Category Archives: Science & Technology

5 things I learned from BarCamp Ghana

The Christmas holidays are over. This time of the year is one I sometimes loathe because of the human and vehicular traffic. I know I am not the only one. Welcome to the life if you share my sentiments. Anyways, before the holidays, I got the opportunity to learn so many things in a day when young men and women from all walks of life met at the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT on December 17.

The event was to highlight the importance of appropriate partnerships and corporate engagements in ensuring the success of projects, spurring wealth creation and economic growth. It featured mentors who shed light on how attendees could use successful partnerships and mentor support to scale up projects and businesses.  I get people asking what BarCamp is, anytime I’m seen in a Barcamp T-shirt (Too bad I didn’t get one on Dec 17.)

BarCamp is simply an ‘unconference’ – an ad-hoc gathering of people with the simple desire to share and learn in an open environment. Unlike a conference, at a BarCamp everyone is both a speaker and a participant. The content is provided by all attendees based on their interests.  Barcamps in Ghana bring people interested in Ghana together for an informal networking forum where attendees share ideas, discuss interests, network and learn how to add value to their lives and make impact in their communities. Since you now know what it means, here are the five things I learned from the event.

Iron sharpeneth Iron

The Bible says in the book of Proverbs that, “iron sharpeneth iron.” There is no better way to understand this than to attend a BarCamp event. If you thought you knew something, you go for the event, listen to other people and realize that you need to know more. Most often than not, you get some extra points and add to yours. In the “Art of Leadership” session, I met some vibrant leaders who shared a lot about leadership. I got the chance to be sharpened since leadership is a “skill.” Writers who went through the “Creative Writing” session would also testify to the fact that they got sharpened after the event. It’s better to be sharpened once in a while like a knife so you would cut through pieces of bread, materials etc so easily. Don’t wait to corrode before you act.

Mentorship is the way to go

One question was raised which caused a lot of debate. The question was “why are there few women in ICT?” I remember sharing ideas on this with a host of my friends including Kwabena, Ato, Prince, MacJordan and Amma Baffoe. I kept wondering even after leaving the premises. One answer I found was that, there are few mentors for the women in ICT. I know some of our women are in the field and very soon, Ghana is going to have a lot of prominent women who would serve as mentors. Enough of that and back to the mentorship part…. There was speed mentorship earlier in the morning. Nothing beats sitting beneath an elderly person and getting all the knowledge you can. We learn more from our elders than we do in a classroom. They have been in that position before and certainly know better so it’s so easy to tap into their knowledge and make good use of them. Creative Writing, Acting, Fashion, Banking to mention but a few were some of the knowledge imparted. One could easily get a business card from a mentor and bingo… you get the chance to forge a relationship for the future. Ghana has mentors and the young ones must realize this and make good use of them before all the knowledge is sent to the grave.

Ghana is equally greener

We keep on talking about brain drain. I know very well that it isn’t going to stop today but here is the catch: even if it’s greener at the other side, you would still have to mow the grass and also take care of the weeds. The same applies to the grass in Ghana. There are so many opportunities in Ghana. They are just wearing work clothes and seem so gargantuan. We refuse to see these opportunities. The likes of NandiMobile makes you believe that, Ghana is indeed a land of opportunities if you can see beyond the horizon. Success stories from various people who started from nowhere tend to uplift the spirits of others and that is exactly what BarCamp Ghana served. The motivation, the vim, the spirit was there and I tapped into that. Let’s mow our own grasses. Let’s make Ghana a better place to live. We can do it!

We already have the future think-tanks, Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs of Africa

I wrote an article on the 5 lessons we could learn from the legacy of Steve Jobs (May he rest in peace) some few months ago. I must say that, there are some Ghanaians who could rise in this world and be the Jobs and Zuckerbergs of this world. The kind of ideas that are in people’s minds beats my imagination. At Barcamps, you realize how great some people think and that is contagious. Even if you have nothing on your mind, an idea suddenly pops up when someone is sharing a story. Yeah…. People started with nothing and are making something. I know very well that those people won’t rest but will aim for the stars.

I got to meet a host of these men and women. When I was young, I had a friend who would say, “Take me as a friend now because if you don’t, one day, you will join a queue just to see me.” Since our words are very powerful, he is the pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Accra and of course, you have to book an appointment if you want to see him except some of us who took him as a “friend” and can now call him to meet us anywhere when we need him. Networking is very important. It opens doors and BarCamp offers such an opportunity.

 

Our children/grandchildren will have the coolest of mothers.

“The surest way to keep people down is to educate the men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family” said Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey. At Barcamps, you see women exchanging ideas. The days where the woman’s place was the kitchen in Ghana are over. The days where women were so scared to stand for their rights are over. We are in the days where women are conscious of their environment, tech-savvy and are determined to make waves in the society. I am told BarCamp Tamale had a lot of women attendees than all the other Barcamps this year. It is a step in the right direction. I only hope there would be as many women as men next year and the years after. BarCamp isn’t for men. It isn’t a tech event. It’s an event where people choose their own topics so we can share ideas on them. I therefore entreat women out there to discard that notion of a tech event and embrace BarCamp. Even if it’s a tech event, the women are supposed to be there since we live in a tech world and one cannot afford to miss out. Nonetheless it isn’t a tech event as it encompasses a host of topics that arise from the attendees.

 

We can all make Ghana a better place. This nation belongs to the youth. Africa belongs to Africans. I learned a lot from BarCamp but have shared five of them. Let’s hear what you also learned. God bless you and see you at the next BarCamp event.

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Steve Jobs: 5 iLessons we can learn from his legacy

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

Just when I was about to log out of twitter, I saw a tweet that said “Steve Jobs is dead.” In a bid to find the veracity of the story as I usually do when I hear stuff like that, I tuned in to CNN. Death had laid its icy hands on a visionary, legend, icon, entrepreneur and a man who turned technology around. I was however not surprised when I tweeted, “The average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic disease is just three to six months. Jobs battled it for 7 years. #thankyousteve” and had almost 100 retweets.

Tributes are pouring in from every corner of the world. He certainly touched a lot of lives with his wisdom, skill and ingenuity. The co-founder of one the world’s most valuable companies, Apple certainly left a mark. Apple now operates more than 300 retail stores in 11 countries. The company has sold more than 275 million iPods, 100 million iPhones and 25 million iPads worldwide.

Jobs’ climb to the top was complete in summer 2011 when Apple listed more cash reserves than the U.S. Treasury and even briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the world’s most valuable company. There will never be another Steve Jobs. His life teaches some lessons and I would like to share them with you.

1.       Never despise smaller beginnings

Born February 24, 1955, and then adopted, Jobs grew up in Cupertino, California — which would become home to Apple’s headquarters — and showed an early interest in electronics. As a teenager, he phoned William Hewlett, president of Hewlett-Packard, to request parts for a school project. He got them, along with an offer for a summer job at HP. Jobs attended Cupertino Junior High and Homestead High School in Cupertino, California. He frequented after-school lectures at the Hewlett-Packard Company in Palo Alto, California, and was later hired there, working with Steve Wozniak as a summer employee.Following high school graduation in 1972, Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Although he dropped out after only one semester,he continued auditing classes at Reed, while sleeping on the floor in friends’ rooms, returning Coke bottles for food money, and getting weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple.Jobs later said, “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” This man did not allow his smaller beginnings to destroy him. He kept on dreaming and dreaming and eventually realized his dreams. “Steve Jobs was put up for adoption at birth, dropped out of college, then changed the world. What’s your excuse?”

 

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

               2.       Chase your dreams….. Think Different!

Don’t let small minds convince you that your dreams are too big. Our world is infected with negativity. Dreams are sent to the trash bin each and every day. People who should encourage us to dream are those who rather tell us to quit. “It’s not going to be possible” they say. “How can you do this and that? No one has ever achieved that.” We hear these all the time. When Steve Jobs was launching the iPad 2, he made a statement I will never forget. “I have always dreamed of making a video call and now we have it” he said. We need to chase our dreams. It gets tough sometimes but we should never give up. Jobs had the dream of putting a ding in this universe and he achieved that. Whatever the obstacles that come your way, never give up on your dreams. You could be the person to find the cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS. As soon as you give up, it means geniuses like Jobs will continue to die. The world needs your dreams! Failing a million times doesn’t make you a loser….giving up does. The most valuable people are determined by their character. It takes having a character that reasons with a stubborn faith to make it.

 

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

                  3.       Connect with the right people

While at HP, Jobs befriended Steve Wozniak, who impressed him with his skill at assembling electronic components. The two later joined a Silicon Valley computer hobbyists club, and when he was 21, Jobs teamed up with Wozniak and two other men to launch Apple Computer Inc. It’s long been Silicon Valley legend: Jobs and Wozniak built their first commercial product, the Apple 1, in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1976. Jobs sold his Volkswagen van to help finance the venture. The primitive computer, priced at $666.66, had no keyboard or display, and customers had to assemble it themselves.

Connect with people who can bring out your uniqueness and help fulfill your purpose on earth. We should trust and respect our friends’ views of us but also be aware of God’s purpose for our lives.

Some friends may not have your best interest at heart, and they can still be your friends but you’ll need to distance yourself from them. Your gift is your personality, it is who you are. When you get around true friends, they won’t be jealous of who you are. True friends will help polish and bring out the best in you. I believe that Jobs and Wozniak partnered because they saw the best in each other. Your inner circle should be people who celebrate who you are and are willing to make you a better person every day. When you surround yourself with negative people, you will always yield negative results. It is not the quantity of friends; it is the quality of friends.  Iron sharpeneth iron, says the Book of Proverbs. It’s imperative that you surround yourself with people who share your vision and are ready to surmount all obstacles and make them a reality.

Are there people who hold a special position in your life but always speak negative about their life or your dreams? Are they overly concerned about your relationship choices or goals? Do they constantly caution you about the steps you take towards your destiny and towards achieving personal happiness?  It is time to dismiss them from your inner circle because they are preventing you from progressing. The people I am speaking about may be childhood friends and even relatives; I know that sounds cold but we must learn to love some folks from a distance and love ourselves up-close.

 

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

               4Always stay ahead of your competition

To succeed in today’s rapidly changing world you have to focus also on competitors and not on executing your old success formula. You have to be part of disrupting and changing markets in order to compete effectively. Too many businesses spend their time thinking about what they did last week/month/year when they should instead be thinking about what they need to do tomorrow. Instead of spending hours analyzing prior results, put that energy into developing future market scenarios, looking for potential shifts, and identifying how you can upend competitors. That was the approach of Steve Jobs. He was always ahead of the competition. If you want to succeed, if you want to be the leader in business, you have to learn to be ahead of the rest.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you won’t ever do anything new. Intentionally disrupt the way you do things so you will try new and different approaches. This will open your organization to new growth opportunities.  Look for how your competitors are locked in, and attack them in ways they cannot respond. Don’t just do what you want to do, take actions intended to hurt your competitor. Never miss an opportunity to ruin your competitor’s day. Jobs always did that. A little harsh? I remember his attack on Google after launching the iPad and called Adobe a “lazy” company. “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them” he said. Shares of Apple jumped after that remark. If you are an entrepreneur or a student, learn to stay ahead of your competition. Do things that others won’t do. See into the future and you will forever be a success.

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

 

 

 

5.       Leave a legacy

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

What would you be remembered for when you leave the face of the earth? That man or woman who always fought with the neighbors over nothing or that man or woman who made a great impact in the neighborhood? I trust that the latter is what you desire. We all need to impact the lives of many before we join our ancestors.  He has done something that would take decades or centuries for another to match. For Jobs, how a product looked, felt and responded trumped raw technical specifications. While PC makers chased after faster processor speeds, Jobs pursued clever, minimalist design. Apple’s ads are one of a kind. We can talk about the iPod, iPhone, the Mac OS, the AppStore, the iPad and many more lives that have been changed because of this man.  Ultimately, Jobs’ biggest contribution isn’t just a Smartphone, a tablet or an operating system but Apple itself, a 12,000-strong organization that was once on the brink of irrelevance. Since his return to the company in 1997, Jobs has rebuilt it into the most valuable technology company in the world, surpassing other heavyweights like Microsoft and HP. It may indeed be the greatest turnaround in business history.
Nothing better exemplifies that in design or scale than Apple’s upcoming new headquarters, a 2.8-million square foot campus that will house 300,000 square feet of research facilities, a 1,000-seat auditorium, a power plant and underground parking. “I think we do have a shot at building the best office building in the world,” Jobs said, who arguably wouldn’t settle for anything but the best where any area of his company was concerned.

“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” – Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

Apple's new campus

Can we get a day set aside to celebrate the life of this man and to promote creativity and innovation? I am waiting…….

Why the iPad, Internet and TV help ruin creativity!

 

Boredom is good for creativity. Yes, you read that right! I advocate boredom in your life to help improve your creative potential. Oh yeah, I am not kidding at all because that works for me. I hardly sit down when I am bored. I am always on the move when boredom knocks at my door.

For most of us, being busy is a sign that we are achieving something in life or that we are progressing. We constantly keep ourselves busy doing something. It could be working hard at the office, shopping or other household chores, organizing something, looking after the family or even ‘researching on the internet.’

We keep our brains so active all the time that we do not allow ourselves the time to relax, the time to allow our brains to make connections between all the different stimuli we have given it.

When we have some spare time, we switch on the TV. We feel slightly empty and we check our social networking sites or the Internet in general. We feel lonely and we pick up the phone. The BBM craze in Ghana….oh no Africa….speaks volumes!

There is nothing wrong with the above but modern technology has made things go beyond the limit.

Mobile phones make it easy to connect and be connected with people within an instant. No longer do you only make phone calls when you were back home but we decide to make them anywhere and everywhere. Our precious quiet time, GONE.

The portable and cheaper home computers make it easy for us to pass away time browsing aimlessly on the Internet, where perhaps we would have used that time to simply relax and enjoy our surroundings.  Ok, you need to travel to a remote area if you want to observe the greenery of nature in Ghana. We even could have used that time to practice a hobby but for the most part, that time is GONE.

This is made even worse with the advent of the iPad. A portable lightweight laptop which makes watching videos effortlessly easy. Now even the quiet time we had before sleeping is lost to watching movies and endless YouTube video clips. I could also talk about the addiction behavior of twitter and facebook.

But, all is not lost. The first step in any improvement is to become aware of what is actually happening and the second step is to take positive action to rectify the situation.

So to aid creativity, BRING THE BOREDOM BACK:

  • It’s ok to be bored from time to time. It allows us to reflect on events and that is where we learn and create.
  • Limit your time spent watching TV and using the Internet.
  • Take up old/new hobbies.
  • Decide not to use your mobile phone, not even to answer a call for one complete journey and observe the world around you with an open mind. Life is too short so enjoy it sometimes.
  • Learn to enjoy the moment when your mind can completely rest.

Boredom is good for your creativity. Accept it, embrace it and encourage it. Your creative mind will thank you. You can leave a comment so that we keep on discussing. Life will lose its tune without creativity!

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pregnancy!

Whether you’re a woman who hasn’t yet been pregnant or a man who wants to better understand what an expectant mother really goes through, these 10 things that occur while a woman is pregnant are all strange and often disturbing. These are the weird things that happen during pregnancy that people probably won’t tell you about.

 1. You Could Be Pregnant For Over A Year

Most pregnancies last for about 9 months and doctors are likely to induce labor if pregnancy goes on too long. That being said, it is possible to be pregnant for a whole year. The world’s longest pregnancy lasted 375 days, strangely, the baby was only a little under seven pounds.
It certainly puts a whole new perspective on being a few weeks late, doesn’t it?


 2. A Male Fetus Can Get Erections In The Womb

Most mothers don’t like to think about their baby boys getting erections, even when they are teenagers, but the fact is that many baby boys get boners while they’re still in the womb. In fact, babies of both sexes are known to masturbate in utero, but boys are the only ones who can be caught while aroused on the sonogram.

If having sex while pregnant seemed a little creepy before now, just imagine what your baby is doing while you make love.

3. Your Entire Undercarriage Might Need Stitches

The last place any woman wants stitches is in her taint, but many mothers have to get that area closed up surgically. Nine out of ten women have some type of vaginal tearing after birth, but there are many degrees of tearing. Some tears only require a little care or a few stitches, but the really bad cases go from the vagina all the way to the anus. Some can even affect the muscles beyond your anus. On the upside, tearing that reaches the anus is somewhat rare and only affects one in one hundred mothers.
Massaging the area prior to child birth can reduce tearing, but even then, it won’t completely stop tearing in most people. Suddenly, getting a C-section started sounding a whole lot more appealing, huh?

 4. You May Just Poop Yourself

During childbirth, it is extremely common for a woman to accidentally expel the contents of her bowels. There is a good reason for this –the muscles you use to push the baby out are the same ones you ordinarily use during a bowel movement. As if that weren’t enough to get your sphincter ready to go, the baby directly pushes on the rectum as it makes its exit, helping to squeeze out anything near the exit.

In olden times, it was common for nurses to give enemas prior to labor, but this practice didn’t end up stopping the mess from happening and often caused dehydration. These days, your doctors and nurses will be ready to help clean up the mess. In most cases, they won’t even say anything about it so you won’t know the difference.
It does make you think twice about filming the birth though, doesn’t it?

5. You Really Will Glow

Saying a pregnant woman is glowing is a common expression, but most people chalk it up to the woman’s excitement about becoming a mommy. As it turns out though, glowing skin is a very real thing for pregnant women. While you’re pregnant, the amount of blood in your body will increase by 50%. The extra blood ends up showing through the skin in many areas, particularly the cheeks.

On top of this, hormones cause the oil glands to become more active, resulting in a softer, shinier appearance. When the increased blood flow combines with shine, the result is a noticeable glow.

 6. Your Sense of Smell Gets Better

During pregnancy, your sense of smell increases drastically, as does your sense of taste. Scientists hypothesize that this is to help pregnant mothers avoid eating small levels of toxins that might not be dangerous to an adult, but could be deadly to a fetus. As smoke, alcohol and coffee are all particularly noticeable to pregnant women, this theory certainly seems to be on the right path.

 7. Contractions Don’t Stop After Birth

Most mothers will have contractions for the first few days after birth. The muscle cramps are the body’s way of stopping excess blood loss. On the upside, if you give birth at the hospital, you’ll still be pretty drugged up and will probably barely even notice.

 8. You Don’t Really Need To Eat For Two

Despite the widespread rumors that say pregnant women need to gain all the weight they can in order to give birth a healthy baby, the truth is that most women will only need an extra 300 calories per day. That’s equivalent to about one serving of yogurt and half a bagel. Most women only need to gain about 25 pounds throughout their entire pregnancy.

Of course, if you happen to be at the buffet and are having a tough time resisting the desserts section, go ahead and sneak a little extra. No one will give a pregnant woman a hard time if she pigs out.

9. Your Feet Can Grow Up To One Full Shoe Size

If you’re wondering why your feet will get so big when you only gain 25 pounds, it has to do with the excess pressure on your feet paired with relaxed ligaments in your body. As your pregnancy wears on, your body starts to release the tightness of its ligaments to help with the birthing process. Unfortunately for your shoes, this also means your feet start to lose their arch and stretch out on the sides. The flatter, wider shape of your feet will probably be temporary, but if they grew too much, the change could end up being permanent. If your feet do stay a bit larger, it certainly will serve as a great excuse to buy more shoes.

10. The Father Might Show Symptoms of Pregnancy

It’s surprisingly common for a father-to-be to start gaining weight, getting morning sickness and even feel cramps in his lower abdomen. The condition is known as a sympathetic pregnancy or the Couvade Syndrome, which comes from the french word couvee meaning “to hatch”.

Renewable Energy: Kenya shows the way for Africa!

Kenya Wind Farm

There are some 700 million people in Africa without access to electricity. As the continent modernizes, those people will need power. But could African power be a perfect place for leapfrog technology–when a developing society goes straight to the most modern technology without going through the iterations seen in the developed world? A new windfarm in Kenya might indicate yes.

The $870 million Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project, set to begin construction in December, will be the largest wind farm in Africa when it is completed. The project, which will be built in a remote area near the Lake Turkana basin, will use 360 wind turbines to pump out 300 megawatts of power–enough to power tens of thousands of homes and add 30% more energy capacity to Kenya’s grid. LWTP, a consortium of Kenyan and Dutch organizations including Anset Africa and KP&P, also plans to install a 266-mile-long transmission line to bring energy from the turbine project to the main grid.

This is a big step for Africa’s renewable energy capacity, but there is still a long way to go. There is only one grid-linked solar power project currently operating on the continent (in Rwanda), though there are several under construction. And at least one country in the region–South Africa–relies almost entirely on coal for energy.

But if LTWP is completed on schedule (by 2014) and without any future financing issues, investors may soon come around to the idea that large-scale renewable projects in Africa make sense.

13 Things You Must Do Every Week As A Startup CEO

Being the CEO of a startup is a hard and complex job.  Here’s my quick list of the 13 things every startup CEO should make sure to do each week:

    1. Remember your One Thing.  Your startup can only do one thing well at a time. Know Your One Thing.  Write it on the wall.  Repeat it every day.  Put it at the top of every regular company-wide communication.  Don’t let anything distract you and your team from it.
    2. Remember that you’re only as good as The Team around you.  Spend time cultivating your team.  Bring in people who are better at their jobs than you could ever be.  Motivate them and drive them to do things they never thought they could do.  Give them freedom to roam and discover while guiding them towards the One Thing.  Treat your co-workers like family.   Startups can be a grind.  Getting your team to love being part of your company is critical to success.  A startup is not just a place to work, it’s a way of life.  As CEO, your job is not to do everyone else’s job.  Your job is to help everyone else do their jobs better.  Also make sure to give regular feedback to your executives on your expectations for them and areas where you need them to improve.
    3. Set the Tone.  Everyone — your co-workers, your customers, your partners, your investors, the press, your Twitter and Facebook followers — takes their cues from you.  Does your company value Speed?  Analytics?  Innovation?  Customer Service?  Ultimately your company culture will largely reflect how you function as CEO.  So, don’t be a rude jerk.  Walk the walk and personally act the way you want people to think about when they think about your company.  It’s easy to get this wrong.  If you run around like a chicken with its head cut off, your company will too.  If you forget to smile, your company will too.  If you lack patience, your company will too.  If you don’t say please and thank you, neither will your company.  The company is bigger than any one individual but it reflects the personalities and work habits of its employees, and you’re the leader.
    4. Spend at least 75% of your personal time on your Product.  Your company is only as good as its product.  Put your stamp on it.  Insist that it be excellent.  Dig in and get your hands dirty and manage features and user benefits.  Where I come from the CEO must be the Chief Product Officer.  As CEO you should feel responsible for every pixel on the screen.  I know that may seem like overkill but your product is the user-facing output of all your hard work and its every function should reflect your goals and objectives.
    5. Run the Numbers.  I’m talking less budget and cash flow here and more key metrics.  Send a weekly email to your team summarizing all the key data that drives your business.  Write this email yourself.  Writing the email will force you to dig in and analyze the data.  Own the data.  Share the data.  Make it your job to make sure that everyone in the company is focused on the numbers that really drive your business.  Boil it down to at most 3 to 5 metrics that really matter.
    6. Exercise.  I can’t stress enough the importance of this.  Make yourself go to the gym at least 4 days per week, preferably 5 or 6.  Working out gives you the energy and stamina to solve complex problems.  Being CEO is incredibly mentally challenging.  Use the gym as a way to stay fresh and to clear your head.  If you don’t do this already, I promise you you’ll be shocked at how much easier life gets when you are regularly working out.  Step away from the keyboard and enter the gym!
    7. Ask for Feedback.  Guess what?  You’re not as smart as you think you are.  And you will make mistakes.  Ask your employees, customers, partners, etc. for regular feedback.  Make sure you have at least 1 executive on your team who can give you honest feedback about your own performance.  Make sure you have at least 1 outside board member or close advisor who can give you regular input on corporate development issues (e.g. fundraising, board management).
    8. Get Out of the Office.  It’s all too easy to manage from behind the keyboard and just live around your email inbox.  Get out of the office and talk to real customers, partners, suppliers, bloggers, press, etc.  Listen to what they have to say and take it to heart.  Don’t just feed them the vision.  Stop and listen to the reality.
    9. Blog, Tweet, Read, & Participate in CEO forums.  Writing stuff like this is therapeutic.  Share your lessons learned, pain points, and your tips and tricks.  Don’t be afraid to hang it all out there and get feedback from your virtual network.  Read hacker news to keep up on what other startup CEOs and tech geeks are sharing.  Leverage your investors’ networks to get advice and input from other CEO’s who are in similar situations.
    10. Manage Cash.  Cash is your lifeblood.  You must know at all times how much cash you have left, how long it can last you, and what the impact of decisions you make will have on your cash position.  And don’t forget to raise more money long before you need it!
    11. Act Like an Investor.  At the end of each week, ask yourself the following question:  Did our actions this past week increase value?  What was the ROI on your time spent this past week?  If you go 2 weeks in a row or 2 weeks in a month without a positive ROI on your time spent, you’re clearly doing the wrong things.
    12. Have fun.  This stuff is too hard and takes too much energy to not enjoy it.  Make sure to have fun every single day.  Even the tough days need to have some joy in them.  If you’re not having fun, you’re doing the wrong things.  One of my favorite sayings is, “mature, but don’t grow up.”
    13. Love.  Love your company.  Love your co-workers.  Love your investors.  Love your partners.  Love your suppliers.  And most importantly, love the people you come home to — the people whose support makes it possible for you to get up and do it again each day.

What does your list look like?

Stop Comparing Yourself with Steve Jobs

Comparing yourself with Steve Jobs is not healthy. Never mind that it’s probably the pastime of every alpha male and female businessperson on the planet these days.

Drawing inspiration from Steve Jobs — or from anyone else you admire — studying them, and learning from them, now those are different matters. But all too often we conflate admiration and comparison. They’re two completely different things. One is smart, the other debilitating.

Comparison sounds like this: “Why aren’t I that creative?” “How come I don’t have the negotiating cojones he does?” “How come I can’t manage my people to that level of excellence?” “Why can’t I run two companies at once like he does?” “Why didn’t I have the guts to drop out of college and do what I really wanted to do?” “How come I haven’t had a comeback?” And it’s no surprise what comes next: “What a loser I am. I’ll never be like him. I’ll never be able to do anything that big. If I were sitting across the office from him he’d make mincemeat of me. I just don’t have what he has.”

The loop is repeated every hour or every time you read something about your icon, whichever comes first.

And this is healthy how?

Such comparisons spiral you into depression. They demotivate you, demoralize you, and generally suck every last bit of enthusiasm and aliveness out of you, so that you go into your next meeting or activity unable to contribute an ounce of energy to the room. How could you? You just annihilated your spirit.

Don’t touch hot stoves, don’t forget to call your mother on Mother’s Day, and don’t compare yourself with others. Wire this into your brain. Ruthlessly comparing yourself with others has become confused with some kind of tough-love work ethic. It isn’t the same thing. And it isn’t the least bit productive. It leaves you with nothing but personal unhappiness, and you can’t create very much of anything with that.

Because we confuse destructive comparisons with a strong work ethic, we make a habit of them, and mental habits get hardwired into our brains.

Break the cycle. Do an intervention on yourself. Begin the process of permanently rewiring your brain by consciously recognizing that this thing you thought was good, or responsible, is in fact the opposite.

There’s a saying, “You can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought.” It’s true. And comparing yourself with others is the equivalent of smothering yourself in negative thought. The feelings of self-loathing that follow are ultimately self-centered and self-indulgent in the most negative possible way. Yes, it’s a form of self-pity.

And if all that isn’t enough, consider this: The last way you will ever get to play in a game remotely like the one your icons play in is by comparing yourself with them.

When I was in my 20s I moved to Los Angeles to try and get a record deal as a singer and songwriter. I compared myself with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell constantly. Using that approach, I never produced a remotely memorable song. And then I started observing pop/rock songwriter John Cougar. He was derided by the critics for being derivative of, but never nearly as insightful or affecting as, the greats. In a brilliant stroke of authenticity, he dropped the name I assume record producers had forced on him and began using his real name — John Mellencamp. As he embraced his own inadequacies, he began to write about things that were actually real and personal to him, instead of trying to channel Bob Seger, and suddenly he was producing critically acclaimed music. He went on to found Farm Aid and in 2008 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Using Mellencamp as my model — which meant being true to me and not someone else — I began writing much better, much more authentic material, and even had a song recorded by Edgar Winter.

I heard an interview on NPR the other day with Justin Townes Earle, a great and now successful songwriter in his own right, and son of Mellencamp’s contemporary, the great rural songwriter Steve Earle. Justin bears his dad’s last name, and his middle name was given to him in honor of the legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt. He was asked if this was a burden, to be compared with these guys. His response was brilliant:

“I know both of ’em. They ain’t legends to me. They’re just regular guys. I’ve seen them throw up on themselves… I knew early on that anyone that decided they were going to be in competition with Steve Earle and Townsend Van Zandt as a songwriter is gonna live a fool’s life. You just gotta try and write for yourself and not worry about what other people think. I think that that’s what screws a lotta people up. You’re not Dylan…you’re who you are and you gotta learn who you are in order to write decent songs.”

And this credo has made him a success.

Steve Earle or Steve Jobs — if you’re comparing yourself with them you’re betraying yourself and your life and all of the possibility that lies within it.

By: Dan Palotta ( Founder of Palotta TeamWorks)

10 Must-Have Products for the Savvy College Student

10 Must-Have Products for the Savvy College Student

Gadget Pile

You’re off to school. You’re going to be facing many new challenges. What you don’t need is to be wasting lots of time and energy. You need to get things done quickly and efficiently. For that, you’ll need the assortment of products listed here. All of these products are electronic. We live in an electronic-digital age, and highly effective students make the most of the opportunities such products provide.

As you go through this list, you’ll find some overlap. For instance, your cell phone / SmartPhone can serve as a camera. So too, your laptop computer can play DVDs and Blu-ray. In our experience, it’s best to have dedicated units for each of the main tasks and sources of information you’ll be facing as a student. All-purpose electronics that are advertised as “doing everything” often don’t do anything particularly well. By contrast, we’ve found dedicated electronics get the job done, are easier to use, and less liable to bugs and break-downs.

Here, then, is our list of 10 must-have products:

1. Laptop Computer

LaptopIn the number one position, of course, is a computer. You’ll definitely need a computer and we recommend a laptop. Desktop computers are bulky, have multiple components, and break down more easily. Moreover, given how fast and powerful laptaps have become, you really don’t need a desktop computer unless you’re going to be doing intensive work with graphics or sound (in which case you should be able to find such computers made available to you on campus). Laptops, by contrast, give you everything to meet your computing needs in one neat package. Although Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba make good laptops, we recommend Asus, which gives you more computing power for the buck and doesn’t saddle your machine with as much extraneous software when you buy it. What, no Mac, you say? Although we like Macs, especially for audio and video editing, we think that for an entry-level machine you are best going with a PC. PCs tend to be more compatible with academic environments and have much more educational software written for them. When you buy a laptop, be sure to get one with a good processor and lots of memory. Also be sure to get some good virus protection — we recommend Kaspersky. Here’s the laptop we recommend (it’s got an i5 processor, 4 gigs of RAM, and a 500 gig hard drive — and it’s quite reasonably priced given how much you get):

Asus A52F-XE2 15.6-Inch Versatile Entertainment Laptop

2. SmartPhone / Cell Phone

cell phoneYou most likely already have a cell phone. In fact, you may be wondering why we didn’t put a cell phone first on this list. As it is, you’ll be able to borrow someone’s cell phone in a pinch. But borrowing someone’s computer to do your school work tends to be more difficult. Your computer is going to be “command central” for all your course work. A good cell phone will help you here, but cannot replace your computer. That said, for mobility, keeping up with what’s going on, and as a backup for some of what your computer does (for example, email), a good cell phone / SmartPhone will be indispensable. We recommend the latest line of Google Droid phones that work on a 4G network. They’re fast. They do all the basic stuff that cell phones are supposed to do. They’ve got plenty of cool apps. They don’t saddle you with a lot of the proprietary restrictions and costs that Apple has on its phones. Finally, the latest phones have powerful Internet connections and provide WiFi hubs, so if your school’s Internet goes down or you’re in a place without Internet, your phone can connect your laptop to the web. Here’s the cell phone we recommend:

HTC Evo Shift 4G

3. eReader

eReaderPaper-and-ink books are not likely disappear any time soon. Even so, their role is going to keep diminishing in coming years. Moreover, most other print media (newspapers, journals, magazines) are going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, many school libraries no longer subscribe to print versions of academic journals. This means that you’ll be reading more and more on your laptop and other electronic media delivery systems. Electronic readers (eReaders) are becoming the delivery system of choice. They’re highly portable (more so than laptops), are light and small, have long battery lives, and typically use e-ink (electronic ink) that’s readable even in bright sunlight (unlike laptops and unlike Apple’s iPad). The reader we prefer is the Amazon Kindle. In addition to supporting many many books and publications, and in addition to allowing automatic transfers of many different electronic formats (for example, pdf files are easily transferred to the Kindle), it also has a wonderful text-to-speech feature. The electronic voice is not as good as a real voice, but it’s pretty good, giving not just accurate pronunciation of words but also preserving cadences. With a Kindle, you may never buy an audio book again. We recommend the Kindle DX, whose larger size and memory capacity provide everything you’ll need in an eReader:

High-End Kindle

Lower-End Kindle

4. Printer

PrinterPrinters are no longer as necessary as they once were. Lots of printers are widely available on campus or from neighbors. Moreover, we just don’t need as much paper as we once did. Email has cut down massively on the amount of mail that the post offfice delivers. Many books and documents are now available electronically. Many school assignments now need to be submitted electronically. Indeed, some courses now advertise themselves as being “paperless.” That said, you will find teachers who still want assignments handed in with traditional “ink on paper” or “hardcopy.” Especially for term papers, teachers like to grade papers by marking them with a red pen or pencil. All that to say, you will be having to print off some of your assignments. But can’t you just do that on someone else’s printer. In most cases, you can. But imagine it’s the morning of that the big assignment is due. The printer you ordinarily borrow is down. Or, if it’s not down, there’s a big line waiting to use it. You’ll find that having your own printer will relieve a lot of stress the times you really need it. Moreover, you’ll find it convenient simply to have the printer around to print things off at your convenience rather than having to hunt down a printer elsewhere. We recommend two types printers, one that simply prints and is portable; the other that also does scanning, fax, and photocopies. Either one will serve your needs:

Portable Printer

Full-Service Printer

5. Voice Recorder

recorderYou may be attending a dynamite lecture. You may be wanting to record great thoughts that are coming to you faster than you can write down. You may want to do a podcast, sharing your deep thoughts with Cyberspace. You may be listening to a classic comedy routine by your roommate and want to preserve it for posterity. In all such cases and more, you’ll want a dedicated voice recorder. These have come down drastically in price. They’re now entirely digital, so you can easily transfer everything you record to your computer. Cell phones often don’t offer voice recorders, partly because of legal ramifications. Check with your state’s laws. In some states, you are permitted to record what other people are saying, whether in person or by phone, as long you are party to the conversation. In other states, you need to get consent. In any case, you’ll find that with a voice recorder, you’ll be able capture moments that years down the line you’ll be glad you didn’t miss. Here’ the voice recorder we recommend. It will handle all your voice recording needs and even some music:

Sony ICD UX200 Digital Recorder

6. Camera

CameraCell phones have cameras, but even with high megapixel counts, their picture quality tends to be only fair and their camera features (zoom, red-eye control, shutter speed, etc.) tend to be strictly limited or non-existent. Sure, use your cell-phone camera when that’s the only camera you have, but if you want pictures you can be proud of — if you’re going to be at a special occasion where the pictures you take are ones you’ll want your kids and grandkids to enjoy — use a dedicated camera. Digital cameras now exceed the traditional film cameras in picture quality. The best type of camera you can get is a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. This will give you professional quality pictures (of course, it will help to know something about photography). Unlike ordinary digital cameras, these allow you to take pictures much faster (click-click-click) and get sharp focus each time. Of course, a DLSR camera may be more camera than you need. In that case, go with a conventional digital camera. Here are two DSLR cameras we recommend (we like Nikon) as well as a a conventional one:

Nikon D5000 12.3 MP DX Digital SLR Camera

Nikon D3000 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera

Sony DSC-W330 14.1MP Digital Camera

7. Portable DVD/Blu-ray Player

Portable Video Disk PlayerVideo is increasingly becoming part of the educational experience. You may be taking a course online and have to view lectures or documentaries on DVD or Blu-ray. You may be doing some self-study with materials from The Teaching Company (www.teach12.com), which has many wonderful courses on DVD. In such cases it will help you enormously to have a portable DVD/Blu-ray player. These small devices work very well and allow you to cut through a lot of the security and red tape that laptop and desktop computers encounter when they have to use third-party software to read DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Also, if you have to take notes on the videos that you’re viewing, it will help to be viewing on a device separate from your computer. DVDs still tend to dominate the market, especially in education, but Blu-ray discs are fast gaining support (Blu-ray supersedes DVD, having much greater storage capacity). If price is not so big an issue, we recommend getting a portable Blu-ray player (which will also play DVDs). Otherwise, we recommend getting a portable DVD player:

Portable Blu-ray Player

Portable DVD Player

8. iPod or iPad

iPadYes, your cell phone has an mp3 player and that’s a feature that works well on these devices. And yes, Apple tends to be quite proprietary about its products, keeping a tight rein on all the applications, music, and peripherals that work with them (Apple doesn’t seem to know the meaning of “third party”). That said, Apple has been a key innovator in the electronics business, so you should have an Apple product if only to know what your classmates are using and doing. Sure, you can get an iPhone that also serves as an iPod. But this we regard as an expensive option and one that, in our view, unduly limits your use of cell phone providers. On the plus side, whatever Apple does, it tends to do well. Moreover, iPods and iPads work well across computing environments (whether you get a PC or Mac). The Apple Store that services the iPod and iPad offers lots of neat educational products. You’ll want to have at least one of these devices in your academic arsenal:

iPod

iPad

9. Video Camera

Video CameraVideos are able to capture moments in ways that snap shots with ordinary cameras cannot. If you value memories with family and friends, if you want to commemorate key moments in your educational experinece, you’ll want a video camera. But what about education itself? How can a video camera enhance your educational experience? Are video cameras really a must-have product for the savvy student? We believe that they are. Making your own videos is becoming more and more popular, not just for YouTube but also as part of the education experience (video contests on academic subjects are becoming increasingly widespread). The digital/electronic culture is a visual culture. People these days tend to learn less from books and reading and more from visuals. What has classically been called “the rhetorical task,” where you try to persuade people to accept some idea or act in some way, is increasingly driven not by words and argument but by enticing visuals. You don’t need to be a professional film-maker to appreciate this point. Even an amateur with a video camera can affect people in ways that written media cannot. Video cameras are now entirely digital, dispensing with tapes and going entirely with flash and hard drives, so you can move the videos you make easily to a computer for editing. Here’s the video camera we recommend:

Panasonic HDC-HS60 Hi-Def Camcorder

10. Pen Tablet

Pen TabletIn this digital age, we tend to push a lot of buttons on machines. We ourselves, however, are not machines. We are organisms, and button-pushing, after a while, can feel quite unnatural. It’s therefore important to have some interfaces with the digital world that preserve our non-linear, analogue humanity. When we learn to write, for instance, we don’t learn at a keyboard but by putting pencil to paper and tracing out first block letters and then cursive letters. A pen tablet allows this experience of writing, scribbling, and drawing to be transferred to the computer, thus providing an organic link between (wo)man and machine. Talk of “organic links” may sound warm and fuzzy, but once you start using a pen tablet, you’ll see that it connects you with digital environments in ways you hadn’t expected. Tablet laptops were something of a rage five years ago, but the screens weren’t very good and, as often happens when you ask too much of a device, they didn’t do anything particularly well. By getting a pen tablet as a peripheral to your computer, on the other hand, you’ll be able to get the full value out of the tablet as well as your laptop. Here’s is the pen tablet we recommend:

Bamboo Pen Tablet

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