How to Innovate at Work? Give Time!

Innovation. Some companies don’t have any and need some. Others have some and want more. Surely everyone wants to be an innovator. Who wouldn’t want to produce innovation? It’s the modern-day professional currency that we trade in as programmers, designers, and managers.How to Innovate at Work? Give Time!

What Does Innovation Mean?

I never know what people mean when they say innovation because I was never taught it in school. I decided to give it my own definition. I’m claiming innovation means, “a surprisingly creative invention that proves valuable.”

When I reflect on my work performance in 2014, I figure I was innovative five times. Was that enough? I hope so. Either way I simply ran out of time.

Time is the Raw Material for Building Innovation

Innovating, for me, is a study in stealing. Stealing ideas? No! I’m stealing time. In my opinion, the profitable return of innovation comes from an investment of time. Time is a scarce resource and we generally don’t have enough of it.

Creativity and invention can’t be scheduled and prefer to happen at their own pace. They often occur around and between regularly assigned tasks. To make innovation happen, I steal time.

Stealing time from whom? Myself, because inspiration usually strikes at home, from my teammates as I ask them to cover daily tasks, and lastly from my managers as they purposefully organize project stories during iterations.

When I deliver something cool, life is good and high-fives are given. When discovery leads to dead-end there’s an empty, guilty feeling. We can steal time to create and invent, but is there a better way?

Learning, Solving Interesting Problems, and Sharing

Innovation seems to me to just be an outcome.

It’s what our leaders ask us to do at the end of the day. How do we get innovative? How do we know we’re doing it right? What are the practical tasks that lead to innovating work?

I break it down into a simple pattern: learn, solve interesting problems, and share.

It’s a virtuous cycle that directly improves you, offers value into someone’s life, and raises up the skills of all those around you. When others respond in kind, it makes you better.

 

Learning

How can you learn on the job or while pursuing your next job? Going back to school is out of the question for most people. It’s expensive and takes time. Formal training might not be crucial for a tech-related position. All the same, there are always new skills you need to pick up. Below are three great ways to continue learning.

Conference Videos

Watching video recordings of conference talks is a fantastic way to take deep dives into the technology you know you need to learn. Many conference organizers host speaker videos on YouTube. Here are some examples:

Choose an hour each week to view a talk to level up your skill or prep for an interview. Leaders can do the same thing for their team. Gather your people to watch a video over lunch. Sharing a meal, and some enlightened thinking, are easy wins for bonding while experimenting with new ideas.

Self-Paced Online Coding Challenges

These sites challenge you to complete a programming exercise. Because they’re built to test your knowledge, you’ll find that they focus your spare time by igniting your competitive fire. Gain insights into particular aspects of computer science and learn from others by comparing solutions.

Follow the Influencers

Creators building leading software tools and libraries steer the tech world. Follow the makers of your favorite software on Twitter to learn from them. Read when they update their projects. See how they view the world as they discover new concepts.

Search out people actively building community for designers, product managers, and developers. Here are some people I enjoy reading:

 

Solving Interesting Problems

What interesting solutions are you finding? If your daily work feels routine, what can you do as an individual to get an exciting jolt of mental stimulation from completing a unique challenge? Hone your latest practices against solid, real-world problems. That’s when skills become your own.

Volunteer for Special Projects

If you’re at work, volunteer for special projects evaluating new technology. It doesn’t happen often, but when you hear about one raise your hand with an open attitude. You might be surprised that your teammates won’t show interest when they can’t imagine the intellectual reward. Be the first to say yes, but remember to bring back what you learned. Share something valuable with your team.

Hackathon

Block off an uninterrupted amount of time and run a hackathon for one. No need to hold yourself to the traditional 24-hour straight marathon. Set a fast pace to keep your ideas lean and your moves quick. Sometimes too much time brings too many ideas, and not enough execution.

Negotiate with loved ones if family obligations make you wonder if you can dedicate the days. Give yourself enough time that you can start and finish your hack. Convert your hobby project into an excellent portfolio piece that you can use as a conversation starter in your next job interview. Demonstrate that you’re a self-starter, engaged in your career, and passionate about learning.

Company leaders can use a hackathon to cultivate solutions for ongoing business problems or generate new opportunities. Think of structuring your staff by encouraging them to team up with folks they wouldn’t normally work with. Bring in a marketing person, or a product manager, with a designer and some programmers. Mix in QA. Break down silos and build up alliances.

 

Sharing

Once you’ve gone away and learned something, it’s time to share. Why? Because serving others often makes the hard work of discovery easier. It’s worth investing in other people to build community while lifting up their level of quality.

Speak To a Group

Public speaking might be a challenge. Many people have a natural fear of presenting to a group. Take it from me that any audience showing up to hear you speak is more interested in learning from you than judging you.

There is no better way to become great at something than being on the hook for teaching it. Become the best student that you can and solidify your learning by guiding an audience through your expertise. Who should you talk to? Here are some ideas:

  • You company’s team during a lunch-and-learn.
  • A local professional group. Many are listed on Meetup.
  • Regional or national conferences. See entries at Lanyrd.

Write

Write an article summarizing something that you’ve learned, built, or discovered. Starting a blog is easier than you think. You can easily register and start self-publishing on WordPress, Medium, tumblr, or Blogger.

Answer questions on Stack Overflow, Quora, or Twitter if writing an article feels like too much commitment.

These Are Ways to Innovate

Experiment with these suggestions as concrete ways to achieve innovation. Each requires giving or taking some time.

Individuals can take time from their own personal schedule to try them out. Company leaders should give time to their team by carving some out from their regular schedule.

Stay sharp and make all those around you better. Let’s do something awesome today!

About the Author: 

Ken Tabor is a Dallas-based product engineer with years of experience developing consumer-driven products. A frequent speaker at conferences, and a dedicated blogger, he constantly shares his passion for mobile, JavaScript, HTML, Sass, UX, analytics, open-source, coffee, and cupcakes. Visit his blog for more insights on software and leadership.

His first book, Responsive Web Design Toolkit: Hammering Websites Into Shape, is available from Amazon.

Posted in: 
Development

Say Goodbye to the Old School Corporate Software Developer

The days of coding in a corner for six months and suddenly emerging with a product where business expectations were not met are over. No longer should the coding consortium milk corporate for time and monies without clear direction and proper planning. We must produce or be left behind to do things such as support, be repurposed for some administrative task, or worse, be fired.Say Goodbye to the Old School Corporate Software Developer

Developers, like businesses, must continually remake themselves. We are, after all, “agents of change” for the betterment of business processes. We are expected to stay ahead of the technology curve. Business process improvement depends on us formulating and providing answers to complex corporate issues, so it should be no surprise when developers who adhere to these principles command a higher salary and are always in demand.

How does one go about this task of staying current when work is all-consuming? Below are some suggestions:

  • Subscribe to the “technology brats” of our time. Read their blogs, books, and frequent their websites.

  • Keep up with the tools of our trade. Do not allow yourself to get comfortable. Sometimes you’ll miss, but you will always be learning.

  • Do not confine your talents to one genera. Focusing on a specific talent will leave you vulnerable. Keep up with as many phases of development as you can. The more you know...

  • Learn from your peers. Cross-training should already be an intricate part of your daily operations, so the business is never left holding the bag when a key developer decides to exit stage left.

The above items need to become part of your daily rituals. You must change the very way you approach your career and job. It isn’t just about coding anymore, but about understanding the business and providing clear concise solutions in a reasonable time frame using technologies that suit the need.

Once you start your new path to success, do not become overzealous. Implementing technologies which you are not comfortable will have the reverse effect. I’ve seen it all too often. Developers get a new toy and want to try it out at the business’s expense. It “looks good on the resume“, but is not practical for their current software endeavor. Don’t worry, you’ll get to use it soon enough.

Focus your efforts on learning the business. For example: Attempting to code a quotation application without understanding product, pricing structure, discount model and order of operations would be at best a disaster.

Make it your goal to know as much about the business as you can, so you can talk intelligently with users and stakeholders. Communication is key to success.

Only the hungry will adhere to the above practices, and make no mistake, they will set you apart from the average “pocket protector”. Let those people sit in the corner and do classic ASP the rest of their careers. You’re moving on and moving up.

About the Author: 

Tom Williamson has thirteen years of experience in project management, enterprise software development, and four years of cloud computing with specialized expertise in business process improvement, change management and Business Analysis. Hates zombies, clipping toenails and fighting with bullies. Follow Tom on Twitter and at his blog.

Posted in: 
Development

MATRIX Consultant Spotlight: Ed Booth

At MATRIX, we emphasize that our company is all about the people. On the outside, it appears that we employ software engineers, web designers, project managers, business analysts, support technicians, and so on.

This is technically true. But what we don’t advertise is that we also employ mothers, grandfathers, soccer coaches, marathon runners, world travelers, musicians, painters, community servants and so much more. Our consultants aren’t defined by their job titles. They each have a story and this blog series will tell them.

This month’s spotlight is on Ed Booth, a GIS Consultant working for one of our clients in Dallas.

MATRIX Consultant Spotlight: Ed Booth

Tell me a little about yourself.
I grew up in a military family so I’ve had the opportunity to live in a lot of different places. My wife is a retired medical technologist and teacher, currently tutoring high school and college students. Our favorite thing to do is travel, and we also enjoy renovating houses together. I have a son who is working on his PhD in Physics at the University of Michigan. He’s very self-sufficient and self-motivated – someone I definitely look up to.

As an avid traveler, what has been your favorite experience?
My favorite experience would probably have to be the trip my wife and I took to the south of France a couple years ago. We rented a canal boat (comparative to a house boat) and toured cities all along the Mediterranean. We would dock the boat along the canal and tour historic churches, landmarks and villages with beautiful architecture dating back to the 10th century.

What else do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a painter. I paint a variety of different things, but I especially like landscapes and seascapes. I enjoy woodworking as well, specifically built-in cabinetry, tables and fireplace mantles. I sell my artwork and my carpentry, but I mostly just have a lot of fun doing it.

I also love to sail. We have a small sailboat that we keep on Canyon Lake in the Texas hill country. We belong to a yacht club out there that teaches sailing to younger generations, hosts monthly regattas and raises money for charity.

How did you get your start in IT?
I got my GIS degree in 2008. I lived in California at the time but moved to Texas for the better opportunity and economy. Before that, I was a graphic designer and I’ve always been interested in maps. Years ago I studied Landscape Architecture and learned about software used for mapping. As time went by, I learned more about GIS and thought that it would be a good fit for me since it involved computers and design.

What’s your favorite part of your career?
The company I’m at now has a really wonderful culture that extends to the contractors- they treat us very well and I get to work with outstanding people. I have been able to progress here for the last two and a half years and take on more responsibility, which has been very gratifying. My initiatives and ideas have been welcomed here, making it a great place to grow.

If you could give any piece of advice to other IT consultants, what would it be?
Do your best to over deliver. Whatever your job is, do it and do more than you absolutely have to. If you see something you can take ownership of, do it and your career will progress.

About the Author: 

Jennifer Bradley is the Digital Content Specialist for MATRIX. Her primary mission is to understand what information our various communities want and need from MATRIX, and to deliver it to them in ways that are enlightening, engaging and in sync with who we are as a company. She loves pop culture, Oklahoma football and the great state of Texas. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Posted in: 
Fun

How to Stay Fit in the Workplace

Studies show that sitting all day can outweigh the benefits that come from exercising. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you have a job that requires you to sit in front of a computer all day. Breaking up your day with quick walks around the office or a couple trips up and down the stairwell can make a big difference. Discipline yourself by setting reminders on your phone or calendar throughout the day.

Some of the folks at MATRIX have a few other ideas for how you can maintain a healthy lifestyle in the workplace. Watch our video below and share this post with your own tips @MATRIXResources.

About the Author: 

Jennifer Bradley is the Digital Content Specialist for MATRIX. Her primary mission is to understand what information our various communities want and need from MATRIX, and to deliver it to them in ways that are enlightening, engaging and in sync with who we are as a company. She loves pop culture, Oklahoma football and the great state of Texas. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Posted in: 
Fun

MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Doug King

Our new spotlight blog series aims to highlight our employees and consultants outside of the office. Today we get to know Doug King, who is much more than just an Account Executive in our Phoenix office.

MATRIX Employee Spotlight: Doug King

Tell me a little about yourself.
Just before I joined the priesthood...Wait, no...Let me start from the beginning.
I was born just outside of Detroit, Michigan (Eminem used my life story for 8 Mile), but soon thereafter, moved out of the snow to sunny Mesa, Arizona. Besides a quick 5-year stint in Los Angeles, I have lived in the Phoenix area most of my life. I met my wife Rebecca at ASU (in a bar, of course – very classy) and we now have two boys (Carson, 14 & Ryan, 12) and a girl (Audrey, 9) who all see me as not only full-time chauffeur, but “that guy who approves App purchases” on their iPads. It’s a niche that I embrace. I placed Rebecca on contract at Wells Fargo in 2004 (very small margin btw). And after 10 years she has decided to take a new position with GM as Technology Manager and “person who gets Doug in the door at GM”.

Favorite job you’ve ever had?
One of my favorite jobs was touring as a standup comedian. When I lived in L.A., I toured the country performing at clubs, colleges, casinos, etc. It was one of the best times of my life. I performed improv, did voice-over work, emceed, and acted in commercials. I still do voice work for some friends who host a morning radio show here in the valley and I do occasional commercial work and emcee gigs. Although, since I’ve added this awesome, but subtle 2nd chin, the work has been scarce.Doug King Acting Headshot, 1997

At the same time, comedy also had its downside. I did a gig for 800 people at a 20-year class reunion in Downey, CA where nobody heard a word I said, as they just kept talking over me. And I performed my first paying gig at a steakhouse in Lompoc, CA where there were only two people (half the population of Lompoc) in the audience, and the lights were so bright I couldn’t even see them. Talk about brutal. I was even yanked off the stage once, which my therapist seems tired of discussing.

What are some things people might not know about you?
I walked on to the Arizona State University swim team as a skinny, unrecruited freshman, but ended up as an All-American ASU record holder, ranked 18th in the world, and in the Top 25 Fastest Americans of all time in the 100M Backstroke. I’ve gained 25 pounds since then, I take naps, my hair is receding, I only shave my legs on Tuesday nights, and now I rarely swim without a floaty and a cocktail in my hand. So I’ve got that going for me.

I’m also a former inventor/entrepreneur. I hold six patents on an irrigation device that waters trees underground, and it’s now sold all over the world.

While I was doing stand-up I was actually a part-time “space” designer in Beverly Hills. I designed closets/offices/garages for Jennifer Aniston, Jack Lemon, Oliver Stone, Aaron Sorkin, Gregory Peck, Matthew Perry, and many a rock/sports star. And except for two restraining orders, none of them return any of my letters. I had to design a closet to fit Ms. Aniston’s 300 pairs of shoes. I told her to get rid of some instead. She didn’t laugh.

Hobbies and Interests:
When I’m not at work, and my kids do not overload me with requests (demands), I enjoy woodworking and building furniture. Armoires, tables, cabinets – whatever – my man-garage is my place of Zen, and a place I almost never visit anymore. Sometimes I’ll wave to it. Thanks kids! I also enjoy golfing poorly, the great outdoors, and anything College Football – Go Sun Devils!

Why MATRIX?
I was working with Don Palmer (Executive VP at MATRIX) on a partnership agreement between MATRIX and my own company. He asked me to consider joining MATRIX full-time and everything just fell into place. Once I met everyone, I couldn’t wait to be a part of the team. From the people that I’ve known for 14 years (I actually worked at MATRIX for a year back in 2000) to the others that I met on day one, it’s the people that make MATRIX. It might sound like a Miss America answer, but truly, the family attitude and incredible focus on employees is what I’m most impressed with. And now that I’ve been here for a bit, it’s the stellar recruiting and exceptional management that will keep me here. Yes, my nose is now a darker shade of brown. But it’s true though.

Posted in: 
Fun