Category Archives: planning

On this page:
  • Squishing my excuses: idea edition
  • Managing uncertainty
  • Seeing the futures
  • Imagining the next five years and planning 2013
  • Sketching twelve business ideas
  • Imagining sketchnotes as a business

Squishing my excuses: idea edition

I’ve been trying to figure out what intimidates me about this new idea every month challenge. I guess it’s because each business idea feels like a fresh opportunity for the impostor syndrome. I deal with the impostor syndrome by being up front about what I can do, assuming people are responsible for their decisions, by offering a satisfaction guarantee.

Fortunately, other people are exploring that path, and I can learn from their experiences. I’m a little envious of the folks over at Ridiculo.us, who’ve not only set a goal of 12 projects in 12 months but have also figured out how to quickly whip up prototypes. David Seah is another person I look up to, and he’s been working on designing a new product every day. It’s clearly something you can still do solo if you’ve got the skills to back it up.

I’d be more comfortable with committing to make something new every month if:

  • I had more practice in creating and supporting stuff, which is a catch-22 because you don’t get practice in creating stuff until you create stuff, so I should just go ahead and do it.
  • I knew more people with well-defined needs that happened to match up pretty well with what I want to create, which is easier if I talk about the things I want to build.
  • I set aside a monthly business budget in terms of money and time, which is entirely under my control and therefore something I should just go ahead and do.
  • I clearly define the parameters of the experiment so that I have multiple ways to succeed or I get more comfortable with the idea of failure.
  • I brainstorm a bunch of ideas that I can work on even when I’m not feeling particularly creative, and I break them down into smaller steps so that I can reduce the time between coming up with an idea and testing it out.
  • I remind myself that this is about practice and experimentation. It’s low risk, and this is as good a time as any to try things out.

Managing uncertainty

I’ve been doing a lot more introspection lately. I think it’s a spill-over from stuffing Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality into my brain, and in the process, discovering LessWrong’s treasure trove of rationality materials. I’ve been slowing down to observe when I’m confused and then dissecting it, because I think it’s useful to be able to see and articulate what’s going on. (“Articulate” is an interesting word for this, actually; to express it, but also something about forming joints and rotating them…)

I am dealing with a lot more uncertainty than I’m used to. Which is good and proper and precisely on track, because one of the goals of this 5-year experiment is to get better at handling uncertainty. So I’m where I wanted to be last year: learning how to make decisions with less information, sketching out the probabilities and planning the scenarios. I used to get really stressed out by uncertainty and lack of control, and I’ve been getting a lot better at planning ahead and being nimble.

Things I am not certain about:

  • Timing: mitigated by conservative planning, creating plenty of buffer
  • Optimum actions: mitigated by focusing on satisficing instead of maximizing
  • Prices: mitigated by budgeting and price comparison
  • Side effects and their probabilities: mitigated by research and conservative planning
  • Not knowing: mitigated by research and analysis
  • How much I really want various things: mitigated by generally choosing among good options and by making forecasts/backcasts

What would being even better at dealing with uncertainty look like?

  • More spontaneity because I’d know that I can handle it, which means being able to jump on more opportunities
  • Better-documented decisions and decision criteria, so that open decisions don’t take up a lot of brainspace and I don’t forget important considerations
  • A better understanding of the decision space, mapping out the possibilities
  • Stronger foundations / safety-nets for the kinds of things I want to do

Seeing the futures

I often imagine different futures, sketching them out on paper or in those moments right before or after dreaming. It’s a good way of testing an idea to see whether I’d like it, and then working backwards from there to figure out how to get there from here. I also explore mediocrity and failure so that I can get a sense of what I want to avoid and what I could do to lower the risks.

For example, how might this 5-year experiment of mine turn out?

  • Awesome: My blog has plenty of detailed, open notes about trying different things. I’ve found an idea or two (or a business, even!) that fits me well, and I have the financial foundation to continue with even more experiments.
  • So-so: I have a fairly conventional consulting / freelancing story. It’s okay, but I missed out on pushing myself to do a lot more because of my safety net.
  • Darn: I’ve misjudged skill growth and finances. I reach the 5-year mark with little to show for it, and need to work a lot with my social network to get back into the job market.
  • I can influence this by being more deliberate about my experiments.

How about my relationship with W-?

  • Awesome: We consciously cultivate the relationship, sailing into our later years with plenty of stories and shared experiences.
  • So-so: We settle down into normality.
  • Darn: We forget to pay attention and end up drifting apart.
  • I can influence this by investing time.

Family?

  • Awesome: I’m close to both my family and W’s – I know people’s stories and interests, and I help out with whatever I can. I visit every other year or so, or more frequently if finances allow. I keep in touch through Skype and letters.
  • So-so: We keep in touch occasionally, but tend to be peripheral to each other’s lives.
  • Darn: The distance leads to miscommunication and fights.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Friends?

  • Awesome: I’ve gotten to know a bunch of people whose company I really enjoy. I think they’re great people. I learn a lot by hanging out with them, which I do one way or another every week. I have conspirators for ideas and projects, and work with other people to make their ideas happen.
  • So-so: I practise the skill of making friends with people as people drift in and out of life.
  • Darn: I forget to pay attention to this and let my introvert hibernation urge take over.
  • I can influence this by investing time and setting aside money.

Finances?

  • Awesome: W- and I live frugally, with roughly the same level of expenses that we’re at now. We have a great safety net, though, so we don’t have to worry. I resist the potential wonkiness of irregular income (both fear and overconfidence) by stabilizing it with savings. I’ve learned how to build businesses, so I can jump on opportunities when I see them.
  • So-so: I dip into my savings occasionally, replenishing it with income.
  • Darn: Tax or legal issues, prolonged sickness, disability, or death chew into our savings.
  • I can influence this by being deliberate about spending and earning.

Learning?

  • Awesome: My learning is aligned with my goals in terms of topic and depth. I learn a little bit about random things and go deeper on a few topics, but I push myself to try things instead of being lulled by “knowing” things from books. I seek out specific learning opportunities. I’ve learned how I learn best, although I keep working on learning other ways too. I map out what I’m learning so that I can review it easily and so that I can spot gaps.
  • So-so: I drift a little, but in a general direction. I back up learning by trying things out.
  • Darn: I confuse reading about something or listening to something with knowing something, and spend way more time doing more of the former two. I drift a lot.
  • I can influence this by examining how and what I learn.

Playing?

  • Awesome: I play with things that teach me more about life, give me a new way of looking at things, help me relate better to other people, or improve the way I live.
  • So-so: I play the occasionally distracting thing, and then get back to regular life.
  • Darn: I get sucked in by game mechanics. W- gets annoyed with me.
  • I can influence this by reflecting on what and how I play.

Good to get a sense of what good looks like.

Imagining the next five years and planning 2013

One of the assignments in the Rockstar Scribe course I’m taking through Alphachimp University (affiliate link) is to sketch where you want to be in five years. This is my sketch.

20121228 5 years vision

What does that mean for 2013?

Work: I’m focusing on business idea validation, sales, and marketing this year. It’ll mean scaling down my consulting income, but I think the opportunity cost will be worth it. To keep building other market-valued skills, I may still do a little web development – primarily for my own projects, but possibly for others as well.

Relationships: I’m focusing on spending time with W- and friends, especially through exercise and cooking. I’d also like to organize things more at home, and to learn more kitchen skills.

Life: Regular exercise supports my goals here as well, and so does organization and decluttering. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into Emacs for planning and organization, too.

Learn: I’ll research and go to interesting events to sketchnote. I’ll also keep an eye out for good books to review.

Share: I’ve sketched out an editorial outline of things I want to write about, which may help me write with more deliberation.

Scale: I’m documenting many of my ideas and processes in a public manual, and I’ll add more as I learn how to scale up.

Onward and upward!

Sketching twelve business ideas

In Running Lean, Ash Maurya recommends that you document your “Plan A”s – sketch out many possible businesses and business models so that you can rank them. I spent some time on January 1 sketching different business ideas, which I’ve shared on my experiment blog. Here they are as a quick gallery.

I’m planning to print these out, prioritize them, and figure out how to derisk the most promising ones. Do any of them stand out to you as particularly interesting?

See my sketchnotes of Running Lean for more tips from the book, or check out my experiment/business blog for other business-related thoughts.

Imagining sketchnotes as a business

People tell me that conference/presentation sketchnotes are an amazing service. I’ve been getting paid to cover conferences and events, so I’m thinking of focusing on building this as a business in 2013. Here are some ideas I’ve been playing around with:

20121210 business planning - imagining wild success for sketchnotes

THE PAIN

Imagine you’re a conference or event organizer. You want to make sure your attendees get a lot of value out of your conference, and that a lot of potential attendees hear about it so that they’ll sign up for the next one. That’s why you’re using social media, you share slides, you’re working on getting videos uploaded, and so on. BUT you’re still only engaging a small fraction of your potential audience because most people don’t have the time to review all the materials, people aren’t interested in wading through lots of slides or text, or the materials are published long after people have gotten distracted by something else they need to focus on.

Sketchnotes can help you help your participants remember and share key points from the conference, increasing their ROI (and yours!). By sharing these images, people become ambassadors for your conference.

THE BENEFITS

This is about helping organizers engage participants through digital sketchnotes that are published throughout the event, taking advantage of the Twitter buzz. Sketchnotes can offer more information and more context than live-tweeted quotes, and they can reinforce the conference brand and sponsor relationships through templates. included in every sketchnote.

After the event, these notes also help participants remember and share key points from the conference. People can feel overwhelmed by all the great ideas they’ve picked up from a conference. When they get back to their offices, they probably need to justify their participation in the conference by writing a report on what they’ve learned. Few people have the time to review slides or re-watch videos. Conference sketchnotes are a quick way to trigger memory, and they can also be shared with people who have not been to the talks. This additional value gives conference organizers a good reason to follow up with participants after the event, which could influence feedback survey completion rates and scores.

Sketchnotes can also help organizers pre-market the next event. As a quick proof of the content covered in the conference, sketchnotes can spark interest in a way that slides may not. Often tweeted, reblogged, and searched for after an event, they’re an excellent way to share great ideas.

ALTERNATIVES AND DIFFERENTIATION

One of the great things about this is that I don’t have to build a market from scratch. Bloggers and live-tweeters are now part of many conferences’ social media and marketing planning, so there’s an established need for real-time sharing. Video/slidesharing is part of many conferences as well. Many companies and conferences have worked with graphic recorders and facilitators to capture and share discussions.

Organizers use several alternatives for engaging people during and after events, some of which are complementary services. Here are a few:

  • Doing nothing: No cost. However, this misses out on the opportunity for engagement.
  • Live-tweeting: Often on a volunteer basis, although sometimes there’ll be a small team dedicated to monitoring, responding to, and posting on social media networks. Live tweets are good for engagement, but are difficult to curate or read afterwards.
  • Live-blogging: Often on a volunteer basis, or in exchange for admission. Variable quality and shareability. Sometimes results in lots of text that people don’t enjoy reviewing afterwards.
  • Posting the slides: Many conferences post slides on Slideshare, Lanyrd, or similar sites. This tends to be a split between presentations that have too much text in them and take much time to review, or presentations that have practically no text in them and are impossible to share with people who have never been to the conference.
  • Posting the videos: This can take months, if it gets completed at all. It takes time to review these and find the key points.
  • Transcripts: Very few conferences post transcripts of talks. It’s expensive and time-consuming, although transcripts can increase the searchability of a talk.
  • Graphic recording / facilitation: Excellent for discussions. Visually impressive, as artists work on huge sheets of paper at the front of the room. Can be distracting if people are tempted to watch the graphic recording instead of watching the speaker. Takes time to post-process the images for posting, so not well-suited to publishing during the event itself. Less flexible when it comes to content because it’s hard to erase or move segments of a drawing. Matching colours, adding logos and sponsor information, and using other template elements may not be cost-effective.

I think there is a space right there, in the gap between

  • social media blog posts / tweets / slides / video on one hand (a “good” conference these days), and
  • full graphic recording / facilitation

where digital sketchnoting makes sense, especially considering the advantages to working with an all-digital workflow. (Quick publishing, templates, non-distracting setup…)

Also encouraging: I’m not the only one looking into this! Here are some companies offering digital sketchnoting/digital scribing services: The Grove Consultants International, Imagethink, See in Colors, The World Cafe, WrightMarks, LearningTimes, Virtual Visuals

Potential differentiators:

  • I have a technical background, which means I’m fine with acronyms, diagrams, and lots of abstract/obscure concepts (especially related to web design/development, social media, social business, mobile development, and other topics I’m personally interested in)
  • Many visual communication companies focus on large-scale graphic recording; by specializing in digital sketchnoting, I can get really, really good at it
  • Many sketchnoters / visual communicators are coming from paper-and-pen backgrounds or Mac backgrounds; I use a different toolset, and I continually experiment with making it better
  • I’m comfortable with social media, and have set up many tools to help me make even better use of it
  • I can offer complementary services, such as getting a talk transcribed and turned into an e-book
  • I speak, too! People enjoy my practical, down-to-earth illustrated talks, and hundreds of thousands of people have viewed my presentations online.

SALES AND MARKETING

Most conference and event organizers won’t be looking for sketchnoting in particular, so I’ll want to start by identifying potential clients, reaching out to people, and figuring out the possibilities together.

Another way to find potential clients would be to work with event producers who help organize lots of events. Sketchnoting becomes another capability they can offer to clients in order to add value.

People might not know how to make the most of sketchnotes as a resource. By handling the social media publishing and coordinating with the event’s social media team, I can simplify the process. I’ll also put together a guide for organizers who have existing blogs, Twitter accounts, Pinterest accounts, and other publishing platforms, so that they can take advantage of the sketchnotes that they’ll have.

My long-term evil plan

One of the reasons I’m interested in building a business around sketchnoting is because I want to learn more about sales and marketing. I could learn these business skills using web development or consulting instead, but those engagements involve longer iterations and less tangible services. Sketchnotes are easy to appreciate and share.

In addition, sketchnoting business and technology events also helps me build my visual communication skills, my understanding of topics, and my archive of content. This will come in handy when I write more books and work on more experiments. I think there’s room in the world for more visual books like the Sketchnote Handbook, especially as we shift towards reading less and wanting to understand things faster.

I think that sketchnoting might turn into an interesting 12-16 hour/week business that takes advantage of and fits in well with complementary strengths. Looking forward to trying this out!

More notes: Business idea: Digital sketchnoting agency