My kids, especially my 7 year old, have recently gotten into video games.
It's a struggle to regulate the appropriate amount of time he should or
shouldn't be spending. My wife and I are still trying to formulate a
plan we think is reasonable and good for him. But that's a different
What I wanted to share is something I found really cool. One of the
video games is called Farm Simulator. As you might guess, it puts the
player in the role of a farm owner. You have to manage money, planting,
harvest, workers, equipment, etc. It's actually a pretty cool game and
teaches some basic business skills in addition to the entertainment.
Well, along with "playing" the video games, he likes to look up videos
of other people playing the games on YouTube. People who can record
their screen will record the game and narrate what they're doing.
My son first starting doing this the first of this summer while we were
on vacation. We didn't bring any games, but did have the iPad, so he
would watch the videos during free time. What was cool was he started
seeing all of the cool tricks and things he wanted to try when he got
back. But, he was afraid he wouldn't remember them.
This was a perfect opportunity to introduce the pocket journal I had
brought for him. I'm a big fan of writing and wanted start sharing the
benefits of it with him. So he starts jotting down notes and before the
trip is over, he can't wait to get back and try all of the cool tricks
he had written down.
One interesting trick he found was how to hack the bank account for his
farm and increase the money to whatever he wanted, which would allow him
to buy whatever expensive tractor or equipment he wanted to try out. We
had to actually help him with the details, but he found it and knew how
to use it...I was pretty impressed.
I have a few takeaways from this experience.
How amazing the internet is. I've said before, I've gotten an
additional degree free from the internet. I now make a living
programming software 100% learned from teaching myself online.
How cool is it that others are willing to share what they learn. What can I
be sharing today to help others?
How will the internet change education in the future? Will traditional education adopt more self
taught, hands on learning methods. We don't all learn the same way, but
we're almost all taught the same way in early education.
There's something really cool about having a fascination and enthusiasm about
something and a desire to learn it, and then given the opportunity and
means to figure it out. That's one thing I love about my job. I'm
essentially given that opportunity on a daily basis. Sometimes I may
bang my head against the desk trying to figure out a problem, but
eventually the satisfaction and reward of hard work pay off.
I've been cycling more than usual recently. I'm not sure why really,
just wanting to stay in shape and keep the weight off.
I noticed something the other day while riding. It's not the first time
I've noticed it, but it doesn't happen often.
Sometimes you're pedaling along and enjoying the scenery, maybe
daydreaming, and your thoughts turn to your pace. When you're riding by
yourself, you know what kind of effort you want to target. You know the
pressure and power you want to apply to the pedals. Most cyclists can
consistently apply the same amount of power for long periods of time.
Occasionally, when you're riding along, and even though you feel you're
at the limit of the effort you want, you'll shift into a harder gear.
Sometimes it may be by mistake, and sometimes just to change rhythm. On
rare occasion, you'll find that gear easier, or at least no harder.
Surprised, you'll shift again, into an even harder gear. Sometimes,
event a third or 4th time you'll shift and keeping the same cadence,
you'll be going much faster with seemingly no additional effort. It's an
amazing feeling because here you are riding along at what you think is
your ideal pace, then you shift gears and are able to travel faster
without trying much harder.
Well, as this happened to me the other day, I got to thinking about this
and how it mirrors life in some degree. Don't we all get bogged down in
a pace that we think is our best. Whether it's a career, relationship,
skill, etc, sometimes we're just cruising along daydreaming, enjoying
the scenery. I wouldn't say that is necessary always bad thing, but if
you think that you're going full speed but are not, then what could
happen? In your career, you may start to become invaluable or get passed
by someone else or your marriage or other relationship could become stale.
I like this idea of shifting gears, changing things up. Learn something
new, take a different position, go on a trip, or whatever it takes to
refocus. For me, getting comfortable isn't a place I want to go yet.
Let's say you're an electrician and you run a small electrical
contracting company. There may be 1000's of other companies that offer
the same services, at the same prices, in the same turn around time,
with the same friendly smile as you do. The only difference? Only a few
are geographically close enough to the customer to do the job.
A lot of small business benefit from a geographic advantage but most
technology companies (large or small) don't enjoy this benefit. Take
my consulting company Brown Web Design, for example. A local
entrepreneur could just as easily hire someone in Ohio as they could me
to develop software for their business. There's no real advantage to
being close. Another example: A business could just as easily use
software built and maintained in Australia as they could from people in
their home state.
There are a few advantages, time zone and language. Time zone is not
that hard to work around, especially with people's acceptance of
asynchronous communication these days. Language is another topic.
So the questions is, if you own a small company, how do you compete? How
do you market and network? How do you gain an advantage?
Well, first there are some geographic advantages to marketing and
networking. A developer in Ohio isn't likely to come to Atlanta to
attend the monthly Ruby meetup or Web Design group. So being visible at
local gatherings is a big benefit. Speaking at these gatherings is even
Another idea I've been trying to wrap my head around (because I'm not
very good at it, but I see others doing it well) is the concept of
virtual communities. With the loss of some geographical advantage,
there's opportunity to be heard and seen in virtual communities. What
are some of those? They can be technology specific ("The Ruby
Community"), or business topic specific (the startup community,
enterprise, SMB's, etc) industry specific (accounting, manufacturing,
real estate). I not a google plus fan, but I like their term of circles.
If you're socially active, you have circles of friends and influence.
You might have an audience of social followers, blog readers, or email
subscribers. They're all potential areas of opportunity.
I'm not pointing out anything new. The crazy growth of marketing tools
to help companies reach these virtual communities like Pardot,
Google Adwords, Mailchimp, Hubspot reveal that others are
doing online marketing with amazing success.
So what's my point? If I have one I guess I'd be this: Embrace the
competition and take advantage of opportunities provided online.
In my previous post I discussed the struggle with staying in an
optimistic entrepreneurial mindset when you feel like all of the good
ideas are gone, the market is saturated, and opportunity has left the
building. I surmised that this is just a feeling and not reality. Well,
along the same lines, I have another question I want to ask you about.
A few weeks back Seth Godin wrote a post about Same as it ever was
where he displayed two of the first portraits ever taken and basically
as asked: could they have been taken with Instagram? The point he was
making (in my opinion) is that there's plenty of opportunity in
products, services or technology that already exists.
History is full of examples of companies who did not pioneer their core
offering, but came to dominate it anyway. Think of the way that Apple
has come to redefine and dominate the market for mobile devices—a
category pioneered by Motorola. Boeing did not pioneer modern jet
travel, nor Google the Internet search engine. Yet both companies are
now industry leaders.
In Seth's post he says:
No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your
innovation or product doesn't contain a flavor that's never been
tasted before or an experience previously unimagined.
I believe this, but what about the other end of the spectrum? For
We make fun of the five thousandth To-Do app, or the social network for
X. NOOOO, not another project management tool. Anybody want to build
There's been tons of silly ideas (and as developers we've built them)
yet occasionally something new will surface that competes with the
industry leader and even surpasses it. What made Slack different from
Hip Chat? What made Gmail different than yahoo mail? I'm not that
knowledgeable about all the different startup successes and failures, so
you fill in a few blanks of the ones you know.
My question is, when are competiting products valid? When are they seen
as another lousy idea?