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For those not familiar Slack is a collaborative working environment that also provides a chat service. They also offer native mobile apps for just about every platform out there.

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Slack Structureslack screenshot4

 

The basic slack structure is broken down into groups, channels and private groups. You can be a member of multiple groups and each group can have a different login email yet still be accessible from the apps and web site with a single menu selection.

Inside a group are channels that appear as hashtag channels. These channels are similar to chat rooms but thanks to integration with Dropbox and Google Drive, also house all sorts of data and files related to the discussion. So everyone has direct access and context of the discussion. This alone will cut down on the back and forth of email.

The group administrator can create private channels that are invite only. This is a great feature for anyone who invites outside collaboration. In the Innovation Lab (HIL), we collaborate with different individuals and some business-y topics we keep close to chest. Private groups feature makes that really easy to do.

Structuring the channels is completely up to you. For example, some teams structure their channels for different aspects of project development (design, biz dev, etc.). We have a watercooler/ lobby for random/idle chat and several channels dedicated to specific long-term projects and Heroik Initiatives.

Chat Messaging

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Each channel is it’s own message board. Messages are associated with the channel they are posted on, but files can be associated on multiple channels. Starring messages marks them as favorites and makes them easily accessible in the sidebar. This is helpful when you want to refer back to essential instructions, key statements, etc.

The posts themselves are almost instant. There’s a slight delay in dialog but it’s no different than the delay on a phone call. All of the files and images are displayed inline as well making them easy to spot. All files uploaded or referenced also appear in the sidebar for quick location and use. This includes any service that you’ve integrated like Dropbox or Google Drive.

If you’re an emoji fan, you’ll find plenty to choose from built in to slack. I rarely use them and most often see them appear by accident/automated conversion :P

There are plenty of options to manage notifications and turn off notifications by email if need be. So rejoice if email notifications bother you.

Another cool feature of messages in Slack is the ability to edit and delete previous messages. You can go back in time and refine or remove your comments.

File Handling

slack file handling

The native desktop apps (Mac/Win) and web apps both support drag and drop file into the window to upload it to Slack. Uploaded files are tagged to the current channel for easy browsing but users are also presented with a complete list of available files.

Built for Deep Search

These aren’t just links. The contents of documents and PDFs are indexed for searching. This is a very useful feature. Pasting in a link to a Google Doc renders the document searchable within Slack. You can also filter searches by file type and favorite (starred) status.

Each file has it’s own comment thread which is great for collaboration. Think of this like a folder that contains the document and the comments and stickies you place upon it as it works its way through the process. We also use the commenting and editing system directly in Google Docs but this is convenient to discussing big picture items, goals and intentions. The comments also make a great reference for reviewing changes.

Search

The search function in Slack is awesome, fast and extensive. Finding files is easy as you’d expect but finding specific conversation threads is even easier. Search results include not just the phrase or word match but a few of the messages above and below the match. This ensures you’re given context into what may be stale or forgotten conversations. Even with a file search you are given all the contextually relevant bits.

iOS & Android Apps

We’ve been using Slack for a year on various Android devices, an iPhone 4 and now the iPhone 6. The apps work tremendously well and reflect the robust features found on the web version.

Business Model

Slack has a freemium model. The FREE account is of course limited and includes, a maximum of 10,000 messages stored in the archive, a maximum of 5GB of file storage and a maximum of 5 integrations.

The standard paid account price is $7 per user per month. This removes most of the limits, offers simple usage statistics and raises the maximum file storage to 10GB. It allows guest access and email forwarding to Slack as well. Check here for their pricing info http://slack.com/pricing

Privacy

Anything you post to Slack is private to your team by default. Viewing the communications and files within any team requires user authentication.

Conclusion

Slack is one of the best services we’ve used in the past year. Not only does this rally the team in a great work environment, it’s an excellent way to build culture with a distributed team full of people who are always on the go.

They have a free plan that is great to start a pilot for your biz. If you signup through this link by November 15th, you’ll get a $100 credit toward the costs.

Visit Slack.com 

It’s amazing to me how many ambitious upstarts have the passion for new endeavor, yet hate to read and learn to reach their goals. If reading is a barrier to improvement for you; perhaps because you find it slow-paced, difficult or uninteresting, then you’re in luck. With the help of some new technology, you can speed read your way at 2-4x your current speed. This is a real time saver.

How Speed Reading Works

Reading text in the traditional form (in print or on the screen screen from left to right) requires moving your eyes sequentially from word to word. For each word, the eye seeks a certain point within the word, which we call the “Optimal Recognition Point” or ORP. During a reading session, after your eyes find the ORP, your brain begins to process the meaning of the word that you’re viewing. With each new word, your eyes kind of wiggle rapidly (or “saccade”) between the words. Your eyes then seek out the ORP for that word. When your eyes run into punctuation, your brain goes back brings it all together to form a single thought.

80% of the time spent reading is spent physically moving eyes from word to word, scanning for the next Optimal Recognition Point. By reading in ways that limit eye movement, and making it easier to find the ORP, your brain can process and understand the words faster.

Traditional speed reading tactics involve intense brain training to get your eyes to stretch what they process (enlarging the peripheral vision), avoiding sub-vocalization (talking to yourself while reading) and reading a page at a time by mental snapshot.

I’ve used these methods on and off to increase my reading speed. One thing I can tell you is that it requires time, commitment and continuous training. If you’re like most people, that sounds like more work than reading itself. The good news is there’s some great technology out there to help you.

Enter Spritz

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Spritz offers a cool technology called “redicle” that helps you speed read by doing all of that mental math for you. Rather than requiring your eyes to move and scan a page of text, Spritz gathers all of the text and gives it to you one word at a time. It also quickly pinpoints and identifies the optimal recognition point (ORP) (think focus point) your brain looks for to make sense of each word and it highlights this letter in red. Red of course draws the eyes attention immediately. The technology also uses horizontal lines and hash marks that direct your eyes to the red letter to ensure your eye quickly goes to the right point. Since your eyes don’t need to wander the page and don’t need to wiggle as you scan for ORP’s, you can read much much faster.

And in case you’re wondering, Comprehension is about the same as regular reading.

spritz study

First time users were able to read up to 40% faster.

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To see more findings check out the full study here.

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Spritz works so well it’s integrated with many mobile apps and even wearable technology (Samsung Galaxy Gear) and more to come.

  1. If you want to use the pure Spritz on the web, simply add the Spritzlet (click here to get it) to your browser. Additionally, there are other apps taking advantage of the technology including items 2-6 below.
  2. ReadMe! ($1.99) is an E-Pub reader with Spritz. With ReadMe! you can enjoy e-pub format books from Project Gutenberg (45,000 books), Manybooks (29,000 titles), Feedbooks, OpenLibrary (1M+ books) and the Internet Archive (2.5M+ titles). That should keep you busy for awhile!
  3. Quickipedia – Spritz Wikipedia (the whole darn thing!) ($0.99) – A Spritz reader for Wikipedia.
  4. Rapid Reader ($2.99) Read all of your Pocket, Readability and InstaPaper articles that you’ve saved for later with Spritz!
  5. Sparker ($0.99) – SparkNotes (http://www.sparknotes.com) are condensed versions of some of your favorite literature meant to aid you in studying the material after you’ve read it. Now you can spritz all of your SparkNotes on iOS!
  6. BibleGist (Free) – Interested in spritzing the Bible? This is the iOS app for you!
  1. Spreed is a Google Chrome extension and Spritz knock-off with some added features. It allows you to control the number of words shown on the app. This is great for training your brain to speed read with or without an app. It’s great for say, quickly binge reading our book The Heroik Power of Headlines, and others you’ve been meaning to get through as well.

All of the these apps work well. This technology hopefully will bring people back the wonderful world of reading. Try them out and tell us which one is your favorite.

Bonus: Speed Reading Power Tip

let’s talk about subvocalization – sounding out the words in your head actually causes you to read slower. Most people can only speak at about 180wpm, max. In order to speed this up, you’ll need to stop saying every word to yourself. To do that, try lightly humming to yourself (quietly). Murmor and mumble. If you’re humming, you can’t be talking to yourself, freeing your brain to process the information faster.

Email has been a great tool, revolutionary even, but times have changed and so have our expectations for modern communication and collaboration. After considering a wide market of new options to traditional email dependence, does good ol’ email measure up anymore?  Is email the right tool for collaboration? Is it the best? At the very least, the leaner and more efficient our inbox, the more productive your team can be. So read on and discover new ways to cut down on the pile.

Here are the 4 email obstacles that are keeping you from getting things done: 

1. The way email behaves. Sometimes the message and attachment are separate, or put another way, the context is separated from the content. This means that plenty of time is spent mapping out which comment matches which item on the attachment. Plenty can be lost in translation when you are trying to match information in the message with the content of those pesky PDF’s, images, and all those other attachments. This is slowing you down.

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2. When communicating with groups, the back and forth of group threads is difficult to track. Also, you’re permanently involved in the conversation regardless of relevance. Long after you’ve metaphorically left the conversation, you still receive notifications of every exchange. By keeping people in the loop who don’t need to be there, that’s another layer of distraction. It’s the virtual equivalent of being sucked into the pointless meeting to nowhere. Is this really a benefit?

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3. Also lost in that exchange is the constant upload and download of attachments, keeping track of them all is tedious. Historically, it creates a dependency on systems like Exchange and Outlook for organization. These systems add their own complexities, costs, and sloth.

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4. The social niceties prevent people from saying what needs to be said and often distract from the work. I’ve read countless articles about email etiquette and have to ask, “at what point do you bring your team, client, or customer to a place where you work together, building whatever it is, as efficiently as possible? In many an email discussion I’ve noticed psychological behavior equivalent of that found in committees. The shift in focus away from the business and on the egos and feelings ensures nothing gets done.

Imagine two teams of 3 individuals per team, a blue team and a red team. The members of the blue team are standing in the same room handwriting formal letters to one another, discussing how to build a rocking chair. In each exchange they write things like “Dear sir, how are you? I’m really excited about this project. Included in this letter is a proposal to…” It goes on and on, back and forth, with emphasis on ensuring there are personal tidbits that inspire each message to get read and responded to. Meanwhile, the red team is talking directly to one another, grabbing tools and getting started. Who finishes first? The red team of course. I’m not saying etiquette is a waste, but I am calling attention better forms of communication and collaboration for getting things done.

The email productivity discussion to date has been focused on how-to get more buy-in, be more considerate, build rapport, and is centered on answering the question “What tools are most efficient to enhance the email habit?” Very few people challenge the premise altogether by asking “Is email the best, most efficient communication or collaboration tool for the job?

Many would argue that email is what there is; that this simply is the way things are, but it’s not true. At least, not anymore. We live in an age where we can get granular and collaborate on the attached item itself, in real time or our own time. And compared to email, the innovative tools and methods we use to collaborate blow it out of the water, saving organizations boatloads of time effort and energy.

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So I’m going to say it; email is slower and more expensive than newer sportier models. I know that may sound crazy, but in terms of the time it takes to comprehend information, connect the dots and convey ideas, it’s slower than other options out there. I don’t have time for that. Neither do you. So where’s the eject button? Beam me up. Mr. Wizard, get me the hell out of here!

The good news is that the answers are out there. The tools, processes and methods are out there. The bad news? Your competitors are already using them. Below are 5 tools that I encourage you investigate and try.

5 Tools that will keep the Inbox lean and you on top!

  1. Slack allows for real time collaboration with integrations for Google Docs and Dropbox.
  2. Google Docs allows real-time collaboration in documents themselves: so no need for the back and forth.
  3. Dropbox syncs files and provides access on just about any device. This also provides a backup system and keeps files available even when you’re offline.
  4. Trello offers visual project management and workflow design.
  5. Asana offers a robust project management system that’s less visual but allows you to create and implement templates for repeated processes.

These apps save time and increase mobility. More importantly, they scale for teams of any size. They offer speed and responsiveness to pass on to your customers or pass up the competition. They may seem like novel, cutting edge innovations for top tier firms and big companies, but they most certainly are not. These aren’t optional anymore. Lean companies are using them everyday. If you want to move at the speed of a global, information economy you’d better learn to get lean and keep up.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help and can guide or facilitate any roll out of these tools for your organization. Learn more here.

Are you tired of email? Tell us in the comments.

 

Reflecting on the decades we’ve worked on in the Innovation Lab and countless new media projects for clients across many different industries, there are a few tools that stand out and make work and life easier and more enjoyable. And when we think of groups or industries who can benefit the most from these simple and lean tools, nonprofits and startups are at the top of that list. Nonprofits and startups need great tools that are free, cheap, and amazingly effective (Don’t we all?). We’ve put together a list that fits the bill. Here it goes:

There are many books out there disguised as how-to’s, prompting you to tell your story through social media, and to use it as a platform to build a more authentic brand. But let’s be real, most of these books are far removed of specifics with watered down recommendations to use social media to tell your story. Some of the better books on the subject show you how to sell-out your brand for mass appeal. These don’t pass the sniff test of building an authentic brand with great content. That’s where this book comes in.

Welcome to the No Bull Rodeo Tour. We’ll try to make this a recurring feature wherein we offer tips, tricks and truth bombs that are sure to shock, amaze, and hopefully save you some time, effort and energy. This one you’ll definitely want to read through to the end. And as always- we’ve bolded the good nuggets for your skimming pleasure. Feel free to ask questions and add feedback to the comments. On with the show.

In June of 2013 REI reduced it’s lifetime return policy to just one year – equivalent or lower than the manufacturer’s warranty.  Citing the growth of abuse of the long time policy, REI decided to end it’s original 100% Lifetime Satisfaction Guaranteed Return Policy that attracted hundreds of thousands of high-end consumers who became loyal to the brand. What seemed like a small strategic change, tugs at the core of REI’s brand experience.

Now, aside from a positive to negative return line experience, the policy change has also made it easier for the once trusted high-end curator of fine recreational equipment to sell cheaper, lower quality goods for boosted profit margins. For fans trusting the store, it’s important to come to terms with this shift in strategy and to re-evaluate your relationship/loyalty to the store. Is this once consumer-champion brand eroding away into a corporate mediocrity? Will other high-end brands in adjacent retail markets follow REI’s lead?

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Imagine you are fishing on a river. That river is the social stream for every platform. You pay a guide (marketer) to help you increase your catch. He is paid based on how long he keeps your eyes on the water. So he tells you every ripple means something; that there’s an important story behind every bubble connecting in some way to your next catch. You might be so excited and focused on these things, watching the water dance with the elements, waiting for a tug at the line…but it rarely comes and your pockets are emptied quickly. And when you finally get fed up, the guide talks you into checking out a new spot. This is a majority of marketing, especially on social media.

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