearly a lesser priority than performance of the hearing aid themselves.

I read this post last week while trying my first set of hearing aids with Bluetooth: the Oticon Epoq with the Streamer. I am also a techie and am highly confident in my ability to get something to work—if it’s designed correctly.

My frustrating experience with the Oticon Epoq’s included the following:

  • Poor outgoing audio quality on phone calls. Every caller complained.
  • Difficulty with reestablishing the music Bluetooth connection with my iPhone after disconnecting (for example, if I needed to talk with someone and wanted to stop the audio immediately). The most reliable (though not completely consistent) method required changing the audio source to Speaker and then changing it back to Streamer on the iPhone (3G with 3.0 OS).
  • Pressing the music button while listening to music behaved differently when the iPhone was locked. When locked, it did not pause the music player. While acceptable for music, it is very annoying to find where I left off when listening to news or an audio book.
  • No on/off switch on the Streamer. As a result, there was no way to stop the beeps in the hearing aids when the Streamer was low on battery. Ultimately, I had to move the Streamer out of range.
  • Unable to get a consistent connection with my MacBook Pro (OS X 10.5).

(I must’ve wasted 1-2 hours trying to get predictable and satisfactory behavior.)

I credit the quoted post above for influencing me to call my audiologist and ask to demo the Phonak Exélia with the iCom—and I’m so thankful!!!

  • Excellent outgoing audio quality on phone calls (as judged by the same callers)
  • Seamless integration with the iPod or other music players on the iPhone. What does this mean? Press iCom button once: player pauses and Bluetooth disconnects. Press button again: Bluetooth connects and play resumes. The connection/disconnection is very fast, and works even if the iPhone is locked.
  • Immediately connected to my MacBook Pro, with a perfect first test call through Skype.
  • As mentioned above, music plays in stereo!

My only complaint so far is that while the hearing aid volume can be adjusted when used with the phone, it cannot be adjusted when used with the music player. The volume is perfect for a quiet environment, but I suspect it will be inadequate for a noisy environment (such as on public transportation).

For full disclosure, one audiologist told me that between Oticon, Phonak, and Siemens, his patients seemed to be happiest with the Siemens Bluetooth functionality. Unfortunately that audiologist didn’t accept my insurance, and my current audiologist doesn’t carry Siemens. Fortunately I’m satisifed with the Phonak.

Oticon: Get some skilled Bluetooth engineers to design your next product (or at least test it with the iPhone).
Phonak: Thanks for getting it right and keeping it simple!


I feel like the music sounds better with you

August 31, 2009

Welcome to my first blog post.  One of the reasons I decided to start this blog was to express my passion for improving life through technology.  The seminal event from which this passion sprouted occurred many years ago when a medical technology dramatically improved my own life.  This experience deserves a blog entry of its own.  Today I wanted to write about a recent improvement in the way I experience the world through sound.

This summer I decided to try out hearing aids to assist with known hearing loss in the mid- to high-frequency range.  Although I’d known about the hearing loss since seeing my first test results over 5 years ago, I was unaware of the difference hearing aids could make in my daily life (and I still don’t know how long the hearing loss existed prior to these tests).  Following the advice I’d received previously from audiologists, I waited until I felt that my hearing was interfering with daily activities.

Here are some of major improvements I’ve noticed since I’ve started using hearing aids:

  • Sherry repeats herself much less often—especially in the car—greatly reducing our frustration with each other and improving our relationship.
  • I can understand others speaking at dinner despite persistent background noise.  I feel much more comfortable sitting normally rather than constantly leaning in towards the conversation.
  • The music sounds better!  Ever since learning that Sade wasn’t singing about a “Food Operator” in her 1984 single, Smooth Operator, I’ve been incorrectly—albeit creatively—guessing lyrics to my favorite music.

The experience is quite similar to when I first wore glasses, especially since the loss is primarily in the high frequency range (where the fine detail lives).  I’ve already become so accustomed to the hearing aids that when I remove them, it sounds like my head is in a big piece of Styrofoam!

Right now I’m demoing my 3rd pair of hearing aids, and am going in tomorrow to demo the fourth and final set.  Here’s a list of the models I’m trying:

  1. insound Lyric
  2. Starkey S RIC
  3. Oticon Epoq
  4. Phonak Exélia

In a future blog, I’ll write about the model I select and include a comparison with the other three.


(Didn’t get the reference in the title?  It’s a line from this song.)

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