The Ultimate Personal Dashboard

With some great technological advancements in the past decade, why am I still organizing my life in bookmarks and spreadsheets?

The next great technology needs to get more personal. We need to drop the rectangular web browser and think in higher dimensions. Let’s say iGoogle meets Macbook Dashboard meets a much better version of the new Yahoo! homepage meets the iPhone application platform. I’m talking about a secure, personal, customizable dashboard/portal through which one can live. It’s where I’ll track my information, both from the web and my mind to better organize and optimize my life. It’s where I’ll see and interact with my personal data in a comprehensively insightful yet very organized environment.

Right now, how do I track my information? Some is on the web, some is on my hard drive, and some is on paper. I have over 200 username and password combinations I use to login to various sites. I’ve got at least 250 bookmarks in 15 top-level categories. I’ve got spreadsheets that summarize my finances and visuals I’ve created to try and learn about them. For now, when I need to know something, I find the appropriate link, look up my account credentials (if not stored), and then investigate. But for those in a similar place in life, are my personal needs really that different?

If I list out all the things I do online, all the things I read online, all the information I organize on my computer, all the personal resources I access online, and all the questions I might have about myself, can I begin to minimize some clutter? Can I get Google Reader, Macbook Dashboard, iGoogle widgets, social network widgets, and personal spreadsheets in a secure, organized interface? Please?


  • Accounts – Search logins by account, email, username, password, notes, date added, date updated
  • Address Book – Contact Info, birthdays, anniversaries
  • Links – Yahoo!, Google, GMail, CNN, Wolfram|Alpha
  • System Stats – Files/Folders, latest backup, storage space
  • Weather – Today’s weather, 7-day forecast, full interactive radar/satellite map


  • Bills – Due dates, billing cycles, average costs due
  • Energy Monitor – Monitor your home utilities, set “green” goals
  • Finances Monitor – Monitor stocks, IRAs, retirement, savings, checking, credit card
  • PayPal – Request/receive payments, see pending invoices
  • Subscription Management – Expected issues, renewal dates,


  • Coming Soon – Movie releases, Tickets on sale, Upcoming concerts (Thrillist, Ticketmaster, Fandango)
  • Google Reader Tracker – Total unread, shared items, etc.
  • Local – Weekend Events (Going Out Guide, Eventful, etc.), Breaking News
  • News – CNN News Pulse
  • Sports – Scores/News

Social Media/Networking

  • Brand Monitor – See sentiment for desired keywords/terms
  • Discussion Board Monitor – Track your posts and comments, desired forums
  • Hot Topics – See trend topics and most searched items
  • Notifications – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Social Timeline – LinkedIn Updates, Twitter Lists, Status Updates
  • Web Analytics – Twitter Stats, Google Analytics


  • Movies – Times, upcoming releases, IMDB search, RottonTomatoes rankings
  • Music – Playlists, connect with Grooveshark albums, iTunes Radio, etc.
  • Photos – Flickr/Picasa portlet
  • Sports – Fantasy team tracker, favorites scoreboard, breaking news
  • TV – Guide, schedule of favorites, DVR control



  • Map – Where I’ve Been, Where I want to go
  • Reading List – What I’ve Read, What I’m Reading, Connect to Amazon
  • Recipes – Saved links, suggested items, BigOven link
  • Shopping – Grocery (connect with PeaPod), Retail deals/coupons
  • Tasks / To-Do
  • Watch Lists – eBay Auction, StubHub
  • Wish List – Amazon, iTunes, Retail Stores


  • Calculator
  • Currency Conversion
  • Dictionary/Thesaurus (Wordnik)
  • Flight Tracker
  • Job Tracker – Monster, USAJobs, search agents
  • Maps – My placemarks, directions, search locations
  • Shipment Tracker – UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc.
  • Translator

This is just a list of things I do, need, have, and want. Obviously there are a lot more to be added. It’s important to note that all of these widgets/portlets have a similar foundation that parallel the major dimensions (in light blue) I spoke about in my earlier post on the boundaries of the human condition:

Accounts – List of all companies/organizations. Information is tagged by the company and all info can be found with regards to that account, when needed.
Dates/Time – Many things are calendar-based and should be aggregated to a personal, customizable calendar view
People – Address Book is a foundational database. People can be searched throughout for linkages and notes.
Places – With the current technological trend, many needs are location-based (including news and tweets). Personal organization dashboards should leverage geo-tagging for contextualization of information to the user.

It’s also important to note that most people want information in 3 forms: a quick preview, an expanded summary, and an interactive tool. This follows closely with a recent social trend – high variability in the speed with which we move. Sometimes we want a snapshot of our current personal information because that’s all that we have – a few seconds of time. At other times, we may have a few minutes of free time, most likely coupled with a defined question or purpose:

“How much do I have in my checking account?”
“What will the weather be like this weekend?”
“Need to transfer rent money to roommate.”
“Did my package arrive safely?”
“Who has a birthday in the next month?”
“What are the hot news items of the day?”
“I want to buy a book from my Amazon wish list.”
“To which country should I travel next summer?”

And finally, this cannot be overwhelming. It needs to be there when you need it but not short circuit your mood if you don’t check it for three weeks. All charts and graphics need to be simple and interactive and customizable, but also intelligent in design to attract the most novice of digital users.

So what will the next decade bring us? Will personal desktop technology be able to fully leverage the vast amounts of data we have online, on our computers, and in our heads? Will the world become more stat-conscious, and learn to take insight from the graphical display of life data? Will the desire for a less-click lifestyle drive better personal dashboards for secure, centralized organization? I hope so.

matrix power

How much of your life can you fit into rows in columns? Well, enough of it for you to cherish the matrix as a valuable organizational and analytical tool.

Spreadsheets, tables, and matrices are used in every aspect of life. We track finances, monitor tasks, plan our future, and analyze potential relationships with rows and columns. And we are surrounded by this information as individuals, as part of small social groups, and as part of large organizations such as classes, companies, or governments.

More simply, matrices and tables give a new structure to elements of our life that are not always so two-dimensional. From the new structure, we can glean new insights and inspire new visualization of those same elements to make best-informed decisions. To me, a matrix is a valuable analytical tool that helps organize information for insight and action.

(Note that I am using the term “matrix” to represent that much more than numerical arrays of the math world. I am including categorical mappings, tables, lists, and spreadsheets too.)

The University of Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing nicely defines the matrix as an essential decision support tool:

“A two by two matrix is a useful tool for initial sorting of qualitative data. The axes should be chosen so that, e.g., the data with the most desirable characteristics will fall into the upper left quadrant and the least desirable in the lower right quadrant. While groups may be unable or unwilling to assign absolute values to qualitative data, they usually find it relatively easy to come to a consensus as to which quadrant something belongs in.

Generally, the two by two matrix is a useful tool for categorising things that can be reduced to two simple variables, particularly when quantitative information is unavailable and qualitative judgments must be made.

It enables a rapid clustering (or separating) of information into four categories, which can be defined to suit the purpose of the exercise. It is particularly useful with groups as a way of visibly plotting out a common understanding or agreement of a subject.”

Authors Alex Lowy and Phil Hood describe the matrix as “the most flexible and portable weapon in the knowledge worker’s intellectual arsenal”.

What’s best about the matrix is that flexibility. Depending on need, you can get as much power out of a 2×2 matrix as you can from a 5×5 matrix. Increased dimension does not translate to increased power. The matrix is flexible and dynamic to the needs of your analysis. You control the path to discovery.

And although matrices do a nice job of pairing categorical relationships, you can also translate these pairs to numerous other visualizations to better contextualize the information at hand. Turn your row and column headers into scaled concepts, map them to some x- and y- axes, and try and fit your qualitative information to a line that describes the relationship between x and y. Is the relationship directly proportional, inversely proportional, linear, parabolic, or along some other path? What do each of these types of relationships mean for your categorical variables?

It’s important to note that there can be fuzzy lines too. Not all cells need to have values and not all relationships need any sort of defined continuity. Empty cells and undefined relationships provide insights that are just as valuable as the populated and defined ones. Lack of data is data in itself, and that’s a great thing.

In the end, the matrix is just one part of the analytical toolbox and can provide a wide range of insight for your personal and professional life. Box up your data, organize it, visualize it, and use new structure to optimize your life.


Business/Leadership: Gartner, an IT research and advisory company, has created the “Magic Quadrant” to analyze types of entities in the business world. By plotting the ability (or inability) to execute against the completeness (or incompleteness) of vision, businesses can be categorized with those sharing similar characteristics, as Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries and Niche Players. This is a useful example of turning abstract qualities into groups for targeted strategy and decision making.

Product Development/Management: For analyzing how to grow a business from the product side, one matrix shows how plotting types of markets vs types of products can help guide that growth strategy.

Math/Statistics: Type I and Type II error tables are used to describe possible errors made in a statistical decision process. This is a great example of mapping relationships between categories, naming the cells, and using the matrix to understand what each cell represents.

life optimization through estimation

The ability to accurately estimate a target value is an asset to any brain. Learn to hone this ability, embrace it, and use it to optimize your life.

Our lives are surrounded by invisible data – most of it in units of time, energy, space, and money. Essentially, our brains are huge folded databases that store this data, and use it to make decisions, plan ahead, and live each day. But as with many types of data, there exists some uncertainty about that data. Unknowns about how long, how big, how much, from where, until when, should i, almost enough, maybe tomorrow… well you get the picture. Our life data is filled with unknowns.

That’s why estimation is essential. Without it we’d get lost, fall behind, and lose our sense of security and awareness. Whether we know it or not, our brains constantly work to estimate and approximate values, given set of life data at that moment in time. And whether we know it or not, our brains run predictive models to assess hypothetical scenarios, basically using present life data to predict future life outcomes.

These are important realizations, and strong connections of human nature to an innate mathematical realm. Estimation is both an art and a science, as it takes creativity and thought supported by various numerical methods. Having the mathematical ability to estimate proves useful in most situations, but without the artistic component, you lose the ability to understand and contextualize your estimation.

The main point here is that estimation should be embraced as part of human nature, supported by numerical methods. This is how we can optimize our life – by recognizing the units with which our lives are measured each day, and reducing as much uncertainty in those values as humanly possible. It will not make you completely successful and happy and secure, but it will get you close.


Here are some random examples of estimation from my life. The methods of estimation vary, but the fundamental questions being asked all have outcomes of an unknown nature.

1. Shopping: Budgeting $150 for a dinner party, break budget down to categories of purchases then allocate funds accordingly. Estimate totals and percent of total budget category to make decisions on necessity.
Outcome: Go bigger on the dinner and ask a couple guests to bring desserts.

2. Sports: Ten minutes left in the game, down by 2 goals. Have two full lines of players so will sub soon and again with 4 min left. Need at least 1 goal every 4 minutes leaving a 2 min buffer to protect the tie and go for a win, should allocate 60% of strategy to offense and 40% to defense for next 8 minutes. If I’m in for 6 min and need 60% offensive mindset, how inclined should I be to make a run towards the goal, leaving my defensive position?
Outcome: Win

3. Personal Finance: How much to take out at the ATM? Need to estimate expenses for the week – lunch, happy hour, gas, dinner, cab to meeting, etc. How often will I use my credit card? Am I more inclined to spend if I have cash? Will I be near another ATM this week if I need more cash? How conservative should I be in my spending given the holiday season is arriving?
Outcome: Take out $60 and bring lunch.

4. Daily Planning: Got a hour-long meeting at 3:30pm, soccer game at 6:30pm. Assuming there will be traffic, it will take me 35 minutes to get home then 5 minutes to change, 10 to heat up leftovers, 10 to eat, and 15 to switch and fold laundry. Need 25 minutes to get to field and 15 min to warm up. Will I have enough time if my 3:30pm meeting goes long or do I need to put off the laundry and/or dinner?
Outcome: Always put off laundry, but never dinner 😉


Estimating how much gold there is in the entire world
Estimating how much money there is in the entire world
Estimating the height of anything using geometry
A bit about estimation in statistics

how i get my news

Everyone is unique with regards to his/her fingerprints, aspirations, and the news he/she reads. Regardless of the topical interests, it’s still very easy to get overwhelmed with managing bookmarks, feeds, readers, interfaces, and social networks.

I’m sure at some point you’ve felt at least the feeling that you are behind in the latest technologies, the feeling that you are missing some major news of interest to you, or the feeling that you haven’t updated your account often enough. With that in mind, I’m going to list some subscriptions I have and technologies I use with the hope that it might help you become more efficient and comfortable with accessing news. If not, maybe you can offer up some advice to me as you’ll see I’m still hitting a hodgepodge of sites/links.

Note: Obviously this doesn’t include everything but tries to show main sites, sources, and technologies I hit on independently. For my categorized blog rolls check out the widget on the right side of my blog (directly from Google Reader). And although I don’t use them very often, everyone should know about Technorati for blogs, Delicious for bookmarks, and Digg for all content.

Major News Sites, Aggregators, and Readers

  • BBC News – Quick glance gives quick review across all regions of the world.
  • CNN – Top news on homepage gives quick review across all topical categories. Top of the page is good for breaking news.
  • ESPN – Best (and most timely) source for sports news.
  • Twitter – Most customizable feed of informal news links, blog posts, and sentiments. Best for breaking news.
  • Google Alerts – Very targeted news (search results) in an easy-to-use format. Helpful for breaking news.
  • Google Fast Flip – Newest, most-efficient and well-categorized interface for paging through news.
  • Google Reader – My favorite. Best aggregation and categorization of RSS feeds with email-like features.
  • My Alltop – Good way to find new things to read by category and/or search term. See my previous post on some feature enhancements that would make it a primary news hub.
  • NYTimes – Today’s headlines email comes in around 7am ET every day.
  • SmartBrief – I get the daily SmartBrief on Social Media. That’s just 1 of 120+ briefs they have.
  • Stratfor – I get weekly geopolitical intelligence reports by email. They’re easy to read and they hit on global topics of current interest. This week: “Misreading the Iran Situation”.
  • USA Today – iPhone app is nice interface and lets you interact with the news (polls, comments, link sharing/posting, etc)
  • Washington Post – You can customize daily email newsletters by topic, columnist, etc. Good to check out your local paper to make sure you hit on news relevant to your hometown.
  • Yahoo! – The OLD homepage. I like to see what’s the most popular news of the day/hour.


  • Eventful – This weekly email is specific to my location and points me to all types of events by topic, location, venue, genre, etc.
  • Ticketmaster – This weekly email points me to all events in and around my area, and particularly shows newly posted events or those with tickets going on sale in the coming days.

Friends & Family

  • Facebook – Kevin Berardinelli likes this.
  • LinkedIn – Best for professional updates and networking for business/employment/research opportunities.
  • TwitterTweetDeck is best on desktop. With a categorization of actual close friends you follow, it’s helpful for staying up-to-date with friends and colleagues. Twitterfon (now called Echofon) or Twitterrific are good on iPhone.

Magazine Subscriptions

  • Amstat News – The magazine of the American Statistical Association. I’m sure some associations or groups related to your topical interests have free or cheap newsletters and publications… so be sure to look around!
  • National Geographic – Best photography ever. And simple stories on basic science that should be of interest to readers aged 6 to 106.
  • Washingtonian – Good local magazine (and it’s cheap). Look around for a hard-copy publication specific to your hometown. It’ll make you feel good.
  • Wired – The best, although I hear FastCompany is on its heels as being coolest?

And Some Rules To Live By…

1. Stay calm. News and technology will always find a way to come to you. You’re the consumer.
2. Stay sane. Take vacations from technology and the internet. Read the paper version of the paper.
3. Stay human. Get news through conversation. Hear what others read. See what others use.

And so I ask you… how do you get your news?

My Alltop – overview and feedback

My Alltop is a simple, intuitive way to manage lots of news headlines from a broad range of topics and sources. It reduces my clicks and browser windows and drives me to read more diversely. However, I am already beginning to feel overwhelmed as I’m up to about 30+ feeds in 5+ major categories. Although I’m happy with its current state, My Alltop needs a couple new features and functionality enhancements if it hopes to be one of my primary click recipients…

Click Here to Visit My Personal Alltop Page

About Alltop (from their site)

“The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer.

We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. Then we display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Our topics run from adoption to zoology with photography, food, science, religion, celebrities, fashion, gaming, sports, politics, automobiles, Macintosh, and hundreds of other subjects along the way.

You can think of Alltop as the “online magazine rack” of the web. We’ve subscribed to thousands of sources to provide “aggregation without aggravation.” To be clear, Alltop pages are starting points—they are not destinations per se. Ultimately, our goal is to enhance your online reading by displaying stories from sources that you’re already visiting plus helping you discover sources that you didn’t know existed.”

Some Initial Feedback

1. Feed Management/Layout – The “Manage” window where you can drag and drop your feeds does not match up with My Alltop’s actual layout, due to a big advertisement in the top right of the My Alltop page. It’s not the easiest thing to order feeds how I would like them either. When I drag and drop a feed to a new position, it auto-shifts feeds that I had already positioned in proximal locations. It should be much simpler. How about a “My Feeds” list/column from which you can drag and drop or remove feeds from real estate boxes? Then over time I can always activate or deactivate my feeds, but still have the full set of feeds I am or have been interested in from which I can choose.

2. Feed Categorization – Let users categorize their feeds on the page. Then I can open/close categories to make the best use of my screen real estate at any time. This could then allow me to have a master feed for each category, sorted by date and listing the authoring site. I’m not saying to reproduce Google Reader, but I think there is some simple similar functionality that could and should be employed to make it easier to organize incoming information.

3. New/Old Links – Another similarity to Google Reader would be a functionality that shows new links versus those that have already been seen by the user. Google Reader marks a post or article as read as the reader scrolls past it. In My Alltop, it’d be simply useful to see which links are new on the page, whether or not they have been scrolled over for a preview or clicked on and opened in a new page. The easiest implementation would be something in conjunction with comment #2 above, where in a master feed the latest links are always at the top of the list, similar to Twitter’s homepage (but now for news articles from multiple sources).


–Google Reader certainly fits a different use case but provides a nice functional model for accessing and organizing lots of news information. So does Google Fast Flip, which was just released and allows for “fast-flipping” of articles from major news publishers, organized by topic, section, and source.

–Incremental developments are helpful for user retention and sustained engagement. With that, there are some simple features that, if implemented, would greatly improve usability and comfort for the My Alltop user.

–My Alltop should continue to become a nice complement to Google Reader and Twitter as primary, personal hubs of near real-time information. Check it out!

being multilingual

The art of persuasion requires a balance of individualistic traits and audience-dependent communication tactics. You are who you are. Your listeners (and/or readers) are who they are. The transfer of knowledge and sentiment is optimized only when those characteristics and qualities meet in the middle.

The cultural diversity of our world is amazing. At the simplest level, I’m envious of those fortunate to have been able to grow up learning multiple languages, customs, and behaviors. Being multilingual, in the traditional sense, is an truly desirable quality that could bring a high level of social opportunity to an individual.

But being multilingual does not just mean speaking more than one language. Being multilingual means to be able to dynamically adapt your voice to any audience to optimize understanding, induce thought, and drive action. This quality of being multilingual is just as valuable in today’s society as it is to be multilingual in the traditional sense.

In the latest issue of Wired magazine, Clive Thompson writes about “The New Literacy”. He talks about how many people think kids can no longer write. But in his mind (and my mind as well) other factors have changed what it means to listen, comprehend, and be persuaded.

“The reality is just that the paradigm has shifted” he says. “What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.”

It’s called Kairos – “assessing audience and adapting tone and technique to best get a point across”. It’s not a new concept, but certainly continuing to be a most desirable trait in our accelerating world. Much of that acceleration can be attributed to the development of our handy communication devices and, more specifically, social media technologies. Our personal ratio of consumed information bits per unit of time has exploded because of the new mechanisms by which all that information can get to us. In a sense, modern technology has enabled a new understanding of speaker-audience relationships. It has driven a new balance of the effectiveness of a particular message and the efficiency with which that message can be delivered.

“Technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it – and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.”

So what are some takeaways? Again, it’s important to be who you are in any speaking/writing environment. You are who you are and that’s important to maintain. However, you must also adapt your communicative approach based on your readers and/or listeners. Use the right tone, tactics, and now, technologies to convey your point (3-T Kairos). Learn to balance effectiveness with the efficiency of delivery.

In the end, we all have goals of a message: Do-outs, takeaways, new thoughts, new understanding, business decisions, relationship formation, topic persuasion, product promotion, ideal alignment, etc. We have many tools at our disposal: our posture, hands, facial expressions, sounds, volume, speed, pauses, colors, punctuation, vocabulary, the internet, social media apps, visualization technologies, our experiences, our ambitions, our uniqueness, etc. Find the best combination of tools to fit the goals and you’re in a good place to succeed.

early childhood math education

“Evidence shows that early success in math is linked to later success in both math and reading. Given the increasing importance of science and technology in everyday life and for gaining entry into many careers, it’s crucial that we give all children a strong foundation in math and that we start many years before they enter formal schooling.”

With the recent publication by the National Research Council on early childhood mathematics, I thought I’d post a little summary with some thoughts of my own. I have always had interest in education policy, curriculum development, and ways to close the educational gap in the United States and around the world.
I believe even the smallest steps can lead to vast improvements, and the general idea is awareness then action, fueled by collaboration. Make the problems fully known and understandable, and then provide mechanisms through which those problems can be addressed at the individual, family, community, local/town, state, regional, national, and international levels.

I have particular interest in mathematics, science, and technology education and hope to stay involved in this realm for my entire life. Since it is quite high on today’s national policy agenda, hopefully action will be expedited to show progress domestically. Then in fixing our national education system, we can serve as a good example to developing nations in how to structure early education and community programs to maximize intellectual growth.

Click here for a Science Daily article about the report.

Here’s an excerpt from the report description:

“Early childhood mathematics is vitally important for young children’s present and future educational success. Research has demonstrated that virtually all young children have the capability to learn and become competent in mathematics. Furthermore, young children enjoy their early informal experiences with mathematics. Unfortunately, many children’s potential in mathematics is not fully realized, especially those children who are economically disadvantaged. This is due, in part, to a lack of opportunities to learn mathematics in early childhood settings or through everyday experiences in the home and in their communities. Improvements in early childhood mathematics education can provide young children with the foundation for school success.”

Some more highlights:

  • Math education must start at the earliest possible age. A coordinated national early childhood mathematics initiative should be put in place to improve mathematics teaching and learning, particularly for ages 3 to 6.
  • We must engrain mathematics and statistics as an environment and a behavioral necessity at an early age. Analytical processing, spatial thinking, and problem solving skills should become part of every day life at a very young age. The report says mathematics experiences in early childhood settings should concentrate on: A) numbers (whole numbers, operations, relations), and B) geometry, spatial relations and measurement. “How should I cut the cake so that everyone gets a piece?”
  • Mathematical process goals should be integrated in other content areas. Math should not be a stand-alone subject but should be a part of the curriculum for history, english, art, music, and other subjects/classes.
  • We must improve the technical and scientific literacy of the general public. This should be done by promoting “number comfort” from early education through adolescence and making math and science education a family, real life, and every day thing.
  • There need to be revised professional development initiatives for educators reflecting science/technical/mathematical curriculum needs.
  • Early childhood education partnerships should be formed between family and community programs to work together in promoting children’s mathematics.
These highlights offer just a glimpse of what is in the comprehensive report, which includes full-scale curriculum, professional development, and implementation recommendations.

In my own point of view, I think there needs to be some sort of accreditation program for mathematics and statistics education, covering preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school (truly, high school is a different story, but certainly some aspects by which the Pre-8 schools might be evaluated are applicable to grades 9-12 as well). A stepwise and gradated approach to evaluation of statistical/mathematical initiatives should help schools work from their current status to a desired and achievable one.

I am aware of accreditation programs that do currently exist at the state and regional levels (although it seems as though most are for a school as a whole and not individual subject areas). On the contrary, I am unaware of the steps these types of evaluation programs take to ensure that systematic inequalities don’t impact evaluation results. Subject-level evaluation programs should not reward schools but rather provide valuable feedback and awareness for all types of early education programs. It should provide a framework for schools to understand their relative status, in conjunction with possible areas for improvement, on a local, national and international level.
I believe evaluation of mathematical/statistical initiatives should take place at these core levels:
  • Administration/Management – Quantitative methods should be made operational in the management and evaluation of educators within the school system. It not only promotes understanding of such methods, but is also an engine for measurable results, positive reinforcement, professional development, and recognition. In some sense, schools are run like a business that should employ quantitative methods to ensure profitable return, an optimized allocation of resources, and quality control. Employ the DIS cycle and school administration will certainly find it easier to know what works, and what does not.
  • Culture/Community – As stated in the NRC report, partnerships must be formed between the student, school, family, and local community. Evaluation should occur on how well a school takes steps to forge and maintain these relationships. How much do children hear about math in school as opposed to out of school?
  • Curriculum – The most obvious one involves evaluation of the process by which a school teaches math and statistics. Does the school sustain its process equally over time? Do educators use a wide array of techniques to teach mathematical concepts?
In the end, something needs to be done and the NRC report is the right first step towards awareness. With the use of some simple quantitative methods and collective brainpower, we can take action to decrease inefficiencies and close the national and international education gaps in mathematics and science, and in turn, many other subjects… Use data to evaluate, support, and improve!

the DIS cycle

Every organization has something to learn. Every organization has data. There is always something to learn from data. Therefore, every organization has something to learn from its data.
A painful problem? Organizations that DO NOT learn from their data.
A more painful problem? Organizations that DO learn from their data but DO NOT build those insights into strategy.
A most painful problem? Organizations that DO learn from their data and DO build those insights into strategy but DO NOT feed the strategy back into the data structuring, collection, and integration processes.
The idea here is that the collection and creation of data has become central to most managerial, informational, and strategic practices in today’s world. Organizations must understand how each data element is to be used in order to optimize the information and insights gained along the way. Organizations must also know what to do with the insights once those insights have been made. Building them into strategy is critical – as long as they are built into the right strategies. In particular, it is imperative for that information to feed back into the original source of the information: the data structure itself. How can new data be created (and old data be refined) to provide new insights and analyses moving forward?
The process needs to be cyclical. Organizations must turn historically linear processes into innovative cyclical ones. Cyclical processes are self-fueling and renewable, whereas linear processes are expensive and always run out of gas. It is that self-sustaining nature of cycles that enables perpetual growth for individuals, teams, departments, companies, and industries.
So how can strategy feed back into the data structure and collection systems?
  • Create new data.
  • Refresh old data.
  • Determine the value of each data element based on where, how, when, and why it is used.
  • Compare internal data to external data sources and data standards.
  • Ride the DIS Cycle backwards to see how data can supplement new, desired insights.
  • Question your data. Love your data. Hate your data. Ask why it works. Ask why it doesn’t.
  • Build quality control and oversight processes to ensure data is used properly.
  • Insert data into your everyday workflow. Build a dependency on your data.
  • Quantify elements of your marketing, product development, customer support, and managerial strategies.
If you create the cyclical process correctly, the data will provide valuable insight that will serve as a self-sustaining support mechanism for your organizational growth and success strategy.

knowledge management and organizational learning

Organizations are built and sustained by the collective brain power of its members. But that collective brain power is only as good as the memory that serves it up. And so was defined knowledge management.

Fundamentally, knowledge management (KM) is the effective administration of people, processes, technology, and information.* In encapsulates the concept of organizational knowledge/learning, which is the collection of facts, methods, and expertise by a group of people for dissemination and use. These days, the wide scope of new organizational knowledge coupled with the speed at which it gets developed leads to a distinct requirement to capture and centralize the knowledge. As a result, innovators and thinkers will be enabled to collectively work toward building new products and technologies while feeding back into the cycle of strategic thought.

Knowledge is king. Storing, sharing, and learning from it is royalty. This realization has progressed over the past decade or so into a “google”plex dollar business (“googolplex” is my favorite number – i’ll post on it at some point). But why are some organizations and some people so resistant to implementing proper KM practices?
Knowledge management needs to be part of every company strategy and needs to be ingrained in each of its four main components: people, processes, technology, and information. It should branch into all departments – and for each become the engine of collaboration and the backbone of innovative thought. Whatever technology is implemented to enable effective knowledge management, it should have dedicated support, alignment with existing security protocols, and proper branding and marketability as an engaging tool to use.

The benefits must also be made visible. Incentivize users to contribute knowledge in a semi-structured form. Make it something that is talked about in meetings, used in positive performance evaluations, built into non-work related worlds (as a place to “escape”), and an activity that is comforting and welcome amongst all levels of employees.

Within specific job functions, it’ll open up opportunities for valuable feedback. Jeff Lash, from his “How To Be A Good Product Manager” blog, has a good post on knowledge sharing and its benefits within Product Management. Everyone has “lessons to share, but even more to learn” he says. This philosophy is applicable to everyone and every job function – technical development, analysis, sales, marketing, management, etc. That’s why KM is necessary for innovation and success and as part of an over-arching business strategy. The improvement of learning across the organization will be measurable in every day communication, work efficiency, and eventually, revenues. 

Lastly, it’s worth noting that with KM, the design and implementation effort is a topic of its own (of which I’m quite fond). But hey, strategize first.

*Other definitions can be found on the KM Forum.

organizational cycling

It is imperative for every organization to align around common procedures. Whether it’s sales, product management, operations/production, client relations, beta testing, etc. establishment of a framework is beneficial in many ways. This is not to say that independence is a bad thing, however, no matter if the organization is big or small, a good balance of procedural alignment and individual direction is a recipe for success.

Ideally, most processes can fit into 4 main boxes forming a circle of logical steps. Binning concepts into 4 boxes allows for intuitive realization of processes. Studies in numerology have generally put 5 or 7 as good numbers for the human brain to process, however it is my opinion that 4 is a good cyclical standard. This is because it is even and natural to break down into two pairs, where a pair is then recognized as one (e.g. ying and yang, ernie and bert, salt and pepper).

I think the sales meeting cycle is a good example of a process in need of procedural definition. the image is an example of a 4-step sales meeting cycle, binning components within the process and looping for continuous flow. This is just a framework to follow that can assist in other organizational elements, such as quality control, effective communication, annual reviews, strategic sales assessments, and technical developments. If each participating member/employee can think along each step, their brain will be triggered with preparation needs, innovations, self-confidence, and self-awareness. Especially in sales, these are all positive elements in moving forward as a team.

Anyways, the point here is that whether in a start-up or very old organization, it’s important to get things on paper, and procedural frameworks are a good start. These are not to be hard-coded into our brains, but general cycles to follow and refer to when necessary. Visually, they will trigger the effective communication and commonality needed for teamwork, and allow for innovation and confidence needed for positive individual contribution. balance is beautiful.
“Last night I was laying in bed looking up at the stars and sky and I thought to myself, where the heck is the ceiling?”