The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix

Dwight D. Eisenhower was considered to be a superb task master and time manager during his illustrious career. This included tenures as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and finally President of the United States.

His success in this field was often attributed to the practice of what is now known as the Eisenhower Matrix, a very simple mental model designed to sharpen your ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

To quote Eisenhower,

“The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones”.

Supreme decision making and task management strategy is therefore predicated on learning to distinguish between importance and urgency balanced between short and long term goals.

The Eisenhower Matrix is expressed as the following diagram.

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 2)

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 2)

The world needs a lot more creativity, both in coming up with ideas, as well as ensuring their execution. In Part 1 of this series, I outlined a deep dive into the science of the state of Flow derived from Steven Kotler’s book 'The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance'. Part 2 is a more practical examination of how to introduce flow into our everyday lives.

While there is a solid argument that flow is the secret sauce behind the rapid development of adventure sports, it also plays a huge part in normal mental activities. Writers, poets, painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians composers and film-makers all leverage peak performance in pursuit of their craft.

It also plays an important part in creative industries like marketing, advertising, and within startups. New campaign ideas are born from flow states. Developers writing code have heavy zone triggers. Flow is also thought to be secret ingredient in a lot of online ideas that stick - things like website stickiness, customer attraction, mitigation of price sensitivity, and influence on buying behaviors.

Below I have outlined some starters gleaned from a wide variety of sources that touch on techniques to maximize the potential for flow. A lot of these may sound new age or esoteric in nature; what’s required is an open mindset and the desire to experiment with the different applications to stick with what works for you.

A Flow Refresher

Before we jump into techniques, let’s do a quick refresher on flow - happiness defined by peak creative performance.  

Flow is best expressed as a four part ‘flow cycle’. Note, interestingly a lot of this theory echoes the model ‘A Technique for Producing Ideas’ by James Webb Young.

Step 1: Struggle

Our first step is a loading phase. We need to overload the brain with information (novel stimuli) from our baseline state.

In the business world, this will kick start with the creative problem we need to solve, or an issue that has emerged. We begin to soak up inputs like research, analysis, analytics, briefings - in other words, fact finding.

As we focus on the task, we create tension, which often leads to frustration. The problem seems unsolvable, our efforts feel like they are unsustainable, and the destination cloudy - the little voice in your head might be telling you that the solution is impossible.

Our brains begin to engage in pattern recognition. We repeat our analysis over and over again until they become chunks. This process may feel quite awkward and uncomfortable. We must move through this struggle phase and have faith in our ability to deliver a creative outcome.

Step 2: Release

This step involves taking your mind off the problem, and severing prior thought and emotional patterns. Triggering flow can only come from relaxation, so maintaining high stress levels will not allow you to unleash creative outcomes. We need to let things percolate, and let the body and mind relax.

Step 3: Flow Action

Struggle gives way to release, which triggers our flow action state. We may start to experience some of the flow elements, spiking our high speed problem solving, deep insight and perfect decision making capabilities.

Step 4: Recovery

A final often overlooked stage. Flow requires a lot of exertion on the body, draining energy and playing with powerful neurochemistry. We need to rest, allowing the brain to consolidate new patterns and memories, and a ‘level up’ to a new and improved baseline state.

Increasing Flow

We want more flow in our lives. The following techniques provide some experiments to try and maximize our abilities to move into flow, divided into Personal, Environmental, and Social.

Weekly Roundup: 21 Nov 2014

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important signals from the noise with the time we have available. Below is a summary of the most interesting and relevant topics that have passed through my signal filter in the past week. Take a look, and don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter.

In last weeks roundup, I featured a lot of insights into the death of the traditional web as we know it, and changes to the app economy. This week continues this trend. Firstly, Taylor Davidson writes an insightful article about the shift away from apps as destinations to apps as delivery systems.

To see this in action, check out Wildcard. They just launched their card based browser for mobile, and I have to say the experience is pretty simple and intuitive.  

"The most interesting companies in advertising [tech] today were built for people first". Taylor Davidson explores the future of adtech, and the need for a new 0-1 step change innovation.

In light of some big profile disasters, a lot of government agencies are getting very savvy with 21st century methods of delivering digital products and platforms (and openly sharing these findings). The great thing is that this information can become a bootcamp of sorts for regular businesses. First up, Code of America publish their evolving Principles for 21st Century Governments. 

The US Digital Services Playbook provides a great framework for delivering digital products, including simple checklists and some key questions to ask the organization.

For a similar perspective across the pond, check out the UK Government Playbook, with some great examples.

Speaking of good user interfaces, Good UI is publishing a growing list of ideas to make stickier digital interfaces. Take a look at your website experience through this lens, and see if you need to experiment with new layouts or features.

Employee happiness is at an all time low. This HBR article explores three simple strategies to keep your employees engaged and happy, so they do their best work and stay with you.

Fortune magazine release their Top People in Business 2014 list. While numbers 1 & 2 are no real surprise, it's great to see some exceptionally smart and creative businesswomen climbing the ranks. 

While they may be garnering some very negative press at the moment due to their handling of journalists, when you dig into Uber's financials, the numbers are staggering. Why Uber isn't going to disappear anytime soon, and the power of disruptive software.

In light of Taylor Swift pulling her catalogue from Spotify and the negative press around artist royalties, the company hits back with a very insightful look at the other side of the coin. Is Spotify the enemy, or is piracy the enemy? Making money in the digital age can often get very murky.

This caught me by surprise. The McDonald's CMO in Australia admitted that the short term tactical campaigns employed by QSR's do nothing but create noise and deliver little long term value (finally!). Interesting to see a big hierarchal organization grapple with some systemic ingrained mental models, and shifting focus towards digital transformation.  

Note, for some frameworks on transformation, check out my Slideshare on the topic, or my essay on the Kotter 8-Step Process for Change.

Did Snapchat just inadvertently monetize sending dick pics? The company have partnered with Square to introduce a simple way for friends to share money via a new service called Snapcash. The 'make it rain' feature is hilarious, and spot on with the target market.  

Forget the supposed crappy movie being made based on Tetris the game, the story of the guy who originally developed it is far more interesting. Motherboard have a fascinating interview with the creator on his journey from the Soviet Union to America.

Finally to finish up, some great stoic advice from Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Weekly Roundup: 14 Nov 2014

The world keeps moving faster and faster. It’s increasingly hard to filter out the most important signals from the noise with the time we have available.

I'll be creating a post summarizing the most important and relevant topics for marketers, advertisers and business leaders that have passed through my signal filter in the past week. Take a look at what's I've found most interesting, and don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter.

“It’s almost like a prank that was played by the technology industry on the media industry 20 years ago”.

This quote from Chris Dixon perfectly sums up the banner ad, which had its twenty year anniversary on October 27th. Thankfully this web destroyer is on the decline, but what does this mean going forward?

The growth of app unbundling (or in some cases re-bundling) is a potential first step in the death of the traditional web as we know it. What should we start to be thinking about? - Cards (includes a great explanation and some interesting questions).

Des Trainer did one of the best talks on how Product Strategy has evolved in the tech world, and the most important frameworks to think about right now. I’m going to turn this into a mental model at some stage, but for now it is mandatory watching for anyone involved in creating products or strategy.

The Amazon / Hachette war is a lot murkier than it appears on paper. Vanity Fair do a great job of diving deep on the story, exploring both sides. Is Amazon the death of publishing, or are they merely bringing books into the future?

Why does Silicon Valley work so well (but other tech hubs have failed to create the same level of success)? Sam Altman makes a great case for now and the future.

If we want to create big moon shot ideas, we need to stop letting backbenchers and schadenfreude take centre stage. An argument for optimism by Mark Suster.

Marc Andreessen sounds off on diversity in Silicon Valley, and the other side of the coin with the disruption argument (are the robots really coming to take our jobs, and is that really a bad thing?). 

Speaking of robots taking our jobs, Larry Page, the guy helping build them talks about his new role spending time tackling the big issues facing society. We can’t fight the future - but it might not be as bad as a lot of people make out.

Amazon just released Echo, an always-on speaker that is voice activated and answers your questions. With the proliferation of Smart TV’s with always on speakers built in, and the desire of to capture data, are we about to hit a new round of privacy concerns?

Podcasts are so hot right now. What is the secret on their renaissance? It just might be the proliferation of cars connected to the Internet (say goodbye to traditional radio).

Speaking of Podcasts, I highly recommend you check out Serial (it is heavily mentioned in the article above). If you need a true crime fix before the next season of True Detective, this modern day Rashomon is an utterly fascinating and addictive exploration of a murder trial from 1999. Give it a listen.

Finally, the Advertising industry luckily can poke a bit of fun at itself. The Canadian AOTY awards ran recently, and a few agencies made some fantastic parody content. You will laugh (and then cry), and then laugh again.

From Zulu Alpha Kilo, what if a Mad Man was around in today’s ad world?

From Union, it’s important to reward your employees for their hard work.

Lastly, from Rethink Communication, a new award… for the best award videos.

The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup Methodology

The Lean Startup is a business approach coined by Eric Ries that fundamentally aims to change the way that new companies are built and new products are shipped.

At its core it is built upon three key areas:

  1. Iterative product releases with extremely fast cycle times
  2. Validated learning to focus on what customers want
  3. A scientific approach to decision making

This allows the output of shortened product development cycles, measured progress, and input of valuable customer feedback (observing behaviour, not directly asking).

Organizations can design their products and services to directly meet the demands of their customer base without requiring large amounts of initial funding or expensive product launches that may fail. Waste spending and risk are massively reduced.

Originally designed for high-tech companies, the philosophy has now expanded out to include any individual, team, agency or company looking to introduce new products or services into the market.


Ries developed the Lean Startup methodology through his direct experiences as a startup employee, founder and advisor. Through success and failure (and especially failure), he began to highlighted the biggest mistakes made by these emerging organizations.

In the twentieth century, a good plan, a solid strategy and thorough market research were often indicators of likely success. The problem with a startup (and indeed a lot of businesses right now) is that they do not yet know who their customers are or what their products should be - as startups are essentially a search for a viable business model there is too much uncertainty for accurate forecasting.  

Failure then was the result of having too concrete a vision. It did not accurately represent consumer demand, and assumptions were not validated. When a product finally launched after a huge amount of investment, it ended up being something customers either didn’t want or wouldn’t pay for.

Ries calls this “achieving failure” - successfully, faithfully, and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to be utterly flawed.

A new methodology was required to address this.

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

Kotter 8 Step Process for Change

I have written previously about the challenges of adjusting organizations to our rapidly changing environment in my Slideshare “Digital Transformation and the Customer Experience: Overcoming Barriers and a Framework for Success”. The reality is that over 70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail, so any sort of strategies to help mitigate this and achieve success are welcome additions to this framework.

One of the most referenced change strategies comes via John Kotter and his Kotter International Consulting Firm. Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change offers a great starting blueprint for organizational adaptation, and will be explored in this essay.

Defining the Problem

Kotter offers a fantastic overview of the problem at hand via this short video (see full post).

The rate of change in both markets and our lives is creating unprecedented uncertainty. Between new software platforms underpinning new and existing business models, and the growth of interconnection and complex adaptive systems, digital disruption is an ever present threat.

Members of the S&P500’s lifespan has dropped to just 15 years. Billion dollar businesses can now be built by a few entrepreneurs in a few years, often rising and falling just as quickly. With entire entrenched industries being threatened by much nimbler competition, the need to rethink bloated middle management, global divisional structures lacking connectivity, siloed departments operating as fiefdoms and toxic internal politics is an ever present reality.

Organizations facing this challenge without a plan often fall back on reflex behavior like outsourcing perceived problems to overpriced business consultants which often just repeats the cycle in the long term. Worse, when faced with the need to make decisions when facing this complexity, organizations let paralysis take over moving into a slow decline.

Reorganizing to be more nimble, intelligent and reactive to ever present change (especially from the influence of digital) requires a lot of hard work and diligence. Kotter outlines a great framework to hopefully drive greater success in these efforts.

Defining Success Goals

Before we jump into the process itself, it’s good to understand three categorizations of urgency where organizations are on the spectrum of change - Complacency, False Urgency and True Urgency. By defining a successful mindset first, we can get a better handle of what we are aiming for when we initially begin change efforts.

The AARRR Framework: Metrics for Pirates

The AARRR Framework: Metrics for Pirates

I am always on the lookout for good digital frameworks, especially when it comes to metrics, as they really help simplify the complexity of our modern business environment. Complexity can lead to infinite choice, which often leads to paralysis.

Dave McClure’s AARRR framework (or Startup Metrics for Pirates) is an excellent antidote to this situation. The following essay outlines it in detail.

This framework was originally created for startups. A startup is essentially a search for a repeatable and scalable business model, so testing a series of hypotheses about the various parts of the business. It needs to adapt over time, and tell if the business model is worth scaling into a company.

Established organisations already have a repeatable and profitable business model. Any business school will tell you that the numbers to track are Income Statements, Balance Sheets and Cash Flow Statements, however more and more as platforms are becoming the backbone of these organisations, adopting the startup mentality to product is increasingly worth paying attention to.

An example would be a large organisation switching to offer their product through a managed e-commerce website. Traditional activity switches from broad scale mass marketing to targeted and measurable activity on the platform, with new tactics required to evolve to shifting customer needs.

To this end, I’ll phrase this essay to be inclusive of both startups and established businesses who are managing a product - as a definition product will refer to any sort of digital platform (e.g e-commerce website, widget or service or sharing based platform).

The Post-It Plus App

The Post-It Plus App

If you are playing around with something like the Google Ventures Product Design Sprint, or just running any kind of creative brainstorming session, chances are you are using a ton of post-it notes or other note taking devices to throw your ideas up on a wall and experiment.

The problem with this process is that post-it notes are an entirely analogue technology, so the process of turning them into a digital format post meeting can be a complete hassle that sucks out the momentum.

Post-It have come up with a clever little alternative in their Post-It Plus app, which adds some neat new features to simplify this process. Using your phones camera, you can snap up to 50 post-it notes on a wall or board, arrange and edit them how you want them, and share with your team. With the flexibility to combine ideas across multiple captures, it adds a layer of simple but powerful group collaboration capabilities.

Interestingly Post-it previously did a similar campaign with Evernote, however it looks like they have branched out to be more inclusive of other types of sharing and export. A very nice example of a brand learning a pain point with their customers and using new digital tools to address this need.

The app is currently only on iOS8 on Apple devices, check it out when you next have a brainstorm.

The Product Ideation Framework

The Product Ideation Framework

I discovered the Product Ideation Framework through Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent, via a talk given for 99u. The purpose is to help individuals, startups or organisations find new product opportunities in the market around the intersections of friction, passion and technology.

The days of mass producing things you want, buying a heap of ad space, and selling an idealized version of the product irrespective of reality are over. Companies that are embracing more of a Digital Operating System and looking at underlying their product offering with software are disrupting entire existing and entrenched industries, so we need to embrace this mindset.

The Product Framework becomes a powerful tool to frame our ideation process.

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 1)

The Science of Flow: Unlocking Better Creativity and Happiness (Part 1)

The following essay started out as my own attempt to try and codify strategies to improve my creative output. Advertising & Marketing are industries that feed on new ideas, so any strategies to improve ideation are always important. 

It has ended up being a much larger two part deep dive into the theory of flow, one of the more interesting recent scientific theories on where creativity comes from.

Part 1 will outline some of the problems we are currently facing, and introduce a crash course into the theory and science behind flow. Part 2 will be a much more grounded and practical framework for introducing more flow into our lives, hopefully maximising creativity as well as happiness in the process.

The Theory of Flow

There is no doubt that humans have made extraordinary leaps in the time we have been on our planet. Right now, we live in an era defined by huge advances in medicine, quality of life, longevity, resource acquisition and abundance. We also have some ongoing and upcoming thorny problems that we still need to address.

The purpose of this essay is to explore two elements of this equation;

  1. The need to drive greater happiness
  2. The desire to spark deeper creativity.

Present Problems

Right now, we have some deep systemic cultural problems manifesting in our workforce. Shifting values from Generation X to Z and increased technological disruption have not meshed well - instead they are leading to greater levels of uncertainty and unhappiness.

A 2013 Gallup report ‘State of the Global Workplace’ reveals that the bulk of the workers worldwide (63% or 900 million people) are “not engaged” at work, with a further 24% stating they are “actively disengaged”. This means over 3/4 of workers worldwide are unhappy, unproductive, lack motivation, and are unlikely to invest in discretionary effort in organizational goals and outcomes. This has a massive impact on creativity and output.

It gets worse when you take into account Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends report. Some of their findings include:

  • 86% of business and HR leaders believe they do not have an adequate leadership pipeline
  • 79% believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem
  • 77% do not feel they have the right HR skills to address the issue
  • 75% are struggling to attract and recruit the top people they need
  • Only 17% feel they have a compelling and engaging employment brand

This is creating a sense of operational paralysis. Traditional organizations are struggling to attract workers, and when they do, they can’t seem to create happy work environments to support them. Out of all of the skills valued most by business leaders, creativity continues to be highlighted as the number one attribute we need to foster in employees and leaders to meet new and emerging challenges.