I’ve often been called a jack of all trades; though it’s hard to tell sometimes if this is meant as pejorative. One thing I do know is that wherever I’ve worked - I jokingly refer to myself as the knower of things.
This is partly because I tend learn obscure facts: Why did that deal 3 years before I started go south? What arcane platform is that client on? Have we ever had to send engagement terms to a contractor before? What does this error mean? But knowing these factoids is a sign of something more deeply rooted - I have to learn them because I get asked to solve unusual problems.
In business and even digital I tend to find regular problems to be simplistic. This itself is a double-edged sword. It means that mundane problems are precisely that. To compensate I take on too many of them or I end up handling all of the obscure ones. On the other hand it means I get exposed to a lot of interesting opportunities.
Some of the more interesting things I’ve puzzled over lately (at work and outside of work):
- Why a small software company consistently made profit but nothing that they tried could increase their revenue
- How a distributed network could achieve consensus (along contiguous nodes) without a leader and without forming a minimum spanning tree
- Understanding the Insurance Councils submission to the Financial Systems Inquiry with no prior exposure to insurance industry jargon
- How to arrange the Information Architecture of a university website to target 5 different user groups without explicitly creating navigation options for those users
- How an abstract thread could expose a list of private functions from its supertype to another thread without allowing that thread to execute those functions (only schedule for them to be called via an API)
These problems span from interface design related, to incredibly technical to business related. The thing they share in common is that prior to doing each one I had no experience with problems of that nature.
To me any new problem is solvable so long as it that can be expressed with defined parameters, has some semblance of a corpus of knowledge and has a findable or inferable set of historical data.
Consequently I often get asked for advice in areas outside of my field(s) of expertise. Seeing everything as a problem that can be solved I also tend to speak pretty frankly. While catching up with a former employer over lunch I asked, “why do you ask me these sorts of things? You know I’m going to disagree with you”, to which he replied, “Of course I ask you Rick, you’re the only one who’s willing to disagree with me.”
Being a perpetual problem solver has its challenges and addictive qualities, but it is inherently rewarding.
Side node: too many words in this post have that red squiggly line… as though the English language was incapable of combining forms. I’m sure some staunch language conservatives will lambaste my adjectivising of verbs and now verbing of nouns.
My startup Stufftopia just launched a new site called What Is There To Do which includes a mobile specific interface and design. Just like Stufftopia, you can save What Is There To Do to your mobile desktop (“Add to Homescreen” on the iPhone) and use it like a native app.
We originally planned to launch What Is There To Do before we came up with the idea of Stufftopia. But our work led us down a different path - a “hyperlocal” app designed to help people find stuff to do around them.
But we had all this data and this framework we had built for integrating with Foursquare and presenting it to users in a useful way and we realised it could be used to do so much more. So we worked hard to bring What Is There To Do to the world. It is a city based website, helping people find things to do in any city around the world.
How does it work? Type a city into the search box, choose which one you would like and see everything there is to do. Pick a category to narrow your search and find the top 10 things for any destination in the world.
You can us it to find things to see in LA, discover Paris shopping, or learn what to do in NYC.
Launching Stufftopia has not been the hardest thing I have ever done. I frequently read stories from entrepreneurs who talk about how making a startup is the biggest challenge they have ever faced in their lives but I can’t say the same for myself.
Check out some photos from my new startup Stufftopia over on our blog:
Stufftopia is launching to a browser, PC, tablet or smartphone near you! Stay tuned.
For 18 months I have been working on a start-up called Stufftopia (stufftopia.com). It is a free, simple, intuitive way of finding stuff to do. You’re presented with a clean interface that asks you only two questions 1. What do you want to do? (choose from 6 categories) and 2. Where do you want to do it (near me, somewhere else).
It’s both a website and an iPhone app and it requires no signing up, no usernames, no passwords and no logging in. Just fire up the app or the webpage and start finding things to do.
My team is made up of 5 people: Myself, a BA, a programmer, a graphic designer/UX designer and a marketing person. Our aim is to launch a beta ASAP October and to do a full launch by Christmas.
If you go to the Stufftopia website (http://www.stufftopia.com) you can submit your e-mail address and find out when we launch. Or go to the blog (http://blog.stufftopia.com) to read updates from the team.
And one more thing - in 2013 we’ll be launching special High Profile accounts. If you refer people to Stufftopia you can be one of the first people to get one. So go over to the sign-up page for more information.
There is an attitude amongst baby boomers and gen-xers that the only way you could make competent business decisions is with decades of experience. They have this perception of gen-y that we want to come in and start running the business a few months after we start. The problem isn’t that gen-y want to run the company, it’s that they want to make observations that are recognised by the company and implemented.
Older generations cannot see the observations and inputs made by gen-y as being insightful because they see us as “children”. Yet companies like Apple and Microsoft were founded by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when they were the same ages as today’s gen-y. To-boot, modern day technology trends are pioneered by my generation.
For those of you who are interested in the progress of my Stufftopia start-up (www.stufftopia.com) I have started blogging separately about it on our website.
I’ve started talking about our backstory, how we came up with the idea and where we are going: Stufftopia Backstory Part 1
The Story of Kodak & IBM
I still remember a marketing campaign that involved “Kodak Moments”. It was so successful that I still use the phrase (sometimes jokingly) to refer to moments in time that are truly worthy of being captured. As a company they are over 130 years old and have recently filed for bankruptcy.
By comparison, IBM, which recently turned 100 years old, continues to thrive live up to it’s name. For over a century they have been selling “International Business Machines” and that meant something different for every period of its life.