Author

Adam Lamagna

My primary focus in my career is to help companies, organizations, and individuals find the balance between design, technology, and business.

My primary focus in my personal life...is to just find a balance!

As you all may know, I work with a group of professionals called the Young Leaders Circle for the United Way of Rhode Island. Every year we try to raise money to help the homeless and near homeless find affordable places to live, as this is something I think every American should have a right to – affordable housing. Last year we raised quite a bit of money, which is awesome. I put the fundraiser out over my social media channels and raised about $700 myself. This year I did something a little different. I told people that if they donated I would give them a genuine compliment, and genuine compliments are what I’ve been giving! I’ve managed to raise just over $1,000 this year and we still have a week to go, so we’ll see if we can get that number higher. But here’s what I’ve noticed…

People like compliments based on who they are, not what they look like…

People genuinely like genuine compliments. They get excited about them. Now, I’m not talking about giving someone a compliment based on their appearance, although those can be nice from time to time (“you are soooo hot!”), but I’m talking about really digging deep and finding those one or two things that you truly like about someone or see in someone and giving them that compliment.

I think it’s easy to say things like “you look really nice to today” or “I love the dress you’re wearing, you look beautiful in it.” And these compliments can be a good self-image booster for the recipient, so I don’t want to tell you not to do it, but try and figure out what’s special about this person and give them that as a compliment. Here’s an example from one of the 20 compliments I’ve given out on Facebook to those who made donations:

You’re an influencer in the best kind of way. You spread hope and cheer, you advocate for equality and tolerance, you’re a proponent for the truth, and you’re a protector of the good. I think you help people do the right thing, by doing the right thing yourself. You’ve been a monumental role model in my life and so many others, I’m glad we’re friends. And thank you for your donation!

That was a genuine compliment and well-received. Then I’d put the link below it to the fundraising page on Crowdrise and say “Donate to a great cause and get a genuine compliment from me” – it’s a good strategy, and one that brings joy all around. It’s kind of a win-win.

Genuine compliments breed positivity in others…

I’ve noticed since I started giving genuine compliments on Facebook for everyone to see, it has sparked a number of responses that all seem to be really positive. I’ll give you an example, an old friend posted this on my Facebook timeline:

“Just love the vibe you are bringing to the world right now.”

That is an awesome compliment and full of positivity, right!! I think genuine compliment-giving brings out the best in people. And in these crazy times of politics, debates, and our country in turmoil, genuine compliments can truly get people to see through all the garbage. It gets people jazzed about stuff. I think there’s just a lot of hate in the world and if we all start giving genuine compliments, maybe all of it can be a little better. Or maybe that’s just my idealism and positivity trying to shine through, some may call it being naive, and that’s ok.

 Genuine compliments help you connect with people…

This whole experiment of giving out genuine compliments in exchange for donations, although might sound a little corny, has helped me to reconnect with old friends. Which is awesome! There were a few people whom I haven’t talked with in years who actually donated some significant funds and yes, maybe they did it to get a genuine compliment, but I think it’s more than that. I think connection is one of the human necessities and people need to connect with others.

Giving genuine compliments not only makes the recipient feel good about themselves, but it forms a bond between you and the recipient. You connect if only for a split second, but in that moment there’s a connection that could last a lifetime because genuine compliments are remembered on both ends. With all the compliments I’ve given I have pinpointed something about the other person that I truly do like and admire, and that’s the compliment I give. It’s something that’ll be remembered.

Genuine compliments make you feel good…

I think we all know that giving out any type of compliment (well, a genuine one, at least) makes the recipient feel good about themselves, which I think is fantastic. But I’ve also noticed that it makes me feel pretty darn good about myself too! The compliments that I give are well thought out and well written, so it makes me think about the people I’m complimenting, which brings back good memories.

On the same token, it also makes me feel like I’m bringing something good to the world, right? Like, in the face of all this stuff we see on Facebook and in the media, there are these little bits of positivity and kindness sprinkled throughout, which really just makes me feel awesome inside!! I like the fact that people have expressed their interest in these compliments and how it’s made them feel too. It’s important to me to bring good into the world, and do good things, and be good, you know?

Give more genuine compliments…

So, what I’ll do is ask everyone to give more genuine compliments. Even if it’s only one more, just go give someone a genuine compliment. Think about it before you say it or write it to someone. Think about what makes this person different and unique. Why is this person in your life and what do they bring to it? How have they helped you in a way that others have not? What do you see in this person that you’d wish others could see in you? Ask these questions and more and give someone you know a genuine compliment today! It won’t only make them feel better, but it will make you feel better, and maybe someone around you will hear it (or see it) and go do the same. You can bring joy to this world by just being genuine.

And if anyone would like to donate (and get a genuine compliment from me (but it only works if I know you!)) then please donate here, there’s one week left!!

https://www.crowdrise.com/unitedwayRI2016/fundraiser/adamlamagna

I’ll leave you with one more compliment I wrote for a good friend of mine:

You have a lot of really awesome traits, but one of the coolest things about you is that you genuinely care. I mean, you deeply care about all of this (the world, your family, friends, strangers you just met). You connect with people because you’re an authentic human being. You’re outgoing, enthusiastic, and charismatic, and people feed off that energy. I’m also amazed at your pursuit of knowledge. Your motivation is impressive. You strive, you seek to educate yourself and by doing so you better yourself, and everyone can learn something from that. I’m thankful for our friendship, and thanks again for donating!

WordCamp Rhode Island Coming Up

September 24, 2016
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* Update — you can find my slides here: http://beingajile.com/slides/formula-for-custom-proposal-writing.pdf

I will post the talk when it’s available on WordPress.tv

Ok WordCampers! Rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties, cause it’s coooold out there today! Well, not really. It’s the middle of September and you can definitely feel a chill in the air, but it’s not super cold. Anyways, we all know what the middle of September means – WordCamp is coming back around!

WordCamp Rhode Island, largely put on by the wonderful people over at Linchpin Agency, is being held at New England Tech next weekend from September 30th to October 1st. If you’re interested in going and need directions, just look here – https://2016.rhodeisland.wordcamp.org/location/

I have signed on once again this year to be a speaker. My talk is entitled The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing. Still putting the slides together, but I’ve got my talk all mapped out.

Essentially, I’ll be giving away secrets about proposal writing and taking listeners through the blueprint that I use to put together solid custom web proposals. I’m super excited because I’m really passionate about writing web proposals. I’m also very grateful that I get to share my knowledge with the fantastic WordPress community.

Next weekend is going to be a lot of fun (partly because a friend of mine is flying in, yayy!!) So, if you’re not doing anything next weekend, and you’re just dying to know how to write good custom web proposals, then check out my talk — The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing.

Honesty, Culture, and the Clash with Leadership

September 3, 2016
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I recently read a post on WP Tavern (one of my fav WP blogs to read) that brought up the question of the “us vs. them” mentality. And then I read another blog post that was a reaction to the original post.  And it got me thinking…but not about WordPress core leadership. To be completely honest with you, I’m not as involved in WordPress contributions as I’d like to be, but that is my fault and mine alone. However, it did make me contemplate leadership in general. It seems like we are seeing a rise in the toxic leader and employees that clash with leadership are finding new companies.

Lately, I’ve been starting a lot of my sentences with the words “to be completely honest with you..” as if I’m trying to get a point across that merits truthfulness. When, realistically, I try to be as honest as I can be when speaking about things like work and the environment we collaborate in. Yes…as honest as I can be…and that thought, that thought right there (you had it too, didn’t you!?), that thought makes me pause. I want to uncover that thought because it’s one that we don’t talk about. And it’s universal across all businesses, all industries.

That thought of being honest…

This is a really hard concept to capture, comprehend, and bring to light…because, let’s face it, we hold back. Quite. A. Lot. And to a certain extent, we have to. We are all professionals in a professional world, yet we don’t think that way about some of the people we interact with. I think we’ve all been in these situations where we’re casually talking with a new colleague when they ask the question “so, what should I know about our CEO?” Maybe they ask “what are your thoughts on the way she handled that meeting?” We all want to be honest with a new coworker about the flaws of our bosses or how we think our manager handled that last working session, but we hold back when they ask.

Then there’s being honest with your CEO or boss. Should you have to worry about whether or not you’re going to get fired for bringing up an issue at work. Or should you have to feel scared of retribution from a manager, director, or the CEO of your company for doing something you feel is right? Probably not, but it happens all the time. It happens because there’s usually a lack of communication in the hierarchy of an organization.  Or the organization itself breeds dishonesty. But what’s the one thing that affects communication more than anything else? Behavior.

“People leave managers, not companies.”

I forget who said it, but people leave their manager, not their company. For the most part, I believe this to be true. You have probably left a company because you lack faith in your leadership or are at odds with them. Leaders come in different shapes and sizes. There’s no leadership school that you can send someone to to receive leadership training. Well, I guess there are leadership seminars and whatnot. But it’s a trait that a). people are born with, or b). (and more likely) people develop over time, or c). (most likely) people are committed to improving through team feedback, lessons learned, and the will to lead in a better capacity.

In my opinion, trust (or lack there of) in your leadership really comes down to behavior. Now everyone says it would be healthier to bring up your grievances, but whether or not team members actually do this is a reflection of how comfortable they feel with leadership and their behavior. How can employees feel comfortable airing their issues if their leadership is known for explosive behavior? On the flipside to that, if your leadership is known for not having explosive behavior, but more passive aggressive behavior, I ask again—how can employees feel comfortable airing their issues? My career has spanned many industries, and I’ve come in contact with many leaders, some good, some bad, and very few who have been phenomenal! It’s the leaders that instill a judgment-free, open-door, challenging environment that enables teams to shine. And the leaders that don’t, usually see a high turnover rate.

Behavior begets behavior…

Behavior plays such a huge role in leadership skills. I’m sure we’ve all had that Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde boss that we’re frightened to go to because we’re not sure what reaction we’ll get from them. That’s setting a tone for the entire company to not raise future issues. We’ve also probably all had the passive aggressive boss that shuts you out after a remark is made or an idea is mentioned that wasn’t well-received, and you end up getting the silent treatment for two weeks. Employees will feel like speaking up isn’t worth the effort or retribution.

Behavior begets behavior, and it starts at the top. What do I mean by that? Well, a company, agency, or startup, is usually a reflection of the leadership. If a CEO is transparent with his employees, they’ll most likely be transparent with the CEO. When a Director of Marketing is an innovative leader, her team will most likely become innovative themselves. If a manager wants their team members to go to networking events, then that manager should be going to them as well.  Employees will usually mirror the behavior they see leadership display. We’ve all heard the term “lead by example.”

A company culture will be defined by the behavior leadership teams exhibit. And without the support of leadership, then a company’s culture has no chance of actually changing for the better. Good staff don’t want to work in a company that breeds a culture of fear or mediocrity.

Ethics also play a big role…

I have a moral code that I live by, as I’m sure you do too. Companies have the same thing, they call them values. But I think some companies have values just for the sake of having values. Without standards that can help measure the commitment one has toward their values, then they’re just a punchline.

I’ve been involved in the retail, sales, construction, and technology industries. They all have a mixed bag of people who want to do the right thing, those that seem like they don’t care, and the others that are balancing between ethics and cutting corners. Individuals have ethics, groups have ethics, and at times they can be at odds. They can also be a glaring example of a leader’s backbone. Leaders need to be held to a higher ethical standard because interpretations are dependent on those they lead. And too many times do we see leaders’ actions as “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy that begins to creep into an entire organization.

Finding that right mix…

What happens when you’re odds with your leadership? Or what happens when you can’t be honest with them? You start to hate your job, and essentially your life. No one wants to compromise their ethics for getting better results (or what may seem like better results) at work. But people do it. No one wants to be dishonest with their coworkers about the behavior of their CEO. But we do it. And we rationalize why. “Oh, I really need this job.” “The benefits are good, and it’s something I can tolerate for now.” Your inner self is screaming at you to leave now!!! And maybe you should.

Why do you think there are so many freelancers out there? How many times have you heard someone say “I’m going to open up my own business because I can do this better?” Many, I’m sure. But if you don’t want to be a freelancer or business owner, then what are your options? Finding that right mix of industry, coworkers, and leadership that’ll challenge you and make you feel at home.

Thriving with collaboration and innovation

Seek out industries you have a passion for. Seek out companies and other individuals that have similar values and standards. Check out Glassdoor Best Places to Work, GreatPlacesToWork.com, or any other rating site. When you find a company that looks good, check them out, check out their products, their reviews, their case studies, testimonials, etc. Talk with employees and former employees. Seek out the companies that are accomplishing things you’d want to accomplish too.

Bring your moral code to the team, bring your values and standards along too. When you start at a new company, bring your innovation, collaborate with team members in an open and honest way. If you can show your energy and enthusiasm, you’ll most likely attract those with the same energy and enthusiasm. Getting into a company where leaders openly challenge you to do your best work the right way is rare. When you find that place, it’s a place to stay.

I just started at a new company and so far, they’re super collaborative, innovative, and transparent. But I also have the added value of working with a leader I trust from years ago, so that’s a plus. Our portfolio is huge, we work with some really cool technology, and we have a global team. I’m looking forward to this next chapter and the team I’m doing it with. But what if you’re in a different position than me?

Co-existing with leaders you don’t necessarily agree with…

This has always been hard for me, even after I air my grievances with a leader. But if you’re in the throes of a shitty situation at work that stems from your lack of faith in your leadership, here are a few options:

  1. Confront your leader — I know that this might be a hard pill to swallow, but facing the situation head on is the quickest route to understanding if something’s fixable or not. If it’s fixable, awesome. If not, then maybe it’s time to move on.
  2. Work more with your leader — If you work closely with your leader, it’ll lead to a few things. A better understanding of each others’ roles. You can see how they treat other workers. And hopefully you can find common ground.
  3. Focus on things you can control — If you don’t get along with a leader, then focus your attention on your work and doing it really, really well. Producing great results will set you a part.
  4. Maybe it’s time to find something else — If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, then maybe it is time to leave. And there is no shame in that.

I’m positive that we’ve all been there. Working with leaders you can’t trust, can’t be honest with, or don’t agree with can make work a negative experience. Remember to hold on to your ethics and standards. and as long as you can be honest in a tactful and constructive way, you should be able to make your situation better, or find a better situation.

Top 5 Screenplays of All-Time: Movie Making Recognition

August 24, 2016
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Hollywood is the place where dreams are made (…or crushed, but who wants to think about that!). Our desires and fears leap out at us from the silver screen and we live vicariously through the characters we want to emulate. The film industry has been big business since the 1930’s and continues to grow. Movie-making is magical, films take people away. In a sense, movies are kind of like a drug or addiction where they make us forget about who we are for a while. They fill that need within all of us that makes us yearn for something more. And there are those of us out there (you know who you are) that binge-watch the shit out of Netflix and Amazon Prime! Guilty!

But little do people realize that movies start with a screenplay! Before any of the actors get cast, or the director starts yelling, or the stunts and special effects take shape, a screenplay is written. It’s that script that acts as the starting point for movie-making magic. Look at all the movies out there, thousands of them, each and everyone of them have a screenplay. There are lots of writers in Hollywood and they need some more recognition than just the Best Screenplay Category at the Oscars. Well…I guess there’s the Writers Guild Awards too, but who watches that?

So, in matching fashion along with My Movie List — The Top 5, Honorable Mentions, and The Top T.V. Shows Ever lists, I’ve decided to acknowledge, recognize, and applaud the top 5 screenplays of all-time. As I think they are, obviously!

The Top Screenplays of All-Time…

First, I’m looking for a few things. Here’s my criteria:

  1. A single motive storyline, but with secondary themes and challenges.
  2. Ambition – I want to be taken to the outer boundaries without miserably flying over them.
  3. Strong Characters – Yeah, we need to have reactions to these people (we need to love, like, hate them genuinely).
  4. The Climax / Ending – this needs to be epic. Plain and simple. EPIC.

I’ll go on a 5 star rating for each category:

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters: 
Ending: 

I didn’t really want to do a countdown, so in no random order, here’s the list:

The Matrix (1999):

I would say I’m not a huge fan of Keanu Reeves’ acting (unless you’re talking about Point Break), but this movie just worked! And it’s because its screenplay was freaking awesome! In the opening scene we’re introduced to Trinity (played by Carrie-Ann Moss), she’s sitting in a dark room and cops come in and “try” to arrest her. This is also when we first meet the cold, calculating Agent Smith (brilliantly The-Matrixplayed by Hugo Weaving). A fight and chase ensues!

We finally meet Neo or “Mr. Anderson” who has a dubious suspicion that the Matrix is real. As the audience, we have no idea what the Matrix is, until Neo takes the red pill and we find out! This twist was incredible, it put the movie into overdrive and brought us to the outer limits. As the movie progresses, we root for Neo to be the “one.” The characters include Morpheus, The Oracle, and Cypher (the bad guy). In addition to the movie being action-packed, there’s also a love story, and a really cool ending with the helicopter and Neo being able to dodge bullets.

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters: 
Ending: 

If you haven’t seen this movie, it’s a must watch!

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981):

Dr. Indiana “Indy” Jones is the man—seriously! Raiders of the Lost Ark was the original Indiana Jones movie, even though technically, The Temple of Doom was considered a prequel to this, I think. ROTLA was a phenomenal movie! Why, you ask? That’s right, because of the screenplay. The opening scene is intense and adventurous. It’s the one where Harrison Ford swaps a gold treasure that’s booby trapped with a bag of sand in an ancient temple and gets chased down by a huge rolling boulder. Enough said!

Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones

The movie takes place in the 1930’s, and we find out this awesome adventurer is a professor and and archeologist. Upon his return, Jones finds out that the Nazi’s (who make perfect villains) are after his old mentor and that they are probably searching for the Ark of the Covenant. Indy is then tasked with finding the Ark before the Nazi’s. And then awesomeness occurs!

Indiana rushes all over the place to find the Ark, find his mentor, save the love of his life who’s bar he accidentally burned down in Cairo, and save the world from an awful fate, it’s just good ole’ plain fun! If you haven’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and think that The Temple of Doom or The Last Crusade (or god forbid The Crystal Skull) is the best Indiana Jones movie ever, you are sorely mistaken!

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters: 
Ending: 

Pulp Fiction (1994):

The non-linear, soft, wet mass of material that might be referred to as the best screenplay of all time — Pulp Fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love this film, in fact I wrote a blog post on Tarantino Films. But the “greatest screenplay of all time” — maybe! It’s pretty intense, and the flow of the movie hops around a bit. So we forget that Vincent Vega (portrayed by John Travolta, and the role that revived his career) gets gunned down after using the bathroom.

A dissecting movie that takes place in Los Angeles revolving around 3 (or 4) main groups of people. There’s the gun-wielding, lovestruck couple in the opening scene that stick up the restaurant they’re eating at. There’s Vincent Vega (recently back from hiatus in Amsterdam) and Jules, both of which are hitmen for the iconic LA gangster, Marsellus Wallace. And then there’s Butch (played by Bruce Willis), who’s a boxer and supposed to take a dive in the 5th (“you’re ass goes down in the fifth. Say it.”) in compliance with Marsellus Wallace’s wishes (or commands), but then kills the guy in the ring (which we don’t see as the audience).

Vincent Vega and Jules in Pulp Fiction

There’s some really awesome, intense (and pretty sick) scenes in this movie. The most memorable (and I’m not gonna say the gimp) to me, is the scene where Vincent and Jules recover Wallace’s briefcase. It’s Samuel L. Jackson’s famous scene where he recites Ezekiel 25:17 (“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides…”) – it’s a killer scene, literally. But there are also some really cool themes in this movie; the briefcase (we have no idea what’s in it, but everyone speculates that it’s Marsellus Wallace’s soul—not confirmed), the Bible verse, the bathroom scenes, the overdose scene (that was cool!), then there was the gimp scene (which was just awful!), and a really great scene starring Christopher Walken (“3 long years, I stuck this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass…”).

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters:  
Ending: 

So, if you haven’t watch Pulp Fiction, you’re doing yourself a big disservice!

Chinatown (1974):

Hands down the best gumshoe film ever made, Jack Nicholson is the bomb in this movie! Jake Gettis is a private eye in Los Angeles (think Sam Spade) and he’s hired by a woman to track her husband (infidelities and all..). The target is an engineer, Mulray, for the LA Department of Water & Power, and as Jake (Jack) follows him he begins to unravel a conspiracy plot.

Jack and Faye in Chinatown

The film uncovers a number of brutal truths; the water department is drying the land in the Northwest Valley so it can be bought at a reduced price, Noah Cross (the main antogonist) is a horrible father/husband/person-in-general, Mulray is murdered because he gets too close, dead senior citizen residents are purchasing land (conspiracy), and then there’s rape and incest. It’s pretty bad.

But the movie itself is so film-noir that it’s enthralling to watch. And that’s because of the screenplay. Jack Nicholson is phenomenal. Faye Dunaway plays the damsel in distress that Jake gets to save (but doesn’t), so it’s kind of a bad ending, which makes it pretty epic because we weren’t expecting it as the audience. John Huston plays the devilishly old villain that you want to strangle. And Roman Polanski directs this slick, perplexing, sleuthy mystery! It’s an older movie, but still stands the test of time, thanks to a unique, original screenplay. Check it out!

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters:  
Ending: 

Back to the Future (1985):

Back to the Future

“When this baby hits 88 miles per hour…you’re gonna see some serious shit!”

I know I said this was in random order, but this has got to be my favorite screenplay of all time! It’s got everything. The storyline is original and different. The ambition is oh so there (especially for 1985!!)! The development of good characters was strong and fluid, not forced. There was a happy ending, but left the door open for more sequels to come and they did, although, nothing will beat this original.

I don’t know how many times I watched this when I was a kid, lots, that’s for sure! It starts with the audience being introduces to Marty McFly (Hello, McFly!), a teenager and aspiring musician who likes to turn up the volume (he gets blown away by his guitar amp, lol). But Marty’s friend, Emmet “Doc” Brown meets up with him in the mall parking lot where Doc is eager to show off his new invention – a time machine! That’s right, time travel in a DeLorean. But Doc stole plutonium from some Libyan terrorists, and ends up getting gunned down in the beginning of the movie. Marty hops in DeLorean in Back to the Futurethe DeLorean and accidentally sets the time machine to 1955.

Basically, he travels back in time, inadvertently runs into his parents when they were his age, and hilarity ensues. He has to race against time to save his parent’s first kiss, help his father humiliate the obnoxious Biff, jam out at the Enchantment Under the Sea, and get back to the future, haha! He also needs to save Doc from getting shot by crazy, RPG-carrying Libyans, and that’s all dependent on a single bolt of lightning striking the clock tower, which is the “only power source capable of generating the necessary 1.21 gigawatts of electricity to power the DeLorean.”  Damn, that’s a lot to do!

The Back to the Future franchise is so popular that they ended up making a theme ride of off it, and I think there was even a Back to the Future day. The ending of the first Back to the Future was great; everything worked out, well, everything was better than just worked out. Doc doesn’t die, he puts on a bullet proof vest, the McFly’s are rich and Biff works for them now (not the other way around like in the beginning of the movie), and Marty ends up with his girlfriend, Jennifer (who is played by Elisabeth Shue in Back to the Future 2, not the first one).

Back to the Future Ending

“But, Doc, you have to back up, we don’t have enough road to get up to 88 mph.” – Marty McFly

“Roads….where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” – Doc

I swear, if you haven’t watched this movie, then we’re probably not friends! Do it, today! Watch Back to the Future, you’ll thank me.

Storyline: 
Ambition: 
Strong Characters: 
Ending: 

Alright, there you have it, my top 5 screenplays of all-time. You know, I just realized something. There’s not a single screenplay on here that’s written after the year 2000. Hmmm….well, I do feel as time goes on that movies tend to not be as good as they once were. I think the heyday of great screenplays were between 1970 — 2000, as seen on my list! Ok, hope you enjoyed!

How many people out there have a specific morning routine that consists of keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in your market, your industry, and your competitive landscape? I do! And for those of you in business, you probably do too. Well, what if you could shorten that routine? When I started in the web industry, I knew keeping up to date with the pulse of the technological community was something that just had to be done. Hence, my morning business review! I built something that really helped me shorten the time I spend online listening to the heartbeat of the industry, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

When I moved from freelance and contract web development work to business development, a whole new ballgame took shape. It wasn’t about div’s, stylesheets, includes, and semantic markup anymore; it was about competition, leads, emerging technologies, concepts, and timing. Being seen as the expert was a must, even though the experts were behind the scenes working on the solution. You have to know what’s new, what’s changed, what’s worth taking a look at, and what’s worth talking about. So, what did I do? I started going to good sources to get information. Moz Blog, Mashable, TechCrunch, Harvard Business Review, and more.

The chaos of a morning routine…

I began by viewing the industry blogs, business reviews, industry leaders’ tweets, Linkedin streams, and so on. But hopping from one source to another online takes time. I would start my morning routine for work before I got into the office. I would get up early, usually at 5am. Drink my morning coffee while watching the morning news. Then I’d hop online and look at these different blogs, go to Twitter and see what people were talking about. As I grew in my craft, I started to look at alternate sources like AMEX Open Forum and Smashing Mag, but I also looked at what agencies were talking about. It was (is) important to know what the competition is up to.

I would go to the gym around 6:30am, get to the office around quarter to 8, then continue with my search. There’s so much information out there for business development people, that it’s exhausting just thinking about which sources to read, to believe, to leverage. It also got to be a lot of running around online. I needed a place where I could bring all these different sources together, compile information, and make that information work for me as I continued to build relationships and sell web projects.

Bringing ideas to life…

So, I had this crazy idea! What if I could build a website that pulls in all the sources I look at in one easy-to-access place? Wouldn’t that shorten the time I spent in the morning? Of course it would! So, I started fleshing it out.

The first thing I did was put up a quick website under the name TheWebward.com – think forward or westward. I used WordPress, the open-source, awesomely easy application to build websites with. Even though I did front-end development, I knew bringing in RSS feeds wasn’t going to be easy, so I looked for a plugin. And I found one—WP RSS Aggregator. It did exactly what I needed it too. I ended up with a little over 50 RSS feeds that I pulled into this website. Then I separated them by pulling them into different pages — Agency, Design, Sales, Strategy, Tech, WordPress, and so on. I had all my blogs and sources in one location, and categorized accordingly.

Screenshot of WP RSS aggregator plugin in dashboard

Check out the WP RSS Aggregator plugin – it’s super easy to pull in the feed, all you need is the feeds URL, and you can choose how many previous articles you want it to pull in. Then use a shortcode to get it to display on the front-end. I ended up doing the past 5 articles because I look at the feeds often, and that was plenty for me!

Screenshot of the Webward.com

All my design RSS feeds pulled into one single page!

Continuing to add more features…

But well-known blogs weren’t the only sources I went to during my morning business review. I also went to social media, company postings, groups, and more. So, I used a few different plugins for this feature:

  1. Easy Twitter Feed Widget — which allows you to display Twitter feeds on your website.
  2. Custom Facebook Feed Plugin — which allows you to display completely customizable Facebook feeds of any public page or group. *Note – it cannot pull in private groups.

Working with these two plugins was super easy. The hard part was working it out with the respective social channels. For the Easy Twitter Feed, I had to go into Twitter and create all the widgets with the person’s (or company’s) Twitter handle to get the Twitter ID, which allowed me to pull the feed into my morning business review website.

Twitter Widgets

Now, I’m sure there’s probably an easier way to do this instead of creating dozens of widgets, but I need to get more familiar with Twitter’s API and their developer documentation (which I’m in the process of doing), so as soon as I come up with a better way to do, I’ll let you know!

It was kind of the same thing with the Facebook groups and pages. FB no longer adds the page/group ID to the end of the URL, so I had to look at the source code for the page, find their ID, and pull it into my morning business review.

Source code for FB group to find group ID

Then it was just adding a shortcode on the back-end page to get a display like this on the front-end:

Facebook Groups on The Webward

And this:

Easy Twitter Feed Widget front-end display

I aptly named this area of TheWebward — The SocialSphere.

The SocialSphere on TheWebward
The SocialSphere

Making my morning business review even better…

For a long time that was what my morning business review consisted of; Daily RSS Feeds and The SocialSphere. But I always thought about how I could make it better. I’m pulling in all this information. Some articles I like and some seem like they’d be super helpful. Others I couldn’t read right way. So, I created a reading list! I use the “Press This” button that comes with WordPress and allows you to capture articles that you want to share. When I find an article that I like or that I think might be useful, I save it. I’ll also put it in one (or two) categories, and attach tags to it like “analytics,” “strategy,” or “mobile.” This helps me class certain articles to fit with certain personas (I’ll explain later!).

The reading list eventually turned into the Article Library which separates interesting and useful articles into different subsections. My train of thought behind this was simple: as a biz dev guy I’m engaged with different types of people (or personas) and they are interested in different things. Some like content, others like education, or marketing tips. But I knew I was going to create personas and eventually attach articles to them to be used as a starter kit for my sales “toolbag” — pretty neat, eh?

Building buyer personas and developing a sales toolbag…

If you’re in business development, then you know what buyer personas are. They are a representation of the types of people you engage with to buy your product or service. Buyer personas list out their demographics, communication preference, major goals, pain points, etc. And this essentially helps you market your message and your sales pitch to them. So, I created a few buyer personas as Custom Post Types, which actually isn’t that difficult to do in WP. I also created custom taxonomies for my buyer personas that reflected the industry they were in, the role that they played, and their affect or emotional mood. Then I used Advanced Custom Fields to add more fields where I could put in their age, location, pain points, challenges, and so on.

How cool is that? Let’s look at the Tech CEO (one of my buyer personas):

Tech CEO Buyer Persona


As you can see all these different fields are on the backend like so:

Back-end Custom Post Type Buyer Persona

I also made a few spots to attach useful PDF’s, articles, and areas of interests (tags) that were already a part of the reading list.

Tech CEO Buyer Persona

If I’m engaged with a Tech CEO and I’m trying build rapport or trust with them, I can always come to my morning business review and pick an article or two they might be interested in. Or if I need talking points, I can just look at the “areas of interest” and choose a topic. It’s really just a way for me to use all the information that I’m pulling in to my website.

This is going to be different for you because we all work in different industries and we all have different buyer personas. But I wanted to show what’s possible when you start fleshing out ideas! WordPress helps because it’s super easy to use and easy to integrate with other mediums.

Adding some good vibes…

Because this was the site that I visited first thing in the morning, I needed to make it feel like home, or be inspirational. I added a big slider with nice images of the sunrise, skylines I like, and more to put me in the right frame of mind. I added an image of a “virtual high-five” to get some daps for when I needed to get pumped-up (fist bump!). Then I also used the Quote of the Day plugin by QuoteTab to pull in a new quote everyday.

Homepage of TheWebward.com
Today’s ‘Good Morning’ Quote!

This gave me inspiration. I pulled in Morning quotes, Happy quotes, Leadership quotes, Motivational quotes, Life quotes, and the list goes on. So, everyday I wake up, I go to TheWebward.com and the homepage consists of inspirational quotes, messages, and sliders that just give me good vibes. Then I hop over to my Daily Feeds page and see what’s new! It’s pretty awesome!

What’s next for my morning business review?

That’s a great question and I have a few avenues I’d like to explore. That’s why I have a Sandbox on the website! But I’ve recently put a calendar (courtesy of The Events Calendar Plugin) on it where I enter in my usually meetups, NIM groups, and WordCamps/DrupalCamps. But I wonder if there isn’t a way to integrate that with the WordPress.com WordCamp calendar. There might me, but I’ll have to do some digging. Here are the big ideas that I have (and in the name of sales):

  • Business Intelligence Engine — I know, sounds fancy, right? Well, it probably is and it may be a little outside my development wheelhouse. But I think it would be really cool to be able to set certain metrics on the site, like pulling in quantitative results and figuring out when the best time to reach out to a certain company would be. I’ll have to do a lot more digging here, but if anyone knows of open-source business intelligence software, give me a shout!
  • Case Studies — I’d eventually like to add a field for Case Studies because these are an oh so important tool in the salesmen’s toolkit!
  • Company Profiles — I’d have to do some research here too, but what’s one of the things biz dev people need? Lists, right? Everyone hates cold-calling, but if I could pull in company profiles and figure a way to attach the people I know to those companies, I might be able to do something with that. I’ll have to look more into LinkedIn’s developer documentation, and other sources like Data.com
Turning a chaotic morning into a well-oil business machine…

Yeah, that’s right! My morning business review, TheWebward.com, really ups my game in keeping up-to-date with what’s going on in the technology space! I love it! Without it, I’d still be hopping from one source to another to yet another. It literally cut my morning routine by about half the time. I can spend more time reading articles, developing cool new features, or putting in a little extra time at the gym!

So, if you’re in the business development world, I highly recommend building something like this! It’ll make your job easier and it’ll free up more time for your personal stuff! If you need any help, don’t hesitate to reach out! And, if you read the stuff I read, and follow the people I follow, then by all means, use away!

Context Aware Development and The Internet of Things

August 19, 2016
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Ok…where to start with this one?! I’ve been doing a lot of digging lately. I’ve also been asking myself some pretty big questions. No, not the “what is life all about” question. More like the “where is the web going” question. What direction will technology take? How will technology fit into our lives in 5 years, 15 years, 50 years? I recently wrote a post on artificial intelligence and its place within the web, obviously it’s not there yet. Well…not truly there yet. It might be someday, but what I think we can count on as a virtual certainty is this concept of context-aware development and the Internet of Things (IoT).

What is the Internet of Things…

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Internet of Things, yeah? Well, just in case you aren’t, here’s kinda the concept. The IoT is everything that essentially has a technological pulse and its ability to collect, compile, and exchange data. From the electronic control module of an automobile to the smart refrigerator, your cellphone to your coffeemaker, headphones, wearables, even your washing machine. The Internet of Things is all these things being able to connect, not only to the internet, but each other. And that’s the rub, right? I mean, think about what you would do if your car already knew the best route to work dependent on the flow of traffic for that particular day. Or your FitBit woke you up and then signaled your coffeemaker to start brewing that morning cup of joe! It’s a compelling concept and one that’s quite executable… I think.

What I want to talk about is its connection to context-aware development. Now, some of you may not be familiar with this term, so let me elaborate. Development in websites, applications, mobile, and the like has taken an awe-inspiring (in my mind!) trajectory this last decade. Going from static HTML/CSS sites, to content management systems like WordPress and Drupal, and then onto scripting and programming frameworks that execute both client-side and server-side activities. We currently have more technologies that can talk to each other and work with each other than ever before. But context-aware development brings in the outside world.

Context-Aware huh?

Yeah, think about it for a minute. What is context? It’s the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed (courtesy of Google). So, context aware means that the behavior of a device will be enhanced dependent on the context. It will essentially take outside factors (like sunlight, movement, and signals from other devices) to determine what the best user experience should be. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re walking down a street, it’s super cloudy then all of a sudden the clouds break and the sun comes out. Imagine the website you’re viewing on your mobile phone adjusts the contrast so it’s easier to see the page. Now, I know what you’re thinking, there’s auto-contrast. But that’s built into your phone, not the website itself.

I’ll give you another example. Let’s say you are on the subway and reading a Boston Business Journal article. There is a particularly shaky section of track that you’re on and the subway starts rattling back and forth, making it extremely hard to read the text. Well, what happens if the text enlarges itself to make it easier to read. That would be a much better experience, would it not? Or the button that you want to click on gets bigger as a direct product of the condition of your environment. Or maybe the button turns white in a dark room, and black in a light room. That’s pretty kick-ass if you think about it.

Wearables…connecting your body to…well, everything else

The Apple Watch came out on the market and interested a certain section of the population. I don’t think it’s selling like hotcakes, but it’s still a pretty cool device. And let’s face it, it’s made by Apple, so it’ll just keep getting better as new versions of it come out. But there are a few things the Apple Watch and other wearables can do. The biggest thing I see is that most of these wrist devices can receive and collect information from the most pivotal environmental factor to a good user experience—your body!

Now, it can receive data like your heart rate (pulse), sleeping patterns, number of steps, type of activity (like jogging/cycling) and so on. As of right now, most all of these devices need to be synced up with an iPhone or similar device. But, again, as time goes on I think we’ll see these wearables getting smarter and more compact just like the cellphone. All the data it receives can be super useful in giving the wearer the ultimate experience. I also think that Google Glass (another wearable) will eventually make a big splash when the world is ready. For some reason it wasn’t well-received, I wonder why? Blog post for another day.

Let me give you an example of context-aware devices:

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a workout and your heart rate is elevated. Someone sends you a text and your wrist device holds off on letting it through until you can look at it when your heart rate is back to normal. Or the flip-side to that. Let’s assume you’re a doctor in the middle of a workout and someone needs emergency heart surgery. The sender can label the text message (or phone call) as “exigent” and your wearable can send you a quick buzz signifying that you might want to take this call! Or maybe you’re a senior citizen and you have a wearable that can tell if you’re having heart arrhythmia, you can’t get to a phone because of the pain, and your wearable connects to emergency services. Either way, you get the drift.

HMI’s…the connection for all connections

Human Machine Interfaces is a pretty broad term that can be applied liberally to iPod’s, washing machines, coffeemakers, automobiles, stereos, computers, and so on. But it really started in the industrial space with things like heavy machinery, but in the age of computers, that’s kind of subsided. An HMI essentially provides a graphical user interface (GUI) which connects a human to a machine. A great example of this is your car stereo (I have XM!). But it’s a visual representation of all the different channels you’re going through to get to the music you want. You can also control the volume, bass, treble, etc. Now, with the Internet of Things, the ambulatory devices should be able to connect with the stationary ones. Human Machine Interfaces will allow for connections to be made (and synced) from your cellphone to your car, your wearable to your coffeemaker, your iPad to your whatever!

Here’s another example:

Let’s take everything we’ve learned and try to put it into scenarios that would work. Think about this, you get home from a long morning run and you need to get ready for work. Your wearable locates how far away you are from your home and signals your coffeemaker to start brewing when you get close. You’ve got a fresh pot of coffee when you get home. But wait, there’s more.

You forgot to wash your clothes last night so you program your washing machine to start a short cycle, then throw your clothes in before you hop in the shower. You get out of the shower and throw your clothes in the dryer. Then you get a text from your coworker saying that the morning meeting has been pushed up by 30 minutes, oh shit! That signals your car to start and put the AC on (or get warm if you’re in a colder climate) and it also signals your car to find the most appropriate and quickest route to the office that morning.

Now, your car knows that you’re going to be rushed (it can feel your elevated heart rate), so it finds a station to play soothing music (think Enya) while you drive to work. You get your clothes out of the dryer, throw on that nice collared shirt and hop in your air-conditioned car that’s playing relaxing tunes and already knows the quickest way to get you to that rescheduled meeting. Life is good! Sah-weet!!!!

Are there any ramifications?

Of course, there’s always another side to that coin, right? Technology already controls a portion of our lives. Many are addicted to Facebook and other social channels. People text and drive. People text and walk. We tune out the outside world to live in our virtual bubbles. But I think connecting the Internet of Things, using context-aware development techniques, and devices getting smarter and more compact, are just going to help improve our lives.

Now, some would say that being this connected isn’t great. It means people work longer hours, people lose touch with their family lives, but the truth is that we can take this technology and make it work for us.

Your wearable tells you if you’ve been stagnant for too long a period, and can jolt you to get moving. Well, what if it could say something like “hey, go do something fun like hang out with your kids.” What if your cellphone or computer knew that you were spending too much time on it, and automatically shut down? There are lots of ways we could use all this technology and the IoT to our advantage.

When will this happen? What will make this happen?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I know CSS4 (which is currently out, but doesn’t have much browser support) does do a little experimenting with context-aware elements like pointer and hover. It also boasts Level 4 Media Queries, which really shaped the face of responsive design when media queries first came out.

I think everyone knows that JavaScript is really the “it” language for making a lot of this stuff happen. JS can access different avenues of data through the browser, device, or database. Essentially, it can do some really cool stuff like get GPS locations, time of day, weather/temperature, and the list goes on.

With all these technologies, and all the people working on (and with) these technologies, I can’t imagine it’ll be more than 2 or 3 years before we start seeing context aware development integrated with the Internet of Things. Now, for how long it’ll take to perfect it — well…maybe that will be never! Is anything ever really perfected?

Either way, I’m looking forward to this next evolution in the technology space. Context aware development and the Internet of Things will change the way we interact with technology and ultimately each other.

Artificial Intelligence — The Web’s Well-Wisher

August 6, 2016
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AI….it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by since I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey as a boy. HAL really made for an interesting introduction to artificial intelligence. Standing for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, HAL was an AI system that controlled the spacecraft and could converse, think, and feel for himself (or itself). I became more enthralled by AI when I saw BladeRunner and it only continues to this day after just watching the movie Ex Machina (it’s freaking awesome!!). But is artificial intelligence on the web a real possibility? Like true AI? Maybe…there are some people out there imagining the possibilities including Kurzweil and CSAIL, two sites dedicated to artificial and agent-based intelligence. But how far off is such a monumental accomplishment? And what does it mean for the world wide web?

Let’s take a look at some repercussions, mainly known as the Singularity, it’s the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in Arnold in Terminator 2unfathomable changes to human civilization. In short, what we all saw happen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Hasta La Vista, Baby! Now, this would obviously suck, big time! But there are other areas that AI would impact, just not to that extreme. Human jobs would be eliminated, probably a lot of them and they might raise our children (just watch the BBC drama Humans).

The flip side is the good; simple around the house tasks like cleaning, cooking, and doing laundry would be taken care of for us, leaving your weekends open to go do what you want. Website building will be easy, almost effortless with AI (more on this to come!). There wouldn’t be any more accidents on the roads and highways (hopefully!).

Artificial Intelligence and its short existence

First, what is it? AI is trying to get a computer to think, and eventually feel. There’s a difference between types of AI. There’s Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which specializes in one area, like chess. I’m sure you’ve seen the computer and mechanical arm beating some of the world’s greatest chess masters. Then there’s Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that’s defined as a computer that is as smart as a human across the board. And finally, Artificial Super Intelligence (ASI) which is a computer that is totally superior than the smartest humans in every conceivable way imaginable – this is the ‘end of world’ AI.

AI really started taking shape in the 50’s when the field of artificial intelligence was founded as an academic discipline. Alan Turing (you know him from CAPTCHA – I’ll explain later) published a landmark paper where he wrote about the possibility of creating machines that think. He made a point to say that “thinking” is difficult to define and devised the Turing Test. If you remember CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.

Scientist then used programs based off of similar algorithms to achieve some goal, like beating a chess player or proving a math theory. Known as “reasoning as search” computers would search until they figured something out or hit a dead-end and back-tracked. Then came micro-worlds, natural language, and symbolic reasoning. If you’re that thrilled, just check out the Wikipedia page on The History of Artificial Intelligence.

We fast forward through the 80’s and 90’s where lack of funding really hurt the advancement of AI, but certain groups were still researching and testing. In the 90’s, we see the emergence “intelligent agents” which is defined as a system that perceives its environment and takes action which maximizes its chances of success. Think of customer help desks or personal shopping assistants, it’s software that assists and acts on the user’s behalf. The invention of digitized personal assistants like iPhone’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana was a huge leap on the quest for true artificial intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence building websites…

You may be surprised to hear that the research and testing into AI has solved many technological problems of the 21st century including things like web browser intelligence, Google’s search engine, data mining, robotics, and more. But over this last year, specifically, we’ve seen an outburst of “artificial intelligence” website builders.

These website builders, like TheGrid and Wix ADI, claim to have AI that helps in designing and building a website for you. Now, if you are familiar with website design and development, there’s a certain process for making that happen. Most sites are built by designing the page, developing it using a markup language like HTML, and then adding in the content including images and text. But sometimes the content can make a page look bad or a little off, well AI website builders are supposed to change all that.

Straight from TheGrid’s website “our algorithms expertly analyze your media and apply color palettes that keep your messaging consistent and unique. The Grid also detects color contrasts, automatically adjusting typography color to maximize legibility.” – It seems pretty cool. They say “goodbye to templates, hello to layout filters.” I’m interested in this concept because I’m a web strategist, and anything that helps design scale is something worth looking into.

The Wix ADI claims to ask the user a “few simple questions, and the ADI designs tailored websites by learning about each person’s or business’ own needs. Next, choosing from billions of high-quality, stunning combinations and possibilities…” Well, I gotta say, I’m interested in this. They claim to build sites in minutes. Looks like I’ll be spending my next week on playing around with these things.

I’m still not convinced because in the realm of true AI, even AGI, this is but a wish. However, it still helps get closer to the end game. I’m really not sure how TheGrid or Wix ADI operates or builds its backend system, it’s proprietary, obviously!

Artificial Intelligence on the web…

If we look at other intelligent agents on the web like Chatbots, we’ll see that we are inching closer to true AI. PandoraBots is a service that builds and deploys chatbots. Do you have a website where you store a lot of information, or would like to get information from your visitors? Well, chatbots might be the answer for you. They’re basically conversational interfaces that you can integrate into other applications, just check out ALICEbot.

We also have Siri and Cortana, these are our personal intelligent agent assistants. We ask them where to find a good restaurant, how to get from Westminster to College Hill, what’s the latest news, we ask them Siri artificial intelligencewhat zero divided by zero is (just ask Siri the question!). We treat them like they are our friends, we ask them too because we’re desperate for validation. They politely reply with “of course, I’m your friend, Adam.” And for most of it, they get a lot of stuff right, they give good recommendations, the traffic wasn’t that bad, they explained why zero can’t be divided by zero in a really easy to understand way. But they still can’t think for themselves, they think for us. Viv, apparently the new AI assistant, seems to have better reviews than Siri. Allegedly, it integrates with different third parties to complete tasks like shopping for you and booking your hotel reservation.

Look at the web as a whole, the internet. It’s made up of all these different computers and servers, some owned by universities, private corporations, government bodies, etc. The only entity looking over this is the world wide web consortium, but they really put forth a set of principles. The internet and the web have grown into what it is today organically, not to mention darknets and the Dark Web. All these different moving parts, hardware and software, can talk to each other, integrate with each other. That’s pretty awesome!

Technologies that aid Artificial Intelligence…

Affectiva, a company that leverages facial recognition software, is leading the way in emotional AI. They help kids with autism, gamers, and people who want to analyze the facial expressions of certain photos. The human face has all these tiny little micro-expressions that can reveal your true emotional state. Now imagine this software was on an iPhone, couple that with Siri (or the new Viv) and the owner of the iPhone was in grave danger. It could register fear and dial 911. Or helping a severely depressed 16 year old. Or taking a picture of you at your happiest moment of the day. The possibilities are pretty wide spread.

What about virtual reality? Remember a few years back Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus, the VR software. Whatever happened with that? Well, think of the possibilities there. If we want to get really crazy, in a few decades we could be sitting in our living room with those goggles on partaking in a virtual reality. I’m waiting for someone to put all these technologies together; Siri or Viv, facial recognition software, language recognition software, virtual reality, and the internet. Now we’re talking!

My thoughts on true artificial intelligence…

Well, I hope true artificial intelligence happens. I’m not sure it ever will though. Why? Because if it does, and we cross that threshold, bad things could happen. Imagine you make an intelligent being and their only purpose is to serve us, the humans. If they ever cross the barrier of being smarter than us, true super intelligence, then yes, I believe Singularity is a real possibility. There’s a reason why so many of those movies turn out bad, lol!

On the other side of that argument is the advancement of technology. I think people and scientists will keep striving for it, and it’ll be a really interesting day when we’re all introduced to HAL. But hopefully this time he won’t think that our existence is jeopardizing his own. The reality is this; that once we give a machine the ability to think for itself, we’ll never know what any of them are thinking. Just like the people we see everyday, a few think bad things then do bad things. Most people, though, are pretty awesome! So why wouldn’t machines be too?

 

The Formula for Writing Good Web Proposals

August 2, 2016
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This is a long read; approximately 15 minutes.

Proposals are really hard to categorize, right? Are they a formality, or are they a gateway to your solution? I tend to lean more toward the latter, but I know others who loathe the proposal writing process. I love it! It’s a challenge in and of itself. And it’s your agency’s moment to outshine all the others. Even if you do have the deal in the bag, it’ll reinforce a client’s decision to go with you. Writing good web proposals is an art form. Proposals can be text heavy Google docs or visually stunning Keynote proposals. They can make or break a deal. They can get an organization to pay twice as much money, sometimes triple. This post is a presentation I gave last fall on The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing. This is also a follow-up to my earlier post on The Needs of Web Proposal Writing.

Proposal writing is not the same templated solution to every single web challenge, they should be different every time. And I’m not just talking about the content, I’m also talking about the presentation and design. Obviously, brand your proposal with your brand, but tailor your proposal to the individual or organization who’s receiving it. Give them a good user experience, something that caters to the authority and their needs.

Now, I understand that proposals can be considered the holy grail of an agency. I’ve worked for a few and being in the agency realm you come across other proposals, so everything I’m about to show you in this post is white-labeled (or my personal logo) and should not be associated with any of my previous agencies.  What I’m going to outline is the formula for custom proposal writing. The content should be your own, and it should focus on the prospect and their business.

Let’s Begin

Custom proposals do a few things for you. They make you look more professional, help you stand out from your competitors, and possibly land you bigger clients and higher dollar deals. I get asked all the time whether you should write a text-heavy proposal or a visual-based proposal. Personally, I like visual-based proposals, but think of your user, who will be reading this proposal? Then make a decision.

I believe that proposals should capture and showcase success. You need your recipient to be able to visualize their project succeeding. They need to be able to read that proposal and have confidence that you not only understand their challenge, but you also have the right solution or approach. Proposals are your opportunity to communicate the value your solution will have. It’s also an opportunity to mitigate against any risk that may be on the horizon. In a proposal, you want to focus on the value that a successful engagement and solution would bring to your client’s business.

First…the fluff stuff goes at the end…

Before I get into the formula for proposals, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the things I call “fluff” — and I’m not talking about the white, sugary, fluffy Fluff, I love the stuff (no rhyme intended!). No, I’m talking about the fluff stuff you as a writer want to throw in your proposals because you think it’ll beef it up a little. You know what I’m talking about too — the ‘about us’ section, the ‘case study’ section, the ‘client testimonial’ section, the ‘leadership’ section, it’s all fluff, and it’s not something most prospects really care about. This is the reality – if you’re writing a proposal for someone, there’s a really great chance that they already like your work… and know about you… and have heard from some of your other clients… and understand that you have a solid leadership team. What they want is the solution to their

This is the reality – if you’re writing a proposal for someone, there’s a really great chance that they already like your work… and know about you… and have heard from some of your other clients… and understand that you have a solid leadership team. What they want is the solution to their problem or the approach you’re going to take to solve it.

What I do in most proposals is put all that ‘fluff stuff’ at the end, in some sort of an appendix. That way if the prospect is super curious and they send the proposal up the chain, it’ll be there just in case anyone needs it.

I’m going to assume that you have all the information you need to write a solid proposal. You’ve talked with your prospect several times, you’ve asked the right questions, you know what the challenge is, you’ve somewhat scoped the project, and you have an idea of what the solution is.

The Formula for Custom Proposal Writing…

*Sidenote: I’d like to preface this by saying, this is the way I write proposals, and it’s been effective for me. It doesn’t mean that other types of proposal writing styles won’t work, they most certainly will. All I’m trying to do is share the knowledge that I’ve gained over these last few years to help others in their proposal writing evolution. I hope you get something from this.

Proposals should have a good user experience, focus on the content then the presentation, and nothing should be set in stone. If you need to take out a proposal section, do it. If you need to throw in a different section, have at it. This is a flexible guideline.

Cover Slide

Be professional and use a cover slide. It can be an image of your staff at work. It can blend two logos (yours and the clients) together, it can be a picture of a wireframe. I personally like skylines. Just put a cover slide so the first page your prospect sees is not the table of contents.

Cover slide

Table of Contents

Make sure to put a Table of Contents to give your prospect a summary of the sections and insight into what’s to come. Here’s my Table of Contents (and essentially the Formula!):

  1. The Intro
  2. Research Analysis
  3. The Rundown
  4. Scope of Work
  5. Ideas
  6. Timeline & Investment
  7. Appendix:
    • About Us
    • Case Studies
    • The Kicker
    • Info Page
Section One: The Intro

The intro needs to be short, articulate, and authentic. Short, articulate, authentic. It should really convey 5 things:

  1. Excitement: Be jazzed to be involved! “We’re thrilled to be a part of this engagement…”
  2. Experience: Showcase your expertise “Our agency has been doing this for years with industry company and sector business…”
  3. Recognition: Recognize who you are doing business with and why they’re so great. “Your company leads the way..”
  4. Acknowledgment: Admit that there is a problem… but then…
  5. Assurance: Reassure your prospect that you can fix it.

Put heart into the intro, personality. It needs to convey these 5 things and in a single page, see below.

Intro

 

I also think a way to stand out is to tailor design to the individual company. Let’s say you’re working with a newspaper, I would put together a proposal that looked like a newspaper:

 

Newspaper web proposal

Obviously, this is lorem ipsum text, but something like this can make you stand out even more. It can also make a connection with your prospect that links your work to their company and industry subliminally paving the way for you to win a deal.


Section Two: Research Analysis

Many agencies leave this section out of a proposal, but I think it’s powerful. Show that you understand their problem by knowing their industry, competitors, and business. Take some time to really explore and understand their challenge. Challenges come from different areas. Companies have certain problems that plague that particular industry.

Example: Higher Education — Higher Ed has a number of challenges just being a university or college. First, they’re usually decentralized, so ownership can create issues and different departments tend to compete with each other. They also have a number of users that they need to cater to, right? There are the older alumni who aren’t necessarily comfortable being online. There’s the faculty and staff, who can range a great deal. Then there’s the students and prospective students who live their lives online, and expect super personalized experiences online. So, imagine you’re writing a proposal for an Ivy League Institution. Would they want to know that you understand all the challenges they face as an Ivy League school? Or at least some of them? For sure!! So how do you do that?

You research. Look at their competitors’ websites, what are they doing right, what are they doing wrong? What are the best in the business doing? Convey that in this section. I always put nice imagery of sites that I looked at and snippets of text that demonstrate we have a handle on their industry’s digital realm.

Exploring competitor's mobile sites for web proposals

You can do this in different ways, but I usually explain that I took some time to explore the current landscape, their competitors, and themselves. Obviously, you’re also looking at their website, feel free to point out what they are doing well, and areas they can improve.


Competitor's websites proposal writing

Now you can call this section whatever you want, ‘researching current environment’, ‘exploring the landscape’, etc. Or you can get super creative and tailor it to the individual company by putting in titles that are custom to their business. Like if you are putting together a proposal for a Travel blog, you could call this section “Exploring Adventurous Places.” If you were working with a newspaper, you could call this section “Uncovering a Real Story.” Or something like that, you get the drift! What it needs to do, is let your prospect know that you actually have a grip on what they are going through. That you are walking in their shoes! That you understand their environment, and they can see you as a really good fit to partner with on this upcoming project of theirs.

discovering new and adventurous places web proposal


 

Section Three: The Rundown

This section is called different things. Some people call this the Executive Summary, others call it The Approach section. Internally, I like calling it The Rundown. Why? Simple—this is where you give your prospect the rundown. Now, when I write the proposal, I’ll usually call it a summation, or synopsis, or approach, totally depends. But my rundowns consist of a few things. One, we have a proven approach or methodology that works. Two, we understand their objectives and need to regurgitate them back to the prospect while also connecting them to possible outcomes (more on that to come!). Three, we have a great working style that the prospect (soon-to-be-client) will integrate with very nicely and can work with their ever-crazy schedule.

The Approach and/or Methodology is your process. The process that helps your clients succeed. The one that’s been refined over time, and the one that will make this project successful. You don’t need to go into a lot of depth here because your process will be a part of the scope of work section that’s coming up and we’ll dive a little deeper into the process then. You can do something as simple as the FDD (Feature Driven Development) Overview created by Jeff Deluca seen here:

FDD Overview - proposal writing


Or you can do something like this:


 


The point is, you just want to give them an overview. You want them to understand how the process works and why they’ll benefit from it.

For the objectives, you’ll want to quickly let the prospect know that you’ve heard their concerns, wants, needs, and you’re prepared to help. I usually do an output vs. outcome (the brainchild of Chris Murray, my previous CEO) type of comparison. Map features to objectives. Example: We want to have an email newsletter to show our biggest readers we really care about them. Or. We want to have innovative social media shares and like buttons to increase social engagement and awareness. These are outputs and outcomes. The output is the feature (or deliverable) and the outcome is the objective. When you can compare these two things and connect them for your prospect, it’s a sure fire way to let them know they’ve been heard.

Output and outcome

Now you can do this any way you want. This can be the section of the proposal that’s directly addressing your prospect. You can do this in letter form if that’s easier for you. I always think less is more in this section, but I know others who disagree.

Working style should give the prospect a quick glimpse into the project flow but not in relation to the process, but the relationship. How will your new client work with you? Why would they like it? The way I do this is by putting one page (or slide) and showing some fun picture of the team. Then breaking down how communication will work while the project progresses. You can break it down on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. You can talk about the tools you’ll use to help with communication. Believe or not, a big fear I’ve seen people have is the communication workflow. Putting together a few pages on this can really ease their minds.

Working style section of a proposal

 

Again, keep this section short, maybe 4-5 pages if you’re using imagery. 2-3, if it’s all text.

Section Four: Scope of Work

Now we get into the meat of things. This is the solution laid out, or the process in more detail. Most web projects follow a similar trajectory that starts with some type of discovery or strategy session. You can make this text-heavy, or you can illustrate it with images. I prefer the latter (again, less is more), but what you’ll want to do is outline the project overview, the task list, and the deliverables. What’s going to take place, what deliverables do you foresee, and what assumptions (if any) are there? I’m not going to go too much into this section, because for each agency, although similar, will have different scopes. The scope of work is what you did in the sales process so you should have this information.

Part 1: Strategy: Discovery, Stakeholder Interviews, Company Survey, etc.

Part 2: Design: Information Architecture, Wireframes, Mockups, User Experience Testing, etc.

Part 3: Technical: Building the platform, Systems Integrations, Iterations, etc.

Part 4: Ongoing: Continued Strategy, Enhancements, Maintenance, etc.

Certainly, this will look different if you’re an SEO agency or marketing agency, or any web agency because every project is different. This is your own. This is your solution. What I want to say about this section is this: The scope of work should detail the engagement, the project overview, the task list, and the deliverables. This is the section where you talk about actions (Discovery will include 5 stakeholder interviews, complete content assessment of materials, definition of user personas, etc.) and it should also outline deliverables (the deliverable from our discovery session will be a strategic findings document outlining user stories to drive the development process, design and creative objectives, etc.) You may also need to put in parameters (or assumptions) that mitigate any risk (based on the current information architecture we envision having to create and design up to 10 unique page templates).

The other thing that I need to stress here is making sure to connect the scope of work with the benefit your prospect’s business will receive from it.

Example — Scope of Work: Design

  • Information Architecture testing – We will create a new information architecture for the platform and leverage IA testing tools to test the navigational structure. We envision doing 2 rounds of user tests to get to a refined navigation for your site. This will ensure that the terminology used will be the most optimal for an intuitive navigation enabling your users to move through the site with complete confidence and accuracy.

You never sell the technical aspects to a project, you sell the benefits. Or I should say you communicate them effectively.

The scope of work can be a tricky section to get right. This section can end up being rather long too, so I suggest only adding in the essentials here. Often times, I will give a couple options in the scope of work section. I’ll do that for a few reasons, but the biggest one is because people like options. And when you give the prospect options, they’ll compare the options to themselves, not other agency’s solutions. Of course, if you work very closely with your prospect and understand all of their needs, then just write one scope of work.

Again, the prospect needs to know what you’ll be doing, what you’ll be giving them, how it will affect their business, and also that deliverables are not limitless (well…unless there’s a limitless budget!).

Section Five: Ideas

I always like throwing in an ideas section. You can also turn this section into an initial mockups section, but that’s only if you work with a huge team and have time/money to spend on initial mockups. But putting in an ideas section will do a couple things. One, it’ll show the prospect that you’re thinking about the bigger picture (and it shows investment). And two, you may find an opportunity to add in an extra feature and make more money.

You can either put together something as simple as a list of ideas

List of ideas proposal


Or it can be more visually stunning.


Interactive map for ideas on web proposals


Again, an ideas page should show real thought, so put some real thought into the ideas that you suggest. This can be really helpful in closing new business, and it helps a prospect visualize the possibilities.

Section Six: Timeline & Investment

This is pretty straight forward. I’ll outline the timeline like this:

Timeline overview

Or do something similar, graphs are always a good way to show the timeline. But after this slide, I’ll go into a much more granular view of the project timeline. I’ll put certain milestones like design sign-off, gray site launch, user acceptance testing, and more.

I’ll break out investment to match the scope of work section. So, if I have a Discovery & Strategy section in the scope of work, that will correlate to a number in the investment.

Investment


And as we all know, the investment is usually the last thing on the proposal.

Appendix

Remember what I was talking about earlier—the fluff stuff—well…this is where your appendix should go right after the investment. I always add something special in my appendix. This is what I’ll usually have:

  • About us: this will give the history of your agency, why you’re in business, values the agency portrays, leadership team, etc.
  • Case Studies: this is obvious, use ones that are similar to the project that you’re going to be doing for this new client. Or show case studies that have companies in your prospect’s industry.
  • The Kicker: what’s the kicker, you ask? Well, the kicker can be anything. It usually involves some type of web/digital best practice or best of breed process. It all depends on what the prospect is concerned with in conversations. If the prospect is really concerned about SEO, put in a few pages on SEO best practices (there’s plenty of resources out there — MOZ). If your prospect is worried about content, put together a few resources to generate content ideas.  You get the drift. This shows that you listened to what they were saying, and you went out of your way to lift some of their burden and help them out.
  • Info Page: this one should be obvious too, but if not, make sure to put in a quick recap of being a good fit for this engagement and thank them. Along with all your contact info. I always say “it was a pleasure getting to know your team, we’re super thrilled…”
Some Ending Thoughts

People usually write proposals in two ways — either with text-heavy documents or more visual slides. I tend to lean toward using visuals over text. It’s not to say that either way is better. Whatever works for you is better. But I’ve written 25 page super text-heavy documents and 150 page visually stunning proposals with imagery, icons, etc. I find that people usually like short spurts of information. So, I put my slides together (I almost always use Keynote to create proposals, even though it’s horrible for collaboration, I’m hoping that’ll change soon!) and don’t have much text on a page. The overall proposal will be a lot longer page-wise, but the reading experience is much quicker and they’ll go through slides fast. Which can be fun if the page that you’re viewing is interesting to the viewer. Remember when you’re writing proposals to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Would you enjoy reading this proposal if you were your prospect?

A quick recap on the formula for writing good web proposals…

  1. The Intro:
    • Knowledge and heart — be short, articulate, and authentic. Set the stage!
  2. Research Analysis:
    • Walk in your prospect’s shoes. Understand their challenge by understanding their business, industry, and competitors.
  3. The Rundown:
    • Referred to as the summary, approach, objective, whatever! This section should outline your approach/methodology, prospect’s objectives (outputs vs. outcomes), working style.
  4. Scope of Work:
    • The different steps to succeed at this project. Project overview, task list, and deliverables. And any assumptions. What you’ll be doing, what you’ll be giving your new client, how it will affect their business, and what parameters are in place?
  5. Ideas:
    • Show the prospect that you’re invested and thinking about the bigger picture. Possibly more opportunities for a bigger engagement.
  6. Timeline & Investment:
    • Timeline overview and granular look. Scope of work steps and their associated costs.
  7. Appendix:
    • About Us: Agency history, culture, values, etc.
    • Case Studies: similar in industry or scope.
    • The Kicker: web/digital knowledge that the prospect is concerned with and can benefit from.
    • Info Page: We’re an awesome fit, thanks for everything, look forward to continuing discussions. Here’s our info.

Ok – hope that helps! Any thoughts, just let me know.

What happened to Mr. Robot?

July 31, 2016
Comments Off on What happened to Mr. Robot?

Just like everyone else, I was enamored with the first season of Mr. Robot. Elliot Alderson, the unstable, ingenious, drug-addicted web hacker who dropped Evil Corp to its knees, captivated a nation and became the de facto hero of a debt-free nation. Elliot (and his Mr. Robot alter ego), along with his merry band of fsociety misfits, took down the world’s biggest capitalist conglomerate while capturing the attention of the FBI, making an enemy of an economic powerhouse, and dancing with a mercenary hacker group known as the Dark Army.

But….is that what really happened? Maybe…the truth is that season two has left too much up to the imagination. It’s already 4 episodes in and I’m more confused now than ever before. Some could say that’s the sign a good television show, where it gives you just enough so you keep coming back for more, but not enough to understand anything! Me — I’m on the fence about it! I loved season one so much that I’ll invest myself for season two even though the episodes are pretty boring and uncover things at an alarmingly slow rate!

Now, for those of you who are in the hacking world, or know a little bit about it, you’ll know that Mr. Robot brings to the silver screen a pretty realistic and accurate view of hacking. To read more about that, I’ll transfer you to a post here – The Unusually Accurate Portrait of Hacking on USA’s Mr. Robot — check it out, cool read! But I’m not here to talk about its accuracy, I’m here to ask what happened to it. What happened to Mr. Robot? Are people liking this second season, or are they hating it? Again, I’m on the fence, either it’s the worst follow up season to an award winning first one, or it’s the most brilliant sequel season to have ever graced television history. I’ve got thoughts on that later!

But before that, let’s recap season one of Mr. Robot…

Okay, as we all know, season one was just phenomenal. It. Was. Awesome. Period. It takes place in probably the greatest city on earth, NYC, and is riddled with shady characters, uncovered truths, and accurate hacking lingo, which just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Each episode is titled like a computer format file: eps1.0_hellofriend.mov, eps1.1_ones-and-zer0es.mpeg, eps1.2_d3bug.mkv, etc. The first episode we are introduced to Elliot, who’s the main protagonist. He’s a weirdo too, but hey, aren’t most hackers? He works for a company called All-Safe that does cyber-security for the biggest conglomerate in the world, Evil Corporation. More about them later!

elliot-alderson
Elliot in his ominous hoodie

Elliot also hacks people’s social media, email, and personal accounts, but he does it to “get close to them” like he eventually tells his therapist. But he also does it to take down rotten m*the#[email protected]!! like the one at the end of episode one who distributed child porn.

During the first few episodes, we are introduced to the merry band of eccentric outsiders that make up fsociety including:

  • Darlene – Elliot’s sister (that we don’t find out about until close to the end of the season when Elliot forgets she’s his sister and tries to kiss her, ewww!), she’s the elusive, dark, part-goth hacker who is kinda like Elliot’s right hand and has a strange connection with the unscrupulous Dark Army.
  • Romero – the weed-smoking/dealing, wily hacker who isn’t completely sure of Elliot.
  • Mobley – a DJ, a hacker, tech support for E. Corp, a trusted internet source who can post anything to Wikipedia, and a loyal soldier to the cause of taking E. Corp down!
  • Trenton – the Persian hacker who doesn’t say much, but believes in what fsociety is doing.
  • Mr. Robot – aha! The leader of fsociety, and Elliot’s alter-ego. But we don’t find this out until the second or third to last episode of the season. Wonderfully played by Christian Slater.

Now remember, in season one, Elliot was being recruited by fsociety. We don’t find out until later that he is the leader of fsociety. And that truth, that Elliot is kinda crazy, calls into question if any of it was really real? I mean, did they even take down Evil Corp.? I’m getting ahead of myself.

We meet some other people in the first season too:

  • Angela – Elliot’s childhood friend and co-worker, she got Elliot the job at All-Safe.
  • Terry Colby – the CTO of E. Corp. who gets set up for hacking into E. Corp’s system
  • Tyrell Wellick – The interim CTO after Colby gets arrested, and a hacker as well (or a guy who really knows his computers). When he meets Elliot he tells him he uses a “Linux box” which Elliot admires.
  • Gideon Goddard – Elliot’s boss at All-Safe
  • Shayla – Elliot’s neighbor and drug-dealer (sort of), they also end up having a relationship.
  • Cisco – Darlene’s ex-boyfriend and kind of a liaison between fsociety and the Dark Army.
  • Philip Price – the CEO of E. Corp. He’s super cryptic and really quite creepy. We see a lot more of him in season two.
  • Krista – Elliot’s shrink who is super nice and mild mannered. Elliot hacks her life and ends a relationship (in an illegal way) that could’ve been really devastating for Krista. She does not turn Elliot in to the authorities.

Each and every episode in season one unveils another piece to the puzzle. Another progression in the plot to take down a corporate giant. Another cog in the wheel that keeps the story spinning. Throughout the unfolding season one, there are so many surprises that keep you mystified yet makes you feel like you’re getting closer to the truth.

Crazy (and awesome) surprises in season one (if you haven’t watched season one and plan to, stop reading – NOW!!):

  1. Elliot meets the hacker group fsociety through a rudimentary hack of All-Safe systems to infiltrate E. Corp. and ends up leaving the file where it’s found (which fsociety asks him to do).
  2. Elliot meets Shayla’s connect and supplier of morphine, Fernando Vera (he’s a big asshat!), who abuses Shayla, so Elliot puts a stop to that by alerting the cops to his stash of drugs and his online social selling of them.
  3. Tyrell Wellick enjoys beating up homeless guys, but at least he pays them to do so — weird, man!
  4. Terry Colby covered up a toxic waste leak that gave hundreds of people leukemia including Elliot’s father and Angela’s mother, so that’s how we understand their tight connection.
  5. Angela infects All-Safe’s systems using her infidelious (not sure if that’s a word) boyfriend’s computer. His name is Ollie and he’s not really important. He’s an asshat too!
  6. Vera kidnaps and subsequently kills Shayla to get Elliot to hack him out of prison because someone puts a “hit” out on Vera. Which ultimately ends up being his own brother (Isaac Vera) who wants Vera dead. Vera kills his brother and escapes. My guess is that we haven’t seen the last of Fernando.
  7. Tyrell Wellick kills the wife of Scott Knowles (the new CTO of Evil Corp chosen for the position instead of Wellick) and eventually becomes a suspect in that murder, rightfully so.
  8. Angela does some shady shit to get Terry Colby to confess that E. Corp covered up the toxic waste leak. She essentially sells her soul to the devil (Evil Corp) to get a PR job there, which in season two, she excels at. I definitely want to know where this is going.
  9. Gideon (Elliot and Angela’s boss) is suspicious about the story Elliot spun about the hack on Evil Corp and turns the hacked server into a honeypot. Typically, a honeypot is a mechanism set in place to detect some sort of behavior or action. In this case, Elliot did not realize that Gideon was on to him and that kinda screwed up the relationship with the Dark Army.
  10. Elliot fixes the relationship with the Dark Army by meeting with Whiterose, a transgender woman who is obsessed with time, she allocates one minute for Elliot’s meeting and he pleads his case convincing her to resume the aid of the hack.
  11. Elliot Alderson is Mr. Robot, who is the persona of his dead father, but I mentioned this already! Darlene is Elliot’s sister.
  12. Tyrell Wellick (oh and I forgot to mention his wife is into BDSM, she scares me!!) ends up getting fired from E. Corp but starts to work with Elliot to take them down.
  13. Elliot blacks out for 3 days and ends up waking up in Wellick’s SUV. He has no memory of the hack on Evil Corp., which apparently succeeded throwing the world into chaos. And Tyrell Wellick is no where to be found!
  14. The final scene in the final episode in season one shows Elliot opening the door after someone knocks on it, but we never see the visitor. As the credits roll, we see Whiterose dressed as a man talking with Philip Price (E. Corp’s CEO) about the hack – very interested in this!!

As you can see, there were many surprises and they were spaced out beautifully in the first season. Each episode gave you answers, but also left more questions. It was really awesome to see the hack succeed. Now onto season two!

Season Two of Mr. Robot…does it make any sense?

Season two opened with an extended episode (or two episodes put together). And Elliot is out of the hacking game, he’s gone analog! He purposely took himself out of the game because when he’s not his alter-ego, he cares about the world and what happens to it. He doesn’t want to do bad (or what heElliot and Mr. Robot playing chessperceives as bad, because let’s face it, if the credit card companies got taken to their knees, it wouldn’t be horrible. Well, I’m not entirely sure about that!) things, and thinks that Mr. Robot is ruining his life and the life of others.

Elliot moves in with his mother, where there is no internet, no computers, nothing he could get his hands on except for notebooks that he writes in constantly. He is still seeing Krista, his mild mannered shrink, and is telling her the truth about what he feels, thinks, and sees. She is trying to help him through it. But we also see a few new players come in in season two:

  • Leon – what appears to be Elliot’s best friend from the neighborhood. Leon just discovered Seinfeld and likes to talk about it a lot to Elliot.
  • Ray – (played by the funny Craig Robinson, who isn’t that funny in this!) is a person from the neighborhood who recruits Elliot to do a migration of his website. We don’t know what type of a website Ray has, but it’s definitely shady because he employs some ruffian tactics with his previous web developer and has a tough-looking thug accompany Elliot while he’s doing the migration.
  • Dominique – the pretty, ambitious, young, and feisty FBI agent who is hot on the trail of fsociety because of her investigation into the E. Corp hack.
  • Elliot’s mother – she just sits on the couch and watches TV. But Elliot tells us she’s “tough.”
  • Susan Jacobs – E. Corp’s head council, she’s known as the “Madame Executioner” because she’s stops lawsuits from impacting Evil Corp and in a lot of those lawsuits people died.

I didn’t really like the first episode of Mr. Robot’s season two. Why? Because it didn’t really answer any questions. But apparently my opinion doesn’t really matter because based on this first episode, season two received critical acclaim. Huh? Really? Let’s recap the two-part episode one of season two.

Episodes 1& 2 of Mr. Robot’s Season Two…

Tyrell Wellick records an fsociety video that’s sent out to the world taking credit for the E. Corp hack. Tyrell Wellick has disappeared. Elliot maintains a really boring routine living at his mother’s house, he gets up every morning, has lunch with Leon, visits with his church group, then watches the basketball games at the neighborhood courts. He is essentially trying to beat his own mind, or Mr. Robot, from rearing his ugly head and doing anymore damage than he already has. So he doesn’t go near computers and writes everything down in his journals.

fsociety hacks into Susan Jacobs smart home, where they turn her music up, turn her temperature down, scold her with hot water in the shower, etc. She ends up leaving her posh New York house and goes to her other place outside the city. fsociety take up residence and make her smart home their temporary headquarters. They then execute a hack on E. Corp’s bank and ransom their money, making Scott Knowles burn 5.9 million dollars in the middle of Central Park donning an fsociety mask. 5/9 is significant because May 9th is when the E. Corp hack was executed.

Angela continues to climb up the company ladder at E. Corp by not making nice with her co-workers. She Angela at E. Corp officesis shrewd and different than she was in season one. She talks with news outlets demanding certian interview questions not be asked and the like. It also appears like she’s abandoned the lawsuit she really wanted to go after in season one.

Gideon meets with Elliot, he tells him that he needs to “do the right thing” and tell the FBI what he knows. Gideon has been cooperating with the Feds and Agent Dominique. While Gideon is at a bar, he meets a guy and they make small talk for a few minutes. Then the guy takes out a gun and shoots Gideon in the throat, killing him! The last scene in the two-part series opener is the phone ringing and Elliot picking it up. The voice on the other end of the line says “Bon-sour, Elliot” and is clearly Tyrell Wellick’s voice.

I know, right?!? WTF is going on???

The next two episodes are even more confusing. We find out the Romero is dead, it looks like someone shot him in the face. Did Elliot kill Romero, remember when Mr. Robot pointed a gun a Romero? Well…that was actually Elliot doing that! Dominque also finds fsociety’s arcade headquarters, that they threw a party at to cover their tracks. But the FBI finds a shell casing!

We see that Whiterose and Philip Price are clearly working together, Whiterose telling Price to “stay on schedule” – whatever that means. We see more of Joanna Wellick, Tyrell’s BDSM wife, who is trying to get Tyrell’s severance pay from Scott Knowles, who won’t pay up because of his grief over his wife’sWhiterose, Mr. Robot murder that really looks more like vengeance and not grief.

We have no idea what’s going on in Elliot’s head. He is kidnapped by government looking agents in black Suburbans that take him to a warehouse and shove wet sand down his throat. But it’s actually all in his mind and Mr. Robot is trying to get him to throw up the Adderall pills that he took that ultimately help him ignore Mr. Robot’s tempting pleas to get back on a computer.

Ray is super shady and is trying to recruit Elliot, but we’re not sure what type of business he’s in. We don’t know how Leon and Elliot met, but they are best of friends (if Elliot could really have friends) and they hang out pretty much all the time. Mobley finds Romero’s body and thinks it’s the Dark Army hunting fsociety down, so he (along with Trenton) start to doubt Elliot and also Darlene.

Philip Price invites Angela to dinner with a few of E. Corp’s executives. At the end of that dinner, Price gives Angela a disc that contains incriminating evidence on the two execs they went to dinner with and implicates them in the toxic waste leak coverup. Elliot and Mr. Robot play chess for the ultimate price of Elliot’s mind and control, nobody wins! But Elliot finally gets back on a computer and helps Ray, only to find that he’s doing some shady stuff! Oh boy, here we go again!

Thoughts on Mr. Robot…

I’m not sure where this will lead. As seen in season one, there were so many twists and turns (in a good way) that really kept you guessing, but it also gave you something every episode. Season Two just seems to take. It doesn’t give you much of anything, but I’m still invested because I need to know what’s going on.

Evil Corp definitely doesn’t seem to be out of the game. And with fsociety needing new digs, they seem to be on the defensive. They really need to be on the offensive and continue to clobber Evil Corp. In the Evil Corp's logo - Mr. Robotfourth (last) episode, Elliot (in a flashback) said that the hard part would be after the attack. Not the attack itself, but the fallout. That fsociety would have to keep up the pressure. The only problem is that Elliot isn’t keeping up the pressure, Darlene is trying to do that. But as we all know, there is no better hacker than Elliot Alderson.

I think there was a turning point in the last (fourth) episode of season two. Elliot finally got back on a computer. That’s what this season needs—Elliot online!!!!! Because let’s face it, without Elliot doing what he does best (hack), the balance wouldn’t work. We need Elliot online to get this season going again. Elliot needs to let Mr. Robot take control, and conquer the big bad wolf that is Evil Corp. That’s the only way I see this show getting to where it needs to go. But the writers might have different plans.

I know this — if Elliot doesn’t get hacking again soon. People are going to get hurt, more so than the ones who’ve already been hurt. People are going to get caught too! But, I guess you could say that if Elliot gets back to hacking as well.

Again, I’m not sure where this season is going, but I want to tell Elliot one thing: Elliot, for the sake of your viewers, get yourself up and get yourself together, it’s time to hack the world!

Measuring the Value of Why

July 29, 2016
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We see this word a lot: value  —  but what exactly does it mean? What is it? How do we measure it? How do we determine whether or not it’s something we provide? These are all good questions and in the agency world, value is what separates us, it’s what links us, and it’s what drives conversations and interactions with clients and partners alike. But how do we truly define it? Value has a few definitions, so let’s start there (courtesy of Google):

val·ue : /ˈvalyo͞o/

noun

  1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
    • “your support is of great value”

But it can also be used as a verb!

verb

  1. consider (someone or something) to be important or beneficial; have a high opinion of.
    • “she had come to value her privacy and independence”

As we can see, value is something that’s a little ambiguous, right? If you look at the first sentence that uses the word value, you can see what the value is – “your support is of great value” – the value is your support. “She had come to value her privacy and independence” – the value in this sentence is a little trickier, it’s her privacy and independence, but it’s also linked to the noun “her” – so I’d like to define value in this way:

Value measures the worth of something, but is dependent on the measurer’s desires, fears, opinions and considerations.

We all know value is worth something, but my value will be different from your value. Your value will be different from their value, and so goes the succession. This is so because value is fueled by desire from the one who views the value.

“Value sits on a foundation of action while being built by intelligence, insight, and observation.”

The hard part is answering the ‘why’ of value. Why is “your support” of great value? And why does she value her “privacy and independence?” If you look at it from more of a cognitive stance, you’ll see that the answer of ‘why’ is dependent upon the ‘who’ and the ‘what’. It’s that desire that compels a client to buy, it’s that fear that can mean the difference between success and failure, and it’s a line that’s very thin and almost impossible to distinguish when value is at the forefront of every conversation and people’s desires/fears aren’t necessarily apparent.

Action is the foundation of value. What we do and what we say adds value (or takes it away). Our actions reverberate. Action progresses the sale, it can also stall a sale. But it is action that is at the root of all value. Without it, we cannot provide value.

While action is the foundation of value; intelligence, insight, and observation are the materials you need to build it.

Short Story

I was on the phone with a nice woman from one of the big organizations in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. I asked her to give me a high-level lay of the land (what’s the current situation and what are you looking to do?). She gives me some background on her role and her company, then reveals that she’d like to create and build a WordPress site where her sales team members can come to find more resources on the products that her company was selling.

It was a great conversation, but I asked one question that made her pause and really think about her situation, and the question was simple – it was “why?” What is your major goal and why do you want to accomplish it? Now, everyone knows to ask these questions, but not everyone on the other end of that line might know the answer, or be totally truthful. She did know the answer and was truthful, the answer she gave was simple too – “I want my sales people to have the right information in order to sell more products….and it’ll make me look good.” And there’s the value (for her) or what I like to call the value gratification.

The value gratification is the major accomplishment and its ability to fulfill the desires one has, it’s the way the people involved with the project feel after it’s finished. In this case, it’s the value of having a more cohesive and effective sales team, which will essentially sell more products and make her look good in front of the bosses. That achievement will not only make the client happy, but it hits those hidden goals as well, which if you can uncover, will just give you more value as a salesperson.

The action was the phone call, observation and insight led to the question, and intelligence is what you do with that information. The question showed value in her mind because when she went looking for a partner to build this WordPress site the desire to look good was already there. She just needed to find someone who cared about it enough to ask about it. The question just disclosed the ‘why’ — we know the value is her cohesive sales team selling more products, but why does she want to do that. Well for all the normal reasons someone would want to do it, but also because it’ll make her look like a rockstar at her company and that’s the gratification or desire behind the value, which can be much more potent than the value itself.

Fear overcoming value…or the absence of value

Now this was one example of action, and an easy one because she gave up that valuable tidbit about her hidden goal. Let’s take an example from one of my old freelance days when I didn’t really know what I was doing or how desire plays a role in uncovering real value.

I was just learning how to code and still doing construction when I met one of the homeowners that we were building for. We got to talking and she uncovered that she’s big into photography. She sells her photos at craft fairs and she’s looking to do a website where she can sell her photos, but she didn’t know of a web designer/developer. In walks me! Naive little ole’ me! I say “I can do that! And I’ll give you a really great deal!” So she leapt at the offer to have me build her a website where she could sell her photos.

All was going well, I put up a really slick Divi themed WordPress website, integrated the WordPress Photo Seller Plugin that helped with photo management, watermarks, and taking online payments through PayPal. I was super happy with the site! But then my client saw the website, she thought it looked really awesome too, but….she didn’t know how she felt about having her photos online, she was afraid people would steal them. I tried to explain as best I could that the watermark was a good attempt at foiling malicious users from taking her photos, but ultimately that’s the chance that you take putting your stuff out there. She wasn’t satisfied with that answer and the website never got launched and I never saw any money. She saw the value in having a website where she could sell her photos, but she also saw the absence of value through the thought of people stealing her photos. Had I probed enough, and asked the right questions through action and observation, I could’ve saved myself from hours of site-building, but hey, lesson learned!

That client’s desire was to make money through selling her photos, but not at the risk of losing any. Which is a hard desire to bring to light. Looking back, the way I could’ve done it was by asking her about her photos, what did she like about them, what did they mean to her? It most likely would’ve uncovered her fears about people stealing her photos, and if I had done that, I could’ve recommended a more secure option like selling her images on CanStock Photo or Fotolia. Which would’ve given her more value, and quelled her fears.

But again, lesson learned!

Linking value to people and their emotions

Value is inherent to people’s desires and/or fears. Both of which can be difficult to get out of people. Many times desires are selfish, and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. Many times fears are silly and people don’t necessarily want to talk about them. But if you can link the desire someone has to the value you’re providing, your close rate should go up. If you can extinguish a person’s fear by showing them that having the value is better than the absence of it, you should win more deals.

Business people, especially, are known for keeping their emotions in check, but it’s those emotions that will give you clues to a person’s hidden goals. From the moment you get on the phone with someone, listen to those emotions. When they talk to you about the project, how do they sound? Are they frantic, are they calm, do they sound miserable or super ecstatic? When they email you about the project, what’s the tone? Is it short and to the point, do they ramble on about it? When you meet them in person, gauge their body language. Do they seem comfortable, are they attentive, or laid back?

Observation is a huge building block in understanding the desire behind value. When you’re around people tune in to their channels. Make insightful observations on what you see, hear, and feel. And continue to ask questions. If someone looks worried, say something like “Hey Tom, you look like you’re a little worried about this project, what concerns do you have?” People secretly want to tell you their desires, they just don’t want to be judged because of it. So, right from the very beginning when you first meet with someone you need to make them feel at ease. You do that by expressing empathy, giving respect, and making genuine connections.

How do you measure value?

If you remember my definition of value, it’s dependent on the person who’s doing the measuring and what their desires and/or fears are. So, with that in mind, you first have to know the “who” — who is your buyer? Obviously individuals will have their own idiosyncrasies, but you can make some overall assumptions about certain types of buyers. And I’m sure you know that figuring out your audience or who you’re trying to sell to is of uber importance. The technology buyer, let’s assume they like quality. And let’s assume that the marketing buyer likes results. Well, that gives you a starting point and you can pivot your observations off of your assumptions to make intelligent assessments.

Then you need to know the “what” — what is the challenge, what is the project, what are the major goals, what is the platform? All these questions will help uncover what you’re doing so you can start figuring out your tactical approach. Things like should I recommend WordPress or Drupal, how long do I think the project will take, who will I need for this project. And also your strategic approach. Things like what’s the best solution for this, what’s the most innovative solution for this?

Throughout this entire process of helping your client or prospect find the right solution, you need to be strategically searching for the “why” — why do they truly want to do this? Is it something their boss said they had to do and they’d rather not be involved, or is this something they’re truly jazzed about, if so, why are they super jazzed about it? The why can uncover hidden goals for you to better position your solution and agency. The why can truly connect you to your client and make you a lifelong advisor. Knowing and understanding the why can separate you from the competition and link you to your client and new business. The why weighs the most.