Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

I wanted to share another awesome TED talk…everytime I discuss it with someone, I get chills or the hairs on my arm stand on end.

Luis von Ahn and his team have stumbled upon a great recipe for a business:

  1. Combine something that people have to do or want to do (for Luis it was entering in a code on the internet to prove you are a human). It helps if this is done millions of times a day
  2. Add in something that can be done while the individual is doing #1 that is done best by a human (for Luis it is deciphering words in books that the computer couldn’t properly recognize when the book was digitized).

I am still working out ideas…maybe I will find a good use for the 150 times a day I enter in my pass code onto my iPhone.

Hope you enjoy the TED talk.


Looking for a better way to get up out of bed

In response to the Daily Prompt (Can’t Drive 55): ”Take the third line of the last song you heard, make it your post title, and write for a maximum of 15 minutes. GO!”

How do you feel each morning when you wake up? Is it hopeful or pessimistic? Tired or well rested? Beaten down or upbeat?

A better question is what gets you out of bed? You might say that it is having to go to work, or going to school. But do you have to do any of those things? You could find another job or quit school. Maybe you are going to work or school, but you have quit in some sense. There is no joy in it for you anymore.

Where do you find joy? For me, a lot of joy comes from the journey. Everyday I have a chance to grow and to serve others. Sadly, these are not the first thoughts on my mind when I “get up out of bed.”

I admit, that I don’t challenge myself enough. As much as I want to be stretched, days where life is predictable feel pretty good. I want to get to a point where I am taking risk professionally and personally, so that each day has something unknown.

One thing that has been an unknown for the past week is “what am I going to blog about today?” Some days it comes easy, others it is hard. I am feeling like it will be difficult to get through 31 days straight of blog posts – I hope that the quality is there, but in the end I want to get in the habit of writing more.

Ok…I am past my 15 minutes, so I will leave it there. My song was Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore

The beats of a story

Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

I love this post at 99u on “The five beats of successful storytelling.” I plan to use this to explore the story I want to tell at an upcoming talk.

As I have mentioned before, storytelling is so crucial in today’s world. There is so much information floating around, the only thing that tends to get our attention is a well crafted story.

My take on the importance of storytelling overtime

  • pre-3000 BC – I would love to write some of this stuff down, but I don’t know how to yet. It’s easier for my cro-magnon brain to process a story, so tell me about the story about that enormous woolly mammoth you killed with your bare hands and I will draw pictures of it on this cave wall.
  • 3000 BC – 2013 – This industrialist work/life balance has really got me down. Can you just send me the excel spreadsheet with last quarters’ sales figures?
  • 2013 and beyond – I have a million tweets a minute coming at me. Lot’s of information, but nothing is sticking. My modern hipster mind would love a story so I can make sense of all of this.

So as you can see from my exhaustive chronicle of time, storytelling is back in. There’s no doubt that good storytelling has always been valued, but I believe stories help us separate the signal from the noise.

So check out the framework and 99u’s article. Try and craft your story doing this…I am working on mine and hope to blog about it in a few days.

Never ending work

When I travel, I am continually amazed at the lack of good design in airports. Check out the picture above. This is the scene that confronted me this morning as I waited for my bag in the jetway. We wait in a long line, then when our bag comes we go grab it, only to bump into every other passenger trying to grab his or her bag. This setup is by default, not by design. But why should this surprise me, you or anyone else?

Good design is hard. Really, really hard.

Hard, but not impossible. Running 26 miles is also hard, but many can do it with the right training.

I believe the most important tool for good design is empathy. The training mostly involves taking a stand, trying something, failing and then trying again to make it better.

It is an art – not a science. And one thing I am beginning to love and hate about making art – it is never finished. The artist is always trying to make “better” art.

Good design is hard because it requires time. Time to plan. Time to observe. Time to collaborate with others. Time to test. Time to refine.

Who has this kind of time? You do. I do. We all do. If you are doing something important (aside: what are you doing that is not meaningful in some way?) then it is worth taking the time to make your doing is “by design” not “by default”.

I failed on this front just yesterday (another entry for the #FAIL folder!)

I was leading an important meeting for our department to discuss some recent changes that occurred in the organization. I walked into the meeting having given it only a couple minutes of thought. This important meeting was being run by default, not by design.

How could I have designed this meeting?

Step 0: gain some empathy for the team
Step 1: establish the goal is for the meeting
Step 2: think through what behaviors would help accomplish the goal
Step 3: bounce this plan off of someone else
Step 4: refine based on feedback
Step 5: have meeting
Step 6: evaluate the meeting to see if goals were met
Step 7: use experience to do this better next time

This may sound tedious, but remember good design doesn’t happen by chance. It takes hard work.

While I’m a fan of learning from failures, I think a better approach is attempting to design for success – not to launch into something saying “this is probably going to fail, but I’ll learn something.” What is it you want to learn? Write those things down and see if after you learned them after you are done. If you didn’t you need another test.

But testing again is ok. Because like I said designing is making art. It’s never finished. It’s never ending work. But that’s a great challenge. There is always an opportunity to improve.

For me, it’s oddly freeing to know that I can never “arrive.” I am on a journey that I can never complete. This would lead (and has led) many to despair.

It’s freeing for me because if you can’t “arrive”, then the joy must be in the actual journey.

I am enjoying the journey.

Go to the gemba

Lean thinking sprung forth out of the Japanese automotive industry (specifically Toyota). War torn Japan had to make more with less and lean thinking was the answer.

One of my favorite phrases from lean methods is “gemba.” It means “the real place.” In lean terminology, “going to the gemba” means going to the place where the action happens – the shop floor, the call center, the engineer’s cubicle.

It is important for leaders to see problems with their own eyes. Going to the gemba ties back to empathy and design thinking beautifully. But just like all of these ideas, thoughts, principles, they can be applied to life.

Going to the gemba in your life means engaging with people – talking with your spouse about difficult things, going to your kid’s soccer game, walking along side a co-worker as he or she goes through something trying.

When you go to the gemba in life, you leave the “office” of your life and head down to the “shop floor.”

Go to the gemba.

Lean wins. Every. time.

Lean is all about eliminating waste. The concept can be applied to manufacturing, product development, startups and leadership, just to name a few.

Since waste can never be completely eliminated, it gives us a true north to always strive for.

Don’t confuse lean for economy. It could even mean the opposite. Lean simply means that every interaction, every test, every item shipped serves some purpose. All is done by design.

Lean wins because it’s intentional. It’s purposeful. If your competition isn’t learning from their mistakes, they are not practicing lean methodology. If you are not learning from short words you had with your spouse or kids, if you are not getting your ideas in front of your customers before it’s to late to make changes, if you are not giving the members of your team meaningful opportunities to take risks, you are not practicing the lean way.

I am convinced that as we have more choices as consumers, businesses will have to be “lean.” We won’t stand for waste. Those that make the most of our feedback – the insights to be gain from empathizing with us – will win. Every. time.

The only way to do it


After my spouse and I were pronounced man and wife, the minister made a small verbal misstep. He had undoubtedly officiated hundreds of weddings and knew what to say.

We all know what to say…”You may now kiss the bride.”

Despite all that experience, something happened. The minister looked my square in the eye and said “Lance…now you can do it.”

The congregation laughed uncomfortably, I kissed my bride, and we have been happily married for over ten years.

Now knowing how my wedding ended, it should not be a surprise that seeing the sign shown above makes me think of the minister’s charge. This sign hangs prominently at Stanford’s and I took this picture the last time I was there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “doing” lately. For most of us, it is much easier to sit on the couch, stay at your desk, or to not speak up in the meeting. Non-action seems to have less risk – key word being “seems”.

Non-action and not doing is every bit as risking as doing. It happens over time, almost so slow that you don’t notice it – non-action allows your skills to weaken to the point at which your contribution isn’t valued and you become a non-factor.

The best strategy for mitigating this risk is to act. To take a risk. To move from the couch. To leave your desk – Go talk to the guy in accounting that no one will talk to. Go talk to a customer. Go ask you friends what you are doing that is short of your potential. Go ask your neighbor what you can do to help them. Go do something that scares you a little and that might fail.

I want to be know as a doer. That’s how we learn. By taking risks and making mistakes. I build to think. Building is all about doing. Sure, you make start by sketching out a plan, but you build as soon as you can. You test your plan and then refine and build again.

Join me in doing.