понедельник, 8 июля 2019 г.

Takeaways from the Preparing Slides Course

About a week ago I finished going through the Presentation Skills: Designing Presentation Slides course on Coursera. It proved to be a rather helpful guide for someone fully depraved of the ability to assemble anything that looks good in PowerPoint. If you belong to this kind like I did, I fully recommend the course - that's a moderate investment that offers quick returns. Below are some of the key lessons that I learnt from the course:

  1. While working on slides I must ensure three things:
    • Focus – I should draw the attention of my audience to the most important idea on the slide,
    • Contrast – the slide should communicate what is most important and what is the detail of secondary importance,
    • Unity – the slide should focus on one thing or idea; I should search for things that can be removed.
  2. Slides should be functional, look professionally and entertain when possible. Order matters.
  3. There’s no such thing as “too much text” – rather “too much text out of context”. In other words, if the text is important it can be properly arranged and styled in such a way that the slide will be readable – the problem is usually how we present the text.
  4. Allowed level of complexity (e.g. of a chart on a slide) depends strongly on the readiness of the audience to perceive it. The size of the audience is a good proxy for that readiness: the larger the audience the less ready it is to try to understand complex stuff.
  5. Less decoration is good. Adding decoration doesn’t make the slide look good – introducing structure does that. Overall, I should try to remove as much decoration as I can – in particular in tables.
  6. You can achieve a lot in terms of readability by means of good structure and typography.
  7. Outside of the branding-related decoration/slide template I may use a maximum of two colors.
  8. One of which is the color of the main text – black, dark gray or dark blue.
  9. I may use another color for a couple crucial words or, better, icons and focal points like that
  10. Max 2-3 words should be bold.
  11. Bold means more important, italics means less important. Sounds controversial, but visually looks reasonable: bold stands out from the slide, while italics sort of leans to the background.
  12. Font size should be used to introduce structure, which should communicate importance.
  13. Photos should be large and few, icons – small and numerous.
  14. Bullet lists can be arranged horizontally and they look better and more readable this way – because it allows to introduce clearer structure and contrast.
  15. There are the Align and Distribute tools in PowerPoint – save a lot of time arranging stuff on the slide when building structure.
  16. Plus a dozen interesting and practical details about typography, colors and visuals on the slides.

воскресенье, 7 апреля 2019 г.

Failure Checklist

Just about a year ago - early 2018 - I decided that I am ready to quit the job and build a business of my own in the wild. I won't go through the details of how I came to that and what happenned next - the important part is that after 8 months I have found myself running out of cash and not knowing what I can do except to look for a new employer.

By the end of 2018 I have successfully landed a job - a great one, by the way. So now I am safe and already had some time to contemplate my attempts at business. Here are the key conclusions that I made from the analysis of what I did and how that led me to the failure:

1. If you go into business, you absolutely have to design a sales proposition that would clearly show your potential customers what you are offering, how much it costs and exactly how much they would benefit from it. In other words, you have to present your customers a cost-benefit analysis of your offering. Once you have it, advertise it a lot and do be ready to pay for the ads.

2. Be sure to prepare a financial model of every business project that you are trying to build. If the model shows adequate income, don't abandon it even if you see only modest earnings per unit - you just have to scale it properly.

3. Your business model doesn't have to be cool or show few competitors, but it absolutely must allow for reasonable net income in the target market. Other things do not matter much.

4. You have to be ready to overcome difficulties, do something when it's not clear what to do and ask other people for help at solving the problems of your business. The only allowed reasons to abandon a business are poor cash flow or the act of discovering why your model can't generate proper income. No other difficulties can be a valid reason to quit trying.

5. You have to go and sell your product in each and every possible way - including those, which are least comfortable (or even painful) for you. You must not stop trying to sell until you understand why your attempts fail and why you can't fix that for an acceptable price.

6. Your work must be focused on closing the key needs or problems of your customers in the first place - not on something that you find important or cool. Whatever you add to your product or service must be helping you sell it. Of course, you have to start with identifying what are these things crucial to your existing and future customers.

7. It is important to extrapolate your positive experience and translate every successful deal into a clear offer that would be interesting for a wider market. Once you figure out how to adapt what you have done for one client to the needs of many others, go and sell it to them.

8. Focus on just one or two (absolute maximum!) projects at a time. Don't dive into any new shiny projects until you finish the current one. Remember, there is one good reason to abandon a project: either it fails to generate adequate net income or you absolutely can't find a way to live to the moment when it would finally start bringing that income.

These thoughts look obvious, but when it came to the actual work I managed to violate each and every one of them. I learned the lesson the hard way, but the next time I venture into something new, this will be a good checklist to validate what I am doing on a daily basis. If, on the other side, you are just about to start a business of your own, this may help you avoid the mistakes that I made.

суббота, 30 марта 2019 г.

The Moneyball Takeaways

I recently watched the Moneyball movie - a biopic after Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. It’s hard to imagine anything less relevant to me than baseball, but the movie is in large not about the game itself, but rather about how it’s managed and changed, so it did hit the right strings. 

The plot revolves around a baseball team manager trying to change the rules and build a team that would win under severe budget constraints - totally about management and, particularly, change management. Below are the key thoughts that got running through my head by the time the end titles made it to the screen.

  1. If you gonna change the rules, there would be people who will oppose you. No exceptions. 
  2. If you gonna change all the rules, almost everyone will oppose.
  3. There still will be people who support you - keep them, teach them, trust them and respect them.
  4. Building a winning team is not about picking the top players - it’s rather about picking the right ones, who cover the needs of the team.
  5. The needs of the team is what it has to do to win - preferably, expressed in figures. Nothing else matters.
  6. Winning is all about performance, performance is all about measurement - neither is about whom you like and whom you don’t.
  7. While building a team you will certainly have to hire people, but likewise you will have to fire someone.
  8. By the time the game begins the manager’s job is done - they can only watch how it develops and make a note of any required adjustments.
  9. The fact that you succeed at changing the world doesn’t mean that you win.