Traction Part 1

Imagine an operating system (OS) that didn’t work: applications are glitchy at best, files become corrupted or seemingly disappear, and, to make matters worse, it’s prone to viruses due to the lack of security in the system.

Basically, you can’t move forward because the broken OS prevents you from accomplishing any tasks.

In many ways, each business has its own OS. Unfortunately, in many of those businesses’, profits have stalemated, growth has stopped, people either don’t follow through or move in a different direction, and you, as the owner, are losing control of your business’ direction. The Company’s OS is broken and needs some major debugging.

This quarter, we’re reading Traction by Gino Wickman, which introduces the “Entrepreneurial Operating System” (EOS) – a process that establishes the basis for a functioning, focused, and forward-thinking company, allowing the leaders to regain “traction” to direct the company. It delves into the science of a business by simplifying it into six core components. To learn more about the six components of EOS, click here.

As we’ve been reading, we’ve come across a lot of shared concepts from our previous books: candor, open and honest communication, and goal setting. However, Gino Wickman offers up two new ideas: vision and hiring the right people for the right seat.

Vision

Gino Wickman describes vision as, “clearly defining who and what your organization is, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there.”

We all know the proverbial statement, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra. Without a clearly defined goal in mind, you can’t direct your business. However, most leaders know where they want to go. The problem is the rest of the organization doesn’t.

The EOS process begins by establishing a company’s framework, including their core values, core focus, and yearly plans to guide the company. These tools are posted online here.

This concept isn’t new. If you build a solid foundation, the rest of your company will naturally follow suit. Establishing and communicating your vision will clearly define where the company is headed and each employee’s role in that process.

The Right People in the Right Seat

Establishing your core values and focus has a side effect. A clear vision not only defines who you are and where you’re going, it also reveals who you’re not, potentially exposing departments, products, and people who don’t fit.

This is a complex subject, considering every individual has unique strengths, passions, and individual core values – none of which defines them as good or bad, right or wrong. Every company, however, has a culture, and if an employee doesn’t mesh with that culture, it becomes a burden on the company and, often, a burden on the individual themselves.

Gino Wickman breaks this down into three scenarios:

  1. Right person, wrong seat.
  2. Wrong person, right seat.
  3. Wrong person, wrong seat.

It’s not an easy decision, but when it comes to the long haul of a company, having those who embrace the company’s ideas and direction and putting them in the seat where they will exceed will pay dividends to growing your company. And that’s the real takeaway – think long term, not short.

In short, everyone needs to be on the same page with the company’s ideals and where it’s going. With that vision and focus, the company will make the decisions that will project it into the future.

We’ll continue to read Traction through the rest of the quarter, but if you would like to learn more about Traction and read the first chapter, visit https://www.eosworldwide.com/traction Stay tuned for our Virtual Book Club Meeting where we’ll discuss in greater detail our favorite lessons-learned and takeaways.


At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here.

Creativity, Inc. - Pt. 2

For our 2016 Quarter 4 Book Club, we read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation. Today, we’ll explore our favorite takeaways from our Virtual Book Club Meeting, including topics about fear, taking risks, and Brain Trusts.

Brittany W. started off by saying, “The concept of failure is a good thing in the form of iterative trial and error. We can fail our way to a solution. The example of scientists and experimentation drives it home.”

We understand the importance of experimenting and trying new things – it’s how we innovate and impact the lives of our Inflowees and customers; but with experimentation comes failure and the need to accept failure.

But accepting failure as “part of the process” is hard, especially when failure often goes hand-in-hand with lost dollars. Ryan H. discussed how we can disentangle measuring success from financials:

“Most companies push revenue and profitability targets to their employees. We don’t, because we want our employees to focus on long-term goals, not short-term. People tend to make bad choices when money is involved.”

That’s only the beginning of changing our views on failure though. The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. We know this, but instead of admitting our failures, we sweep them under the rug. To be free from the fear of failure, we have to feel safe admitting our failures; and for a company to feel safe, as Cris B. put it, “Admitting you failed has to come from the top, down. If leadership is open about the mistakes they’ve made and how they fixed it, it gives the rest of the team the comfort to know they can make mistakes, embrace them, and work to improve them.”

Nikho R. added to this point, discussing when he’s had to write large technical documents and submit them for peer review:

“Often times, you put your blood and sweat in a project, and when you put it up for peer-review, you have to leave your ego at the door. When my work gets criticized, I’ve learned to not take it personally. The candor and perspective you get from others can make the project so much greater than it was before.”

And that’s another big take-away: there are no “finished” products, only versions.

Continuing this line of thought, we began discussing “Brain Trusts” – a term used to refer to a group of individuals, generally of vastly different roles, who come together to address a specific problem, brainstorm ideas, and offer feedback to the project lead.

In our discussion, we began with a scenario an Inflowee was working through: “How do we develop meaningful culture for our teams out in the field when we have limited direct exposure to their lives? How do we make sure the things we do are important to them and not what we think are important?”

From here, the conversation got interesting because, in a sense, we became a Brain Trust. Joe H., one of our Engineers who was recently stationed in Kuwait, offered his perspective:

“Our internal [communications] are a great starting point. Having those casual conversations is what allows us to get to know each other better.” Joe then went a level deeper:

“If you understand what motivates a person, you’ll understand what they do and why they do it. Having open communication like this will bridge the gap.” From there, the whole team began to chip in – suggestions for how we bridge that gap: video chats, talking about interests, presentations over subjects we’re experts in, and even Inflowee profile “baseball cards.”

Regardless of the idea – feasible or not – we engaged in exactly what we read: a Brain Trust where ideas flowed, concepts were explored, and problems were tackled. It’s about taking the time to stop, recognize the problem, and work to overcome it as a team.

For the whole conversation, listen to the audio from our meeting here.

There is so much more to be said about Creativity, Inc. and our discussion over it. Our goal, as is with each book we read, is to improve the way we work, broaden the way we think, and ultimately, build a company and culture that genuinely and actively “Makes it Matter.”

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here

How to be a Great Programmer

Author: Cody J., Inflow Software Engineer

This article is designed to show how software engineering (SE) is different from computer science (CS), and what is needed to become a good programmer, regardless of the programming path chosen.

First, let’s identify what a software engineer is supposed to do. Helpfully, Wikipedia provides a number of definitions from several different sources; basically, however, it comes down to using engineering principles in the development of software.

How does this compare to computer science? CS is figuring out how to make a computer do something, specifically how to program software to do a variety of things with computers. It also covers the theoretical aspects of computing, allowing the CS graduate to develop new solutions to computing problems.

Where scientists are pushing the boundaries of knowledge by designing and testing theories, engineers take what is already known and do great things. Engineering takes current scientific principles to design and build “something”; in SE, that “something” is a computer program.

Basically, SE takes the programming aspect of CS and doubles down on it. Engineers need a broad scope of knowledge, and be able to incorporate a variety of different disciplines to create the final product. Scientists tend to focus on a narrow, but deep, area of knowledge.

Another significant difference is that engineers typically earn degrees that are accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). This guarantees that graduates have a minimum level of engineering and applied science knowledge, much like having a technology certification. If you want to prove your ability, you can earn a variety of professional software development certifications from IEEE.

This comparison shows that, as an SE, you will need to know how to program but in a particular, applied manner. Recognize that your education only provides the groundwork for this; all a college education is supposed to do is provide a base level of knowledge and education about a subject so students can question the status quo and gain the skills to perform their own learning. During your education, you’ll only know the basic principles of your career field; it won’t be until you enter the job market that you will see how those principles are applied in the real world.

So, to the meat of the question: ”How do I improve my coding skills to be a great software programmer?” First, I recommend that you find something that you are passionate about that can be coded and use that as your motivation for learning to code better. Personally, I self-learned Python after learning C, C++, and Java in school; I hated those languages to the point where I didn’t want to be a programmer. But I still had a desire to learn how to program (my education didn’t really do that), so when I learned that Python was a good hobbyist language, I decided to try it.

Because I knew just reading books wasn’t going to keep me motivated to finish, my impetus for learning Python was to recreate an old table-top role playing game in electronic form. That simple end-goal kept me going when I didn’t understand what was going on or how to do something.

If you are like many college students, you probably haven’t done a lot of programming for personal projects; a lot of students I’ve met simply do the homework and cruise through the classes until they get their degree. The best ones, however, have a personal project that they use to practice what they have learned. Completing a homework assignment doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what is going on; when you are on your own, with no guidance, you have to really understand your code and figure out how to best write the program and troubleshoot it.

If you can’t think of anything for yourself, then ask friends or family if they have any programming projects. This might be an even better option than a personal project, because now you have to work with a customer who may not know exactly what they want but is demanding anyways. This will help you learn how to deal with non-specific requirements, expansion of software requirements, and the basics of project management.

You can also look at participating in open-source projects that not only help you grow as a programmer, but will also teach you how to work with other programmers and the bureaucracy of coding projects. You’ll also gain experience in having other people reviewing your code and providing constructive criticism; some people find out that they don’t handle criticism very well and either learn to deal with it or find another profession.

Ultimately, being a better programmer means you have to understand how to program. I don’t consider myself a programmer by trade; I have a BS in Computer Engineering Technology, an MS in IT Management, and two years towards a Ph.D. in Information Systems. The only reason I really know how to program is because I wrote my own Python programming book series. Despite the lack of formal Python training, this knowledge was sufficient enough to lead to two professional programming jobs and two instructor jobs.

To write those books, I had to delve into how programs are written and how the language works, yet, even now, I’m still learning. Every job I’ve had, whether as a programmer or instructor, has taught me more about different programming aspects than I knew before.

Being a great programmer, regardless of whether you are a software engineer or computer scientist, is a process of continually learning how to be better, building upon the knowledge you have in order to make new things. As long as you have confidence in your abilities and you continue to learn, you will do alright.

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here

The Evolution of Learning

From PowerPoint to Video to Virtual Reality

Author: Mason C., Inflow Technical Writer

We’ve all been there:

You’re sitting in an unlit room. The artificial white glare of a screen permeates through the darkness, stinging your eyes as you struggle to retain focus. You feel it coming on; the quiet hum of a projector, the speaker’s voice melding into a lull of incomprehensible noise, the darkness beckoning you. No amount of willpower can prevent it. Your eyelids droop. Head begins to bobble. Then rest’s warm embrace swallows you into unconsciousness.

*****

The flick of a switch, the chorus of conversations, and the grinding of chairs on tile jars you as you squint through the brightness trying to make sense of your surroundings. As sleep fades away and consciousness reclaims its awareness, you sit in horror, realizing you missed the entire lesson.          

Slide show presentations. There’s a love-hate relationship with them. We’ve all struggled through hours of lectures and presentations, striving to learn the applicable information as we fought the sheer monotony of it. Whenever we’re told to sit in on a lecture, or to take a 40+ hour course, there’s usually only one feeling: dread. We dread sitting for hours on end as a presenter goes through slide after slide of information. Yet by some strange oddity, whenever we’re asked to deliver a lecture, the first thing we do is create a slide show.

Why is it we’re so enamored with slides? If slide show presentations aren’t the most effective means of learning and sharing information, why then do we use them in nearly every industry? Isn’t there a better means to educate?

Yes. Yes there is. But as everything, there’s a caveat.

Don’t get me wrong. Slide shows can be incredibly useful. There’s a reason why we still see them so widely used: They work. Slide shows are a tried-and-true teaching aid that have effectively educated students from simple addition to solving complex algorithms that have allowed us to launch multimillion dollar projects into space to discover what’s beyond our humble earth.

It goes beyond this however. Not only are slide shows a proven method of teaching, there are several other perks. For instance, they’re cheap. With computers being as prevalent as television screens nowadays (particularly with the advent of smart phones), and with most computers coming preinstalled with a presentation software, nearly every individual has the equipment to create a slide presentation. In addition, the tools themselves are exceptionally easy to learn. An individual with little-to-no experience in PowerPoint, Keynote, or the like can open up the program and develop a presentation. They’re intuitive and simple.

Slide show presentations can be developed overnight, by nearly anyone, and still educate their audience effectively.

Caveat time.

I have often found myself in a “compromising” position. As I prepared my presentation, there might have been a feature that I wanted to use, but wasn’t sure how to do it. As I searched through the internet, there was one of two things I could do: 1) Dig through forums, reading post after post in search of the information I needed, or 2) Watch a video.

Watching a video was the solution I chose 99% of the time. Why? Time.

Simply put, I can watch someone “do” a whole lot faster than I can read. With presentations, there’s a level of translation that has to occur. The information has to be deciphered into meaningful instruction and then applied contextually. That takes time, and even then, the outcome isn’t always positive. Some information can get lost in the translation. With videos, there’s context. I can see someone actually “doing” and applying the skills and information they’re teaching. This adds a level of learning that presentation slides are often lacking: Visuals.

Slides are a great avenue for the Read/Write and Auditory learner (assuming there’s an instructor presenting the slides), and, while visuals can be added, the connection between the information and visuals are not nearly as strong as videos. It goes back to context. Videos provide that direct correlation between information and application.

Like before, however, there’s a caveat. Videos can take longer to produce and require a bit more knowledge to execute. Especially if you’re getting a professional-grade video, it’ll require more money with more people with both expertise and equipment (which can be expensive). You also run the similar risk with presentation slides of running too long. Generally, with videos, it’s about acquiring the most pertinent information as quickly as possible. Therefore, videos that run too long will never be watched to completion, leaving the learners with missing information.

What if, instead of watching somebody else, you did it yourself? Now, it doesn’t matter what type of learner you might be, everybody learns and remembers more efficiently by doing. “Doing” has always been more valuable than “know how” or “in theory.” It’s why on resumes, for example, certain positions require a number of years of experience as opposed to education alone. A surgeon who has done a procedure is much more valuable than a surgeon who has “studied up” on a procedure. What if, then, when a surgeon comes into a hospital to do a procedure for the first time, it hasn’t been their first time? In fact, they’ve done it tens of times in Virtual Reality (VR)? Sounds like science fiction right? Well, it’s happening right now.

We see the emergence of VR really being embraced within our military, and, truthfully, it has been for years now. Flight simulations have been used long before consumer grade VR and has proven an effective and efficient means to get soldiers ready for the actual cockpit. In the 1980’s, the controls of an old Atari game, Battlezone, were changed to match the gunner controls of a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

 In the 1980's, the military changed the controls of the old Atari game  Battlezone  to match the controls of a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

In the 1980's, the military changed the controls of the old Atari game Battlezone to match the controls of a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

With the advances in technology bringing forth accurate head tracking and data gloves that allow for fine-motion control and tactile sensing in the hand, Virtual Reality is becoming far more immersive and realistic. As Edgar Dale states within his Cone of Learning, the amount of information that can be retained by “doing” as opposed to just reading or watching is significant: 90%. Through simulating the “real-thing” we provide an avenue that provides the best of both traditional learning and training. VR first and foremost allows the user to “do.” It puts them within an environment where they can realistically act and react to the situations around them, just like training. In the case of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Training, the user would be able to work on a “live” explosive without fear of harm. This is not only cheaper than manufacturing an actual IED, but it’s also safer.

“But wait, there’s more!”

Virtual Reality also facilitates a very important benefit of traditional learning: metrics and tracking. Much like any video game, the status of the user can be tracked: How quickly are they getting through the scenario? How accurate are they? Where are they having difficulty? This allows the teacher to facilitate the student and provide more meaningful instruction to direct them. Beyond this, VR allows the student to repeat the scenario as often as needed, helping to quickly try new tactics, fix mistakes, and retain the skillsets being taught within the classroom. It is important to note that VR isn’t a replacement to training or the traditional classroom setting, but rather an enhancement of it.

It’s not without its faults, however. This technology is still fairly young, and while it has advanced by leaps and bounds and can greater simulate the real world, the high-fidelity of human movements still can’t be fully replicated. In addition, the equipment and software needed to develop VR applications takes specialized people, time, and significantly more funding than any video production would. Grant-it, in the case of the military, the cost of VR development comparative to live training (i.e. flying a fighter jet) is still significantly less. It is important to note, however, that like the advent of the smart phone, we don’t know the social implications of VR technology and how it can change our behavior. There are ethical issues that arise and, thus, rules that still need to be established. It’s largely untested and, therefore, carries its fair share of risk.

While the adoption of Virtual Reality in the education sector is still far off, some industries have begun to adopt it, and the outcomes we’ve seen from it, so far, are astonishing. We are learning faster and remembering more, and when it comes to our men and women who defend us, anything that gets them more prepared for the obstacles they will face is a good thing.

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here

Infographics

Author: Elise A., Inflow Graphic Designer

What is an infographic?
We all know the old saying, “A picture is worth a 1000 words.” Infographics are visual representations of data and information. So the big question is, “Would you rather read four pages of text or review a single infographic?” Easy answer right? What sets an infographic apart from a regular graphic is the amount of information it conveys. Rather than just a single statistic or chart, infographics convey large amounts of data visually. An infographic may include multiple statistics along with images, charts, and small amounts of text.

Why should I use an infographic?
Infographics and graphic design are often overlooked as unnecessary fluff in reports, proposals, and brochures, but humans are visual creatures by nature. In our fast-paced world of technology we often need the facts up front to determine if something is worth more of our time. Visual representations of information can quickly convince a reader that the information contained within a document is valuable and worth reviewing.

Infographic Example: Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich
So you just found out that your friend has never tried the most amazing sandwich in the world, a Peanut Butter and Jelly (PB&J) Sandwich. I know, crazy right?! The only problem is you can't show your friend how to make it because she lives too far away. You could write out directions and do your best to describe why PB&J sandwiches are so awesome. Your friend would get your email (a bunch of black text on a white screen... boring!) and maybe decide to make a PB&J sandwich someday. Or you could send her an infographic that clearly outlines the steps so she can actually see how to do it. You could even include fun facts on why PB&J sandwiches are so awesome, making your infographic both persuasive and informative. Your infographic might look something like this:

Yes, making a PB&J infographic is a bit of a stretch, but it illustrates not only how impactful information can be when presented visually, but also how quickly it can be reviewed and retained. Now imagine taking your next business document or presentation to the next level with infographics!

 

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and its partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here