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The new lifehacking #2 – how to understand your current system

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The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

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In my prior article, I advocated the end of “snake-oil” time management, where authors and trainers imply that implementation of entire new systems of behavior is easy or instantaneous. Instead, I said that learners need to break changes down into small steps, and then to arrange these steps into a conservative schedule of planned changes. In this article, I’ll show that you’ll need some support to implement your plan.

There is a delicate balance to be struck when you make a month-by-month plan for permanent behavior changes. It must be slow enough for you to build some momentum—moving from one success to another. Most people try to implement too many changes at once and then fail in only a few days, reverting to their original habit patterns especially after a moment of crisis.

At the same time, it must be fast enough to keep your attention. You can’t make it so simple that it falls off your radar.

And no, you can’t simply copy someone else’s plan. The plan that you make to overhaul or upgrade your time management system is yours alone, built upon your unique personality and the profile of skills you have perfected over time. Knowing your starting point is an important beginning and an intelligent, customized plan to take you from your current habits to the ones that you want to manifest in the future is the next logical step. If you know how to construct such a plan, you can use this skill for any behavior change you wish to implement, even when the author/trainer stops short and implies that implementation is up to you… and that it should be easy.

However, having a decent plan that has a nice balance between speed and challenge is just the first step. It’s not enough. Most of the changes that we wish to make aren’t one-shot actions, as the behavior change experts at Stanford have found in their work. They have distinguished between individual behavior changes that require a single action (such as changing your toothbrush) and others that require habit changes (such as flossing each day.) The first kind of change requires a single reminder. The second kind of change needs support.

In order to implement these changes you need to craft a habit change support system.

The idea is simple. According to the authors of Change Anything, we can’t be trusted to implement habit changes using willpower alone. It’s a non-renewable resource that peaks at certain points (during training, for example) and dips at others (during times of stress.) Just deciding to change a habit isn’t enough—the authors are clear that we over-estimate our will-power, leaving us floundering when the inevitable dip occurs.

If will-power can’t be trusted, then what can we use? They also make it clear that we each need a specific support plan to suit our needs. Not only should our plan be unique, but it needs to have multiple facets that reinforce each other. For example, hiring a coach to call you at dawn is a great way to get to the gym on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to set an alarm clock, and lay out your clothes the night before. The combined effect of these supports can help you overcome the 5 am fog that threatens to make you turn over and go back to sleep.

There are a long list of change-supports we can use—the best ones don’t rely on our memory or our willpower, but operate on their own. Some use technology, others use people, but they all need a certain reliability and integrity that makes the action that’s being prompted hard to escape.

Putting together an effective support system for habit change requires some knowledge about yourself, and this is where we often fall short. In a way, we are trying to trick ourselves; to work around our weaknesses using external mechanisms that don’t rely on our memory or will-power. How we trick ourselves into doing what we need to do when our will-power is low: that’s an art and a science that can’t be copied from anywhere else. It’s information about yourself that only you can gather.

The scientific name for this particular activity is meta-cognition – learning how to improve your own learning. But theory isn’t needed. You just need how to work with, and around yourself to implement new habits. When you can, then implementing the habits required by a new time management target becomes a lot easier.

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In my prior article, Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need, I wrote about the right blend of supports that are needed by those who want to change critical time-management behaviors. These supports help us make the transition from the habits we use today to the ones we intend to practice at some point in the future; they help prevent the collapse of well-intended plans once our willpower inevitably fades.

Thankfully, we live in an age where powerful new technologies are being introduced every day that have the power to shape habits on a massive scale. For example, it’s clear now that smartphones have transformed the world’s daily habits in ways that were never anticipated when these devices were popularized in the early 2000’s.

In fact, the makers of these devices imagined a connected future in which users would be untied from their desktops and office, giving them greater choices and flexibility, increases in productivity and more balanced lives. This future has been realized in part, but it’s far from the total picture. In exchange for greater convenience, we are now working more hours than ever before and are available to receive and reply to messages late in the night and early morning and on weekends, holidays and vacations. Not even sick days are exempt. At the same time, dangerous multi-tasking while driving has become a world-wide problem, and the increased discovery of fecal matter on phones shows our new tendency to use smartphone in unlikely places.

New technology has led us to a world of new workplace habits on a massive scale, including both good and bad habits. The creators’ intentions are quite beside the point and it’s fair to say that they we are using these devices in ways that were simply not imagined. Unfortunately, this all points to our tendency to adopt new technology in ways that are unplanned, and therefore unproductive. We jump to using the shiniest new gadgets without understanding how we want to use them.

Readers of Lifehack who have followed this series of 6 articles could place themselves in a very different position. After completing an analysis of their current systems, and setting new target practices, they know they can get a good idea of the new habits they want to implement, and how quickly they wish to make the transition. They don’t fall into the trap of trying to change everything at once, and have a good idea of the habit support system they need to succeed.

With this knowledge, they can make much more sophisticated, and effective choices about the kind of technology they should be looking for to help complete their improvement plans. Instead of having their habits shaped by the latest release, they forgo what they don’t really want as they search for what they really need.

In my book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure, I took the liberty to introduce an email app into the story that I wish someone would invent, as it would fill a gaping hole in my time management system. I called it “Tzinbox” and in the book it’s used by the employees of Syscon, the setting for the book, a weekly report to employees on how well their email, and therefore their time, is being managed. In the story, it returns a score that tells the protagonist, Bill, whether or not his time/email management skills are improving.

On reflection, you’d probably agree that this is the kind of app that should exist. It probably doesn’t because we are too busy chasing gadgets, and not busy enough figuring out where the gaps are in our systems. We leave new technology ideas to the companies that produce software, mobile devices and computer.

It’s a mistake. The roots of lifehacking weren’t about mindlessly chasing down tips, tricks, shortcuts and gadgets in the hope of quick, slick improvements.

Instead, the new Lifehacking is about intelligently analyzing our needs and gaining a deeper understanding of what we really need. Then, it’s up to those of us who live on the cutting edge of personal improvement to clamor for features, add-ons, plugins, apps, gadgets, programs, devices – anything that we need to be more productive.

We need to get off our collective behinds and separate ourselves from the thoughtless consumerism that has turned knowledge workers into the most distracted people on the planet. The New Lifehacking isn’t about just following trends. It’s about doing the work to figure out what people need, starting with a sophisticated understanding of our own shortcomings.

In my final article in this series on I’ll describe what’s possible if we pull together all the ideas presented in this series of posts.

Author, Management Consultant Read full profile

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

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Anyone who has a serious commitment to better at least one area of their life needs to be careful about developing a tip-addiction.

We happen to live in an era in which we can get thousands of tips delivered to us in every single hour of every day. Thanks to the latest gadgets, we don’t even need to leave the sofa: we just pick up our tablets or remotes, and instantly conduct a successful search for our chosen channel of information. Within minutes, thousands of tips flood into our devices and within seconds we are able to start reading, listening, viewing, sharing and retweeting.

In the area of time management (which is actually self management at its core) the tips, tricks and shortcuts we find in this instant feed are mostly free. Some involve suggested behavior changes while others are recommendations for new apps, software and web services. News about gadgets, equipment and supplies is also included, much of which is intentionally shown to us in order to make a sale.

This stream of tips and channels will never go away, but as we flip through countless options it’s a good idea to ask ourselves what we are looking for. How do we search for new lifehacks? Where do we begin?

If you’re like most people, you use a simple strategy and wander from link to link until something catches your eye. In doing so, you might try to see what everyone else is doing so you can join the crowd. Or, perhaps, you go to an authority site and based on the latest recommendation from an expert, you follow suit.

On you go… until you lose interest, or energy, and only then do you stop. The stuff you opted into, or purchased, shows up within seconds or hours and in the end you may find something useful—but usually not anything profound. (A new cover for your iPad is not a true improvement.)

The following day you sit down in your office and repeat the cycle, hoping, once again, to hit the jackpot and find the miracle tip that blows the lid off your productivity. It’s an addiction to interesting, new, fascinating tips, but is this elaborate, random Easter egg hunt the best way to change the quality of your life?

Why random lifehacks don’t work

In time management the answer turns out to be “No.”

A week after I published my first book after a three year effort, I started receiving emails from a well-known Internet marketer promoting a program that would teach anyone how to write and publish their own book in a weekend. To my ear, hearing advertisements to teach us how to write a book in a weekend is like hearing promises to “Cut Your Pregnancy by 3 months! Guaranteed! Or Your Money Back!” Just. Not. Credible.

The same is true for ads that lead us you to believe that your productivity depends on the purchase of a shiny new $499 gadget.

Whether it’s being a great public speaker, mastering a musical instrument or becoming a great performer in a sport, the people who accomplish the best results know that it’s not about tips, tricks and shortcuts, and that equipment anyone can buy rarely makes a difference. They just don’t spent time trying on the sofa looking for random hacks that provide instant thrills.

Instead, according to experts such as Anders Ericsson, what’s required is deliberate practice in the areas in which we are the weakest. However, the problem in many areas such as time management is that there are hardly any tools developed to tell us how we’re doing, and where the weak spots lie. Given our knowledge of the power of metrics, and the fact that “you can’t improve what you can’t measure,” this places us in a difficult spot.

Unfortunately, most authors and program developers respond by simplifying the problem; they just assume that everyone is a beginner. What’s the result of this assumption?

We—their consumers—wince. We feel agitated when we read articles, pick up books or take programs that implicitly assume that we are novices who are taking our first steps. The truth is that we aren’t: we already have time- and self-management systems in place that have worked for several years. Sometimes decades. We don’t want to be treated as if we are starting from scratch, like five-year-olds at their first music lesson.

What we really need

What we really want to know is “How am I doing now?”

We need more help to figure out what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong. We can often do the rest ourselves, and figure out what we need to improve, and how how quickly. (That’s why we have Google.)

That’s very different from chasing after tips, or pretending that we don’t know what we know, or acting as if we are starting all over again from the beginning. We can save hours of time and effort.

When we start by gaining some insight into our current system, we can compare it against those that include world-class practices, whether we consider ourselves to be beginners or experts. Perhaps this is the biggest tip of all: the new Lifehacking doesn’t start by becoming addicted to a search for new tips. It begins when we commit to gaining an in-depth, unique understanding of what we currently do.

The big question about biohacking is, what is it? That’s a question my editors and my friends all asked me as I prepared a story for the PBS NewsHour on this new biology term. And when I answered them, they still didn’t quite get it. So I’ll try again, with some help from the folks I talked to in recent weeks.

Biohacking is a fairly new practice that could lead to major changes in our life. You could it call citizen or do-it-your-self biology. It takes place in small labs — mostly non-university — where all sorts of people get together to explore biology. That could mean figuring out how the DNA in plants affects their growth, or how to manipulate genes from another source to make a plant glow in the dark. It often is aimed at producing a product, like the chairs and building blocks that artist Philip Ross makes by feeding mushrooms a meal of sawdust or peanut shavings. It is experimenting on the cheap, usually without the benefit of a fancy university laboratory, and it often involves DNA and genes. If you don’t know enough biology to take part at first, you learn it along the way.

Ron Shigeta runs Berkeley Biolabs, a biohacking site in Berkeley, California, where dozens of would-be biologists gather frequently to hack around. He says biohacking is “a freedom to explore biology, kind of like you would explore good fiction.” As for the hacking part, “hacking is kind of like the freedom to sort of dig deep into something, just because you’re interested in it. … The whole idea of biohacking is that people feel entitled, they feel the ability to just follow their curiosity — where it should go — and really get to the bottom of something they want to understand.”

“The whole idea of biohacking is that people feel entitled, they feel the ability to just follow their curiosity — where it should go — and really get to the bottom of something they want to understand.”But hacking also has a negative connotation; when someone hacks your computer, you want to send him or her to jail. But that’s not exactly what biohacking is. Drew Endy, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford, who considers himself a biohacker, says “I come from a tradition where hacking is a positive term, and it means learning about stuff by building, and trying to make things and seeing what happens.”

And Eri Gentry, who founded the Silicon Valley biohacking venue BioCurious, explains further: “The word hacker comes from MIT where hacks would be cool little tricks that you would play on each other, so when you’re done with your homework, you’re staying up all night, and you’ve got to have something to do, so they might coat the ceiling or the roof of a building in tin foil. So this was a hack, and hackers came to be known in the 60s and 70s as the guys who were making the first computers.”

Yet another concept of hacking comes from a totally different source. Dave Asprey, a computer security guy, considers himself a biohacker. Basically he hacks into his own body. Here’s what he says: “There are two perspectives on biohacking. One is that biohacking is something you do to biology, outside of yourself; you’re going to change a cell; you’re going change an amoeba and make it glow in the dark. The other perspective on biohacking, the one where I spend my time, is that you can hack your own biology, and you can gain control of systems in your body that you would never have access to.”

Asprey — who has received attention online and at conferences — says he has used biohacking and new technical measurement tools and a low-toxic coffee he produces (Bulletproof) to alter his cognition, his weight and his general health. He takes supplements, applies electricity to his brain and his muscles, to improve his body and his mind.

He has not had his work evaluated by peers or duplicated by scientists, or published in scientific journals. But he maintains that he “is a professional biohacker, so I spend most of my time sharing what I’m doing with people and I write about it online.”

Whether Asprey belongs in the category of biohacker, is unclear. But Gentry of BioCurious would admit him to the club.

“I see a distinct difference between the biohacking that Dave does and the biohacking that we’re doing. … But if biohackers like Dave Asprey want to tinker with their own bodies, that’s where we draw the line in the lab. … Dave is interested in making himself an optimal human being, and much credit to him,” he said. “I think what he does is great.”

Which gets us back to the original question: What is biohacking? Since it’s a citizen-run pastime, you decide.

Left: “Biohacker” Dave Asprey demonstrates a headband that he claims electrically stimulates blood to reach the front of the brain to improve cognition. Photo by Jason Lelchuk

Go Deeper

  • biohacking
  • biology
  • biomedical research
  • innovation and invention

Spencer Michels, correspondent and producer in the San Francisco office of the NewsHour, began reporting stories for the broadcast in 1983, while still anchor and correspondent for KQED. A native of San Francisco, he graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1959 and then received his master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

10 Important Steps To Manage Through A New Software Implementation

Software implementation can be a lengthy upfront process, but the benefits it provides in the long run are worth the time commitment. You’re investing money to gain efficiencies. Putting in the time to understand how a software system works, what features it has that you can use will help you to use it to its full potential and for your business operations to reap the rewards.

There are a variety of factors to consider as you work to implement a new system. After you’ve explored a few vendors and chosen the best solution based on your decision criteria, it’s then time to work on implementing the system.

Here are 10 steps to manage through a new software implementation that will help your online business.

1. Explain the need:

You’ve made the decision to bring in a software system to your operations. It’s new information for staff to learn and integrate into their workflow. Explain the rationale behind it such as the expected ROI, the efficiencies predicted to be gained and any other rationale that will help employees understand the need for the software implementation. If you need to finance the project with debt and REALLY want to get technical with it and know the expected costs and revenues that it can bring, you need to calculate the NPV, that is, net present value of the software. You can do this easily in excel, or manually by using the formula.

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

2. Kick off the project:

Establish the team that will be involved in training and rolling out the system. Assign roles and responsibilities and adjust any others that will occur as a result of the new system. Answer any questions team members have and bring them up to speed on any information you learned during the sales process that could be of value to them. Create a software implementation plan with predicted deadlines the company should be aware of.

3. Configure the system:

Sometimes software systems require adjustments to match your operations. That’s why having team members involved can help work through what needs to occur for the software to work with your operations. Whether it’s an integration with other software systems used in your business or custom feature development, time will need to be allocated to account for any configurations. At other times, a software system can’t be configured specifically and therefore your business operations may need to be adjusted to match the software tools and the efficiencies they provide.

4. Follow steps of change management principles:

This will help with coordination and implementation of the team and project: Change can be difficult for many staff. You can read more about how to manage your staff through change in our 8 steps for managing through change in ecommerce blog found here.

5. Train:

Most software companies will train the key person who will be handling the system. That person becomes the expert or “Power User” and then trains others in the company as needed. If you prefer to train all staff who would be involved at once, then check with the software provider on what training programs and roll outs they offer. Companies will have training documents available that you can use as reference. If there are some specific instructions that need to be developed for staff who may not use the system frequently, developing any training procedures/documents that are reflective of how you want your operations to run is a good starting point to ensure consistency in usage of the system.

6. Conduct User Acceptance Testing (UAT):

This is an important step to undertake to ensure the software works as intended. It will help find any bugs, (its software, it can happen). That’s why it’s important to test out a small portion of data to see if the software processes all the information correctly. If the system it integrated with other software tools or marketplaces you will want to ensure that the systems are communicating properly.

7. Coordinate Cut-over:

When it’s time to begin to move to the new software it’s a good idea to keep existing system’s information with data still available. For a short period you may be running 2 systems depending on how you decided to roll out the new software. It can take 6-12 months for users to feel fully comfortable with system with a new pieces of software and most times the historical information will need to be accessible. Especially if you are selling online and have returns or warranties to account for.

8. Plan for Go-live:

A good idea is to implement a system during slower periods of the year. When companies don’t have a slow time, then planning ahead to try to account of any bumps will help. Make sure to have the implementation team ready to work with your software provider on the go-live. Check random pieces of data to see that information and data has transitioned and is processing as it should.

9. Reward the implementation team:

When your team has put in additional work to implement a software system it’s a good idea to reward them. Consider having a go-live party for the whole company or provide the implementation team with a little bonus, gift cards and always express verbal “thanks”. It can go a long way.

10. Track efficiencies and measure results:

With any system you want to measure the before and after effects. You also want to establish what measures will tell you the implementation has been successful. This can include things like the ability to process more orders in a day, reduction in hourly wages paid out for overtime, or others. Continue to track and measure through the year to make sure your investment is paying off. It’s also always nice to see the benefits and be reminded of how far you’ve come and grown your business.

These steps to manage through a software implementation will help you and your team properly plan for this change in business operations. The more you plan for change, the better the transitions will be. Software can be a lot of new information to learn with the benefit being the many efficiencies it brings to your business operations. When you have more time, you can do more, sell more and keep growing. You want to service your existing customers but also be ready to handle new ones. Software helps you to grow by being able to scale so that you can provide the best online selling experience to your shoppers.

Understanding the Three Stages of Change

Change is a common thread that runs through all businesses regardless of size, industry and age. Our world is changing fast and organizations must change quickly, too. Organizations that handle change well thrive, whilst those that do not may struggle to survive.

The concept of “change management” is a familiar one in most businesses today. But how businesses manage change (and how successful they are at it) varies enormously depending on the nature of the business, the change and the people involved. And a key part of this depends on how well people within it understand the change process.

Click here to view a transcript of this video.

One of the cornerstone models for understanding organizational change was developed by Kurt Lewin back in the 1940s, and still holds true today. His model is known as Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze, which refers to the three-stage process of change that he describes. Lewin, a physicist as well as a social scientist, explained organizational change using the analogy of changing the shape of a block of ice.

Understanding Lewin’s Change Management Model

If you have a large cube of ice but realize that what you want is a cone of ice, what do you do? First you must melt the ice to make it amenable to change (unfreeze). Then you must mold the iced water into the shape you want (change). Finally, you must solidify the new shape (refreeze).

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

By looking at change as a process with distinct stages, you can prepare yourself for what is coming and make a plan to manage the transition – looking before you leap, so to speak. All too often, people go into change blindly, causing much unnecessary turmoil and chaos.

To begin any successful change process, you must first start by understanding why the change must take place. As Lewin put it, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.” This is the unfreezing stage from which change begins.

Unfreeze

This first stage of change involves preparing the organization to accept that change is necessary, which involves breaking down the existing status quo before you can build up a new way of operating.

Key to this is developing a compelling message showing why the existing way of doing things cannot continue. This is easiest to frame when you can point to declining sales figures, poor financial results, worrying customer satisfaction surveys, or suchlike. These show that things have to change in a way that everyone can understand.

To prepare the organization successfully, you need to start at its core – you need to challenge the beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors that currently define it. Using the analogy of a building, you must examine and be prepared to change the existing foundations as they might not support add-on storeys. Unless this is done, the whole building may risk collapse.

This first part of the change process is usually the most difficult and stressful. When you start cutting down the “way things are done,” you put everyone and everything off balance. You may evoke strong reactions in people, and that’s exactly what needs to be done.

By forcing the organization to re-examine its core, you effectively create a (controlled) crisis, which in turn can build a strong motivation to seek out a new equilibrium. Without this motivation, you won’t get the buy-in and participation necessary to effect any meaningful change.

Change

After the uncertainty created in the unfreeze stage, the change stage is where people begin to resolve their uncertainty and look for new ways to do things. People start to believe and act in ways that support the new direction.

The transition from unfreeze to change does not happen overnight: people take time to embrace the new direction and participate proactively in the change. A related change model, the Change Curve , focuses on the specific issue of personal transitions in a changing environment and is useful for understanding this aspect in more detail.

In order to accept the change and contribute to making it successful, people need to understand how it will benefit them. Not everyone will fall in line just because the change is necessary and will benefit the company. This is a common assumption and a pitfall that should be avoided.

Unfortunately, some people will genuinely be harmed by change, particularly those who benefit strongly from the status quo. Others may take a long time to recognize the benefits that change brings. You need to foresee and manage these situations.

Time and communication are the two keys to the changes occurring successfully. People need time to understand the changes, and they also need to feel highly connected to the organization throughout the transition period. When you are managing change , this can require a great deal of time and effort, and hands-on management is usually the best approach.

Refreeze

When the changes are taking shape and people have embraced the new ways of working, the organization is ready to refreeze. The outward signs of the refreeze are a stable organization chart, consistent job descriptions, and so on. The refreeze stage also needs to help people and the organization internalize or institutionalize the changes. This means making sure that the changes are used all the time, and that they are incorporated into everyday business. With a new sense of stability, employees feel confident and comfortable with the new ways of working.

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Automation app Tasker gives you the tools you need to turn your smartphone into a fully-automated superphone . Now we’d like to see what great things you’ve done with it.

We’re big fans of Tasker around here. We’ve talked about using it to unleash the power of Android and to push your automated phones to new heights . You can use Tasker to do things like dim your phone’s brightness at specific times of day or even build your own reminder notifications . Now we’d like to see what interesting things you’ve used Tasker for. Show us below!

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DISCUSSION

1) Read Texts in Car
Reads texts out loud, but only while I’m driving

2) Efficient Charge
When plugged to a power source, the brightness is turned down, the screen timeout is shortened, wifi is turned off, and mobile data is turned off. These settings are returned to normal as soon as the phone is unplugged.

3) Heading Home Text
Created a home screen button that, when pressed, automatically tells my wife I’m heading home. There’s also a screen popup that tells me the text went through as a voice confirms my text was sent.

4) At Home Text
Once my phone detects my home’s wifi, it texts my wife that I’m home. But only on workdays, at the specified time range I would normally arrive home (not just every time it detects my wifi). There’s also a screen popup that tells me the text went through as a voice confirms my text was sent.

5) Caller ID Ring
Replaced my ringtone with a voice that a) identifies the caller if they’re in my contacts or b) tells me it’s an unknown number if they’re not in my contacts (It also silences when the phone is on the appropriate silent mode)

6) Break-In Report
I’m very proud of this one. If someone fails to unlock my phone three times, it secretly photographs them, turns on location services, attaches the photo to an email, sends me the information along with its GPS/wifi locations, the name of the last detected wifi network, and the phone’s battery level. All whilst the phone is locked.

I also use Tasker in conjunction with the beta app utter! for nearly complete voice control of the phone. It also means that any words spoken from the phone are spoken in the new, smooth voice of the new Jelly Bean voice search.

Distribution channels in marketing are one of the classic “4 Ps” (product, promotion, price, placement a.k.a. “distribution”). They’re a key element in your entire marketing strategy — they help you expand your reach and grow revenue.

B2B and B2C companies can sell through a single distribution channel or through multiple channels that may include:

  • Wholesaler/Distributor
  • Direct/Internet
  • Direct/Catalog
  • Direct/Sales Team
  • Value-Added Reseller (VAR)
  • Consultant
  • Dealer
  • Retail
  • Sales Agent/Manufacturer’s Rep

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

Here are three examples of distribution channels in marketing:

You have a second product line for small businesses. Instead of using your sales team, you sell this line directly to end-users through your website and marketing campaigns.

That company is called a Value Added Reseller (VAR) because it adds value to your product.

To create a good distribution program, focus on the needs of your end-users.

  • If users need personalized service, you can utilize a local dealer network or reseller program to provide that service.
  • If your users prefer to buy online, you can create an e-commerce website and fulfillment system and sell direct; you can also sell to another online retailer or distributor that can offer your product on their own sites.
  • You can build your own specialized sales team to prospect and close deals directly with customers.

Wholesalers, resellers, retailers, consultants and agents already have resources and relationships to quickly bring your product to market. If you sell through these groups instead of (or in addition to) selling direct, treat the entire channel as a group of customers – and they are, since they’re buying your product and reselling it. Understand their needs and deliver strong marketing programs; you’ll maximize everyone’s revenue in the process.

Your end-users get the information and service they need before and after the sale.

You may not have as many channel partners as you’d like, but your current system is working moderately well.

With your current system, you may not be effectively reaching your end-users; your prospects probably aren’t getting the information and service they need to buy your product.

Access detailed step-by-step plans in our new marketing website.
It’s free to use

The new lifehacking #2 - how to understand your current system

Distribution Channels Concepts & Steps

Before you begin

You can evaluate a new distribution channel or improve your channel marketing / management at any time. It’s especially important to think about distribution when you’re going after a new customer segment, releasing a new product, or looking for ways to aggressively grow your business.

Evaluate how your end-users need to buy

Your distribution strategy should deliver the information and service your prospects need. For each customer segment, consider:

  • How and where they prefer to buy
  • Whether they need personalized education and training
  • Whether they need additional products or services to be used along with yours
  • Whether your product needs to be customized or installed
  • Whether your product needs to be serviced

Match end-user needs to a distribution strategy

  • If your end-users need a great deal of information and service, your company can deliver it directly through a sales force. You can also build a channel of qualified resellers or consultants. The size of the market and your price will probably dictate which scenario is best.
  • If the buying process is fairly straightforward, you can sell direct via a website/catalog or perhaps through a wholesale/retail structure. You may also use an inbound telemarketing group or a field sales team.
  • If you need complete control over your product’s delivery and service, adding a channel probably isn’t right for you.

Identify natural partners

If you want to grow beyond the direct model, look for companies that have relationships with your end-users. If consultants, wholesalers or retailers already reach your customer base, they’re natural partners.

Build your distribution channel

If you’re setting up a distribution channel with one or more partners, treat it as a sales process:

  • Approach the potential channel partner and “sell” the value of the partnership.
  • Establish goals, service requirements and reporting requirements.
  • Deliver inventory (if necessary) and sales/support materials.
  • Train the partner.
  • Run promotions and programs to support the partner and help them increase sales.

Minimize pricing conflicts

If you use multiple channels, carefully map out the price for each step in your channel and include a fair profit for each type of partner. Then compare the price that the end-user will pay; if a customer can buy from one channel at a lower price than from another, your partners will rightfully have concerns. Pricing conflict is common, and it can jeopardize your entire strategy, so do your best to map out the price at each step and develop the best solution possible.

Drive revenue through the channel

Service your channel partners as you’d service your best customers and work with them to drive revenue. For example, provide them with marketing funds or materials to promote your products; run campaigns to generate leads and forward them to your partners.

After Designing Your Distribution Channels

As you’re creating a new channel you’ll need a pricing strategy and a sales process. When your channel is up and running, you can start launching marketing campaigns to channel partners and end-users.

A tutorial on the Open Systems Interconnection networking reference model and tips on and how to memorize the seven layers

Contributing Writer, Network World |

When most non-technical people hear the term “seven layers”, they either think of the popular Super Bowl bean dip or they mistakenly think about the seven layers of Hell, courtesy of Dante’s Inferno (there are nine). For IT professionals, the seven layers refer to the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, a conceptual framework that describes the functions of a networking or telecommunication system.

The model uses layers to help give a visual description of what is going on with a particular networking system. This can help network managers narrow down problems (Is it a physical issue or something with the application?), as well as computer programmers (when developing an application, which other layers does it need to work with?). Tech vendors selling new products will often refer to the OSI model to help customers understand which layer their products work with or whether it works “across the stack”.

Conceived in the 1970s when computer networking was taking off, two separate models were merged in 1983 and published in 1984 to create the OSI model that most people are familiar with today. Most descriptions of the OSI model go from top to bottom, with the numbers going from Layer 7 down to Layer 1. The layers, and what they represent, are as follows:

Layer 7 – Application

To further our bean dip analogy, the Application Layer is the one at the top–it’s what most users see. In the OSI model, this is the layer that is the “closest to the end user”. It receives information directly from users and displays incoming data it to the user. Oddly enough, applications themselves do not reside at the application layer. Instead the layer facilitates communication through lower layers in order to establish connections with applications at the other end. Web browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) TelNet, and FTP, are examples of communications that rely on Layer 7.

Layer 6 – Presentation

The Presentation Layer represents the area that is independent of data representation at the application layer. In general, it represents the preparation or translation of application format to network format, or from network formatting to application format. In other words, the layer “presents” data for the application or the network. A good example of this is encryption and decryption of data for secure transmission – this happens at Layer 6.

Layer 5 – Session

When two devices, computers or servers need to “speak” with one another, a session needs to be created, and this is done at the Session Layer. Functions at this layer involve setup, coordination (how long should a system wait for a response, for example) and termination between the applications at each end of the session.

Layer 4 – Transport

The Transport Layer deals with the coordination of the data transfer between end systems and hosts. How much data to send, at what rate, where it goes, etc. The best known example of the Transport Layer is the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), which is built on top of the Internet Protocol (IP), commonly known as TCP/IP. TCP and UDP port numbers work at Layer 4, while IP addresses work at Layer 3, the Network Layer.

Layer 3 – Network

Here at the Network Layer is where you’ll find most of the router functionality that most networking professionals care about and love. In its most basic sense, this layer is responsible for packet forwarding, including routing through different routers. You might know that your Boston computer wants to connect to a server in California, but there are millions of different paths to take. Routers at this layer help do this efficiently.

Layer 2 – Data Link

The Data Link Layer provides node-to-node data transfer (between two directly connected nodes), and also handles error correction from the physical layer. Two sublayers exist here as well – the Media Access Control (MAC) layer and the Logical Link Control (LLC) layer. In the networking world, most switches operate at Layer 2. But it’s not th at simple. Some switches also operate at Layer 3 in order to support virtual LANs that may span more than one switch subnet, which requires routing capabilities.

Layer 1 – Physical

At the bottom of our OSI bean dip we have the Physical Layer, which represents the electrical and physical representation of the system. This can include everything from the cable type, radio frequency link (as in an 802.11 wireless systems), as well as the layout of pins, voltages and other physical requirements. When a networking problem occurs, many networking pros go right to the physical layer to check that all of the cables are properly connected and that the power plug hasn’t been pulled from the router, switch or computer, for example.

Why you need to know the 7 OSI layers

Most people in the IT space will likely need to know about the different layers when they’re going for their certifications, much like a civics student needs to learn about the three branches of the U.S. government. After that, you hear about the OSI model when vendors are making pitches about which layer(s) their products work with.

In a Quora post asking about the purpose of the OSI model, Vikram Kumar answered this way:

“The purpose of the OSI reference model is to guide vendors and developers so the digital communication products and software programs they create will interoperate, and to facilitate clear comparisons among communications tools.”

While some people may argue that the OSI model is obsolete (due to its theoretical nature and less important than the 4 layers of the TCP/IP model), Kumar says that “it is difficult to read about networking technology today without seeing references to the OSI model and its layers, because the model’s structure helps to frame discussions of protocols and contrast various technologies.”

If you can understand the OSI model and its layers, you can also then understand which protocols and devices can interoperate with each other when new technologies are developed and explained.

Remembering the OSI Model 7 layers – 8 mnemonic tricks

If you need to memorize the layers for a college or certification test, here are a few sentences to help remember them in order. The first letter of each word is the same as a layer of the OSI model.

From Application to Physical (top down):

All People Seem To Need Data Processing

All Pros Search Top Notch Donut Places

A Penguin Said That Nobody Drinks Pepsi

A Priest Saw Two Nuns Doing Pushups

From Physical to Application (bottom up):

Please Do Not Throw Sausage Pizza Away

Pew! Dead Ninja Turtles Smell Particularly Awful

People Don’t Need To See Paula Abdul

Pete Doesn’t Need To Sell Pickles Anymore

Keith Shaw was a Network World editor and the writer of the Cool Tools column. He is now a freelance writer and editor from Worcester, Mass.

Keith Shaw is a freelance digital journalist who has written about the IT world for more than 20 years.