Build Your Own Dashboard of Key Indicators

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by scott pickard

One of the most important responsibilities of the CEO is to communicate the current and projected future performance of the organization. A well accepted technique for this is called a “dashboard of key indicators.” If you sit on a Board of Directors, you want to see regular updates of key indicators in an easily accessible, simple, visual format. I’ve found that Prezi provides a perfect platform to do this.

Corporations have the capital to purchase and deploy fancy enterprise systems (or cloud-based systems) and the financial staff to take care of this kind of thing. But if you’re an entrepreneur or small business person, you’ve got to figure out a way to do this for yourself. I will show you a way to do this using Prezi and other common off-the-shelf tools (software) that you probably already have access to.

But first, let me show you what the end product can look like and talk about the benefits of using Prezi.

The beauty of the Prezi dashboard

Online, anytime, anywhere, on any mobile device: I think this benefit is pretty self-explanatory. Click on the following link and it will take you to a public dashboard which we can use as a demonstration:

https://prezi.com/ot85bbsaiqon/dashboard

The picture below shows you that a Prezi dashboard looks great on any device: PC, laptop, iPad, and smartphone.

The infinite whiteboard: Prezi is famous for what they call the “infinite whiteboard” concept. The navigation functionality made possible by this is what makes it so powerful and appealing as a presentation tool.

The first thing most users will do is click on the home icon along the right-hand border of the window which will pop the entire dashboard inside the window giving you the big picture overview of the dashboard.

From this vantage you can navigate one of several ways:

Click on the full-screen mode icon and a slide will fill the monitor screen (similar to presentation mode in PowerPoint). This is the preferred mode when making a presentation to an audience.

The user can either manually advance through each slide by clicking on the right or left arrows on the bottom of the window; or, the user can set “autoplay” to one of several different timing intervals.

On any given slide, the user can zoom in or out at will thanks to the “infinite whiteboard” of Prezi. Back-and-forth, zoom in and out, pop back to home, this is the kind of easy flexibility a user wants when navigating a dashboard.

Privacy: You can share online your dashboard using Prezi’s three-level privacy functionality:

  • Private: only you can view and edit.
  • Hidden: you can view and edit. Collaborators can view if they have the link.
  • Public: it can be viewed by the world if they have the link.

DIY dashboard

To get started you need the following:

  • Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
  • Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Adobe PDF maker
  • Prezi

Creating the graphs: Microsoft Excel gives you everything you need to set up all of your key indicator data and then convert that data into visually impactful graphs and charts. Each chart can be copied and pasted into a PowerPoint presentation file as an image.

Once all your slides are transferred into PowerPoint, you then need to “save as” the PowerPoint file as a PDF file. It is true that you can directly import a PowerPoint file into Prezi but I have found that sometimes formatting of the slides can be lost. By converting it to a PDF file, the formatting of each slide is “locked” and when you import the PDF file into Prezi, each slide comes out perfect.

Next, you import the PDF file into your new Prezi presentation space which you have created online. When you do this, Prezi magically unbundles each slide within the PDF file and arranges them separately in their correct original order.

And finally, you click “edit path” in the lower left-hand corner of your Prezi window to then click on each slide in the order you want them presented, and then click “done”.

You have now created a world-class dashboard!

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The BeachMap Game

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by scott pickard

Several years ago my wife and I were vacationing on the beach near the Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. Next to us was an attorney from Madison, Wisconsin and his family who we befriended and enjoyed their company and conversation. The next thing I know the attorney and his daughter were off walking the beach for two hours collecting rocks and putting them in plastic bags. When they returned to their spot right next to us, they dumped the rocks in the sand and in less than an hour they sifted through the rocks and picked ones that best matched a particular state and they constructed a map of the United States right there in the sand from memory. Wow, was I impressed!

I would guess the daughter was in high school and clearly she and her dad had done this before. My immediate thought was, I can’t do that! I thought I knew the U.S. states pretty well having traveled through every single one of them (the lower 48 not including Alaska and Hawaii), but in spite of that there was no way I could construct a map from memory and be able to identify rocks that could represent each state and put them in the right position. Right then and there I challenged myself that I would learn how to do this and I would construct my own “beach map” out of rocks the next summer, and this is the story of how I did that.

A game/activity idea is born

During the drive home from the beach (which takes about three hours to get to Champaign, IL), my mind was racing with ideas about the beach map. The simple pledge to just learn how to do it grew into an idea to create what I call a “family beach activity game,” call it BeachMap. Once the spark of an idea takes hold, there is nothing more enjoyable than that first period of brainstorming to try to put that idea in motion. My wife and I enjoyed a back-and-forth discussion in the car trying to figure out how we could create a tool/process that would help teach adults and kids how to build a map out of beach rocks and have fun in the process. If you ever get creator’s (writer’s) block, try getting in the car with a collaborator and drive for three hours and the ideas will flow!

Tinkering in the garage

I do all my creating and designing in several places, but when it comes to dealing with something physical I like to go to my garage where I have all my tools and lots of bench space. My first thought was to develop a device which would allow me to “stamp” a map of the United States in the sand which would also show the outline of each individual state. That way you would have a guide for the shape and size of a rock you would need for each state and it would simply be a matter of placing that rock in the right position. You would also have the benefit of making the entire map and each individual state in perfect scale to each other. So for the last three summers I have built three beach maps with rocks and experimented with several different ways to “stamp” the map outline in the sand.

I made my first stamp out of silicone rubber using a 2-component product called OOMO. The rubber stamp looked like a blue doormat. To do this I purchased a box of laser-cut wooden U.S. state pieces from a supplier in Greece I found on Etsy. I laid those pieces out on the table and kept a 1/8-inch gap between the border of each state. Then I poured the silicone rubber mixture over that map to form (cast) the stamp. When the rubber had cured, I peeled it off the table and carefully removed each state piece which revealed the impression of a U.S. map with a tin border around the perimeter of each state.

trio

The stamp worked quite well but it had the disadvantages of: (a) being too heavy, i.e, too costly to ship to a customer; and (b) the thin borders around each state were not durable and wore away in spots. My first beach map using the “doormat” stamp was a total success (people loved it!) but I didn’t think it was a feasible approach if I were going to make this a game product which could be economically shipped to customers.

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For the second map, I built it simply used the “puzzle pieces” of each state and assembled them on the beach to create a map impression in the sand. Then I was able to remove each wooden piece and use each piece as a guide when walking down the beach to find a good rock to match that state. I didn’t like this technique as much as having a stamp which could be used to quickly make a perfect impression of a map of the United States in the sand, as many times as I wanted; however, the individual state pieces are very light and economical to ship.

duo

For the third prototype, I constructed a stamp by gluing the state pieces on a piece of plywood in reverse (mirror) image so that when the stamp was turned over and pressed into the sand it would make a perfect impression of the United States map. This clearly would be too big and bulky to ship as a game product, but this gave me a durable stamp for experimentation and many trial runs on the beach.

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I think I’ve figured out how to make a very lightweight, flexible, and economical stamp, but I’ll save that information for a follow-on post.

It’s all about the rocks

The basic idea of the game/activity is to walk along the beach and find one rock that is the approximate size and shape for each particular state. You will discover, however, that this is basically impossible to do for the states California, Texas, and Florida, so you may need to use two or more rocks to configure those states. This is not a game of perfect so you have to embrace the imperfections. If you find a rock that is shaped exactly like a state and is the right size, pat yourself on the back because that’s pretty rare. As Tim Gunn of Project Runway says, “Make it work!”

Another objective is to make the overall map and each individual state to scale, whatever that overall scale will be. That’s why the stamp approach is so helpful. The range of size of rocks you can reasonably find on any given beach will dictate the size of the map you can build. The beach where we go to in Michigan has rocks anywhere from a tiny pebble up to about 4 inches in height x width. That’s why I usually need two rocks for Alaska, California and Florida, and 3-5 rocks for Texas (wouldn’t you know it, my home state!)

Walking along the beach and trying to find rocks that match the approximate size and shape of a state is what the game is all about. It sounds so simple (and to some, maybe even boring) but this is a great visuospatial activity for kids and adults alike and when done with someone else, it is really more fun and satisfying than you might think. You’ve just got to give it a try and in the process of having fun, you will learn your states!

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One approach is to set out with a puzzle piece for say, Illinois, and try to find that rock. That’s a very focused way to do this but it’s a bit of a needle-in-a-haystack approach and I have discovered that it’s not the best technique. What my wife and I do is walk along the beach and pick up a bunch of rocks that at the time look like they might be good matches for one state or another. Then we come back with a big bag of rocks and dump them out on the beach and do the matching at that time. As you start to populate your map with rocks (states), you will have inevitable gaps and then you can go back out down the beach to specifically look for those rocks to close the gaps. Trust me, after you do this a few times, it’s surprising how good you get at it.

Lessons learned

I’ve been enjoying experimenting with this activity for three summers now and here’s what I’ve learned:

Kids and adults really enjoy the activity and are impressed with the finished product. I made a point of building these beach maps right along the stairway which leads down to our beach so people would pass the map on the way down and on the way up from the beach. I would take pictures and post them on our beach club’s Facebook page to alert people and let them comment. People really seemed to like it and that’s satisfaction enough for me!

beachwalk

You can appreciate and enjoy the infinitely fascinating variety of rocks and their origin, shape, color, and texture. All you rock lovers know what I mean!
It is a rich visuospatial game/activity and creative process and in this age of digital everything, we need more hands-on activities that connect hands, eyes, and brain….. a poor man’s Luminosity!
Nothing is more stress relieving and relaxing than meandering down the beach looking for rocks and letting your mind wander. It’s a vacation within a vacation.
Challenge yourself and give it a try

As of yet, I have no commercial game/activity product to sell, but I continue to enjoy the experimentation, prototyping, and general tinkering toward that goal.

I hope I’ve given you enough information and reason to give it a try, and if you do, let me know how it goes!

scott

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Aerial Images from a Hot Air Balloon

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by scott pickard

The other day one of my granddaughters (age five) was visiting us and she drew me a picture of a hot air balloon which she had just learned about at her daycare school. She was fascinated by the hot air balloon and its ability to silently fly over the countryside, so I told her a story of the time I flew over the Illinois prairie in a hot air balloon but with a specific purpose in mind.

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At the time, I was the manager of the Research Park and Incubator (EnterpriseWorks) at the University of Illinois which when fully developed we projected would cover about 200 acres. There is no better way to show the scope and vision of a research park than with aerial photography, but the trick is how to do that on at least an annual basis (since things are always changing) and do this in a cost-effective way. The aerial photos are quite useful since they can be used on a website and in all types of printed literature, videos, and PowerPoint and Prezi presentations. (Note that I was trying to do this almost 10 years ago before we had the drone technology we have today which can carry digital and video cameras to shoot spectacular flyover images.)

I talked to a few of my pilot friends to see if they would fly me over the Park but they said there might be some difficulties with getting clearance to fly low enough and slow enough while banking to have a chance of capturing some good photography.

Hearing what those problems were, my mind immediately jumped to the idea of flying very slowly (as slow as 5 mph) in a hot air balloon, and luckily I have a good friend in town (Max) who had been flying hot air balloons for many years. So a little sheepishly not wanting to impose, I asked him if he would be up for this and he said yes!

Then I asked another good friend (Brad) who specialized in panoramic photography, if he would join us up in the balloon and take photography and he also said yes. It helps to have good friends with skills!

Max figured the best time to fly over would be around 6 PM, so we agreed to keep our calendars open in the 5 to 7 PM time window late summer. Days went by until one day Max called and said the wind direction and speed were perfect. So my wife and I met him and his wife and Brad in the parking lot of a hotel which was on the northwest side of the Park about a half a mile away.

Under Max’s guidance we were his ragtag crew. We got the balloon, lines, burner and gondola set up and within a half an hour we three amigos (Scott, Max, Brad) were in the gondola rising up into the sky and drifting on a perfect track toward the Park.

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Brad the photographer had brought both a digital and panoramic camera. As we silently glided over the Park at 5 mph or less, Brad leaned over the gondola and I held him by his belt loops while he continuously shot photography switching back and forth between the two cameras. Because of the combination of flying very slowly on a peaceful summer evening, the images we collected were spectacular!

spectacular

We flew about a mile beyond the Park and then Max slowly descended skimming the tops of the corn (just before harvest) until we found a clear spot and touched down.

Max’s wife and my wife had been following us in the chase vehicle. They stopped on the 2-lane blacktop road not far from where we landed, jumped out and ran to our location. Brad and I got out of the gondola and the wives got in and they relaunched with Captain Max while Brad and I followed in the chase van.

chase van

They ascended and flew for about a mile and then descended and made a smooth touchdown in another cornfield farther south. Apparently the farmer and his wife who owned the property had been tracking the balloon and made a beeline to us on four-wheeled ATVs. We weren’t sure what to expect when they arrived, but they were quite friendly and glad to see a hot air balloon on such a perfect evening since it didn’t seem like people flew them much anymore.

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To cap off a glorious experience, my wife and I were asked to kneel on the ground with our eyes closed and then to our surprise they poured a bottle of champagne on top of our heads to induct us as first-time hot air ballooners. We didn’t mind – it felt and tasted pretty good – and we continued to party back at Max’s house.

The aerial photography we collected that evening was outstanding and served the University well for many years. So in addition to accomplishing something in a very creative way, we had one of the most memorable life experiences which we will never forget. That’s what I call a good day!

I had made a little video back then of the event not realizing that years later I would be able to show it to my granddaughter and encourage her to start thinking about the day when she will get to fly high in the sky in a hot air balloon.

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Absorption of new technologies accelerates

big picture Technology Who are the world's most valuable tech companies? We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters founders fund Is it evil? How fast is technology accelerating? - The Universe was created 13.8 billion years ago - Humans arrived 200,000 years ago - Machines arrived 100 years ago - What’s the next milestone? Development of Technology Elements of Technology Fields of Technology  in general: mapping the future: Metaculus > Future | early adoption: leveling the playing field | kids: uTech | news: re/code

A Star on the Boulevard

a star on the boulevard

by scott pickard

About 13 years ago (2002) I did something that I had never done before and have not done since, which is to take a full two weeks of vacation at the end of the year. It was ause it or lose it situation for me and I wasn’t about to waste those precious vacation days. The first week of this vacation my wife was still teaching and my kids were still in school and not yet out for holiday break, so I was home alone. I asked myself, what should I do? The Bible says idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so while I wasn’t about to do anything devilish, I was determined to have some fun!

We didn’t have HBO back in that day but my young-adult son (just graduated from college) had become a fan of the Sopranos so he sent me a box set that had several DVDs covering the entire first season. On my first day of vacation right after my wife and kids had left for school I settled in with the first DVD and as you might expect I didn’t come up for air until I heard my wife driving up the driveway coming home from school. When she walked in the door I said, “I’ve done something very bad,” and informed her that I hadn’t gotten off the couch since she left that morning. Now that’s not the worst thing in the world but for me it was extremely slug-like and I don’t think I’ve ever done that since. But of course binge-watching TV episodes is now the new normal so I guess I was ahead of my time.

To atone for my extreme laziness I decided I’d do something constructive the next day and I thought maybe I would get started on the outdoor Christmas lights. But then a thought popped into my head and I don’t know where this came from, but as I looked up at our big pine tree at the southeast corner of our house I thought maybe I’d put a star on top of that tree. It was to be a big surprise for my wife and kids that evening.

I had climbed on buildings and train bridges and up tall trees since I was five years old, and then as I got older I advanced to municipal water towers, so I had no problem with heights. I just thought I’d start climbing the tree and if I ran into a problem such as an irritated squirrel, I’d abandon the idea. No big deal.

So I made the rounds of the big-box stores and found my first star at Lowe’s. I came home, laid out 200 feet of electrical extension cord, and set up a ladder so I could make it up to the first branch about 20 feet off the ground. I fashioned a harness so that I could carry the star around my neck and attached the electrical cord to my belt so I could pull it up with me as I climbed the tree.

It was a very cold day and a little snowy as I started to climb the tree, branch by branch, very slowly and carefully, until I got as high as I could go, swaying in the breeze and afraid I might snap the top of the tree trunk. I secured the star to the trunk of the tree, plugged in the extension cord and slowly descended. I got down safely and ran the extension cord around the house and plugged it into an outlet in the garage. I walked around the house and looked up and saw the star glowing. It worked!

I unplugged the star and waited until my wife and kids came home and then when it got dark I asked them to come outside so I could do the big reveal. They were flabbergasted! My wife looked at me and said, “How did you get that up there?” I said nothing but just looked at her and then she looked at me and said, “You climbed that tree, didn’t you?” I nodded and smiled and I have been smiling about that ever since.

So for 13 years people have been asking me how I got that star up there. They all seemed to think I rented a cherry picker (boom lift). I would just say, “Oh, it’s a really easy tree to climb….. lots of limbs.” But most of them were skeptical that I actually climbed up the tree. The most recent skeptic asked, “Did you use a drone?” Nope, no drones in my air space, just me and the squirrels.

I decided to keep the star on until January 6 (epiphany) which is when we would typically take down our Christmas tree. But I didn’t climb back up the tree to take the star down. I left it up there with the cord running down the trunk and then I tied it off to a limb about 20 feet in the air, ready to be plugged in the next year. But it didn’t quite work out that way. You see, squirrels will chew on anything from a gutter to a garbage can to an electrical cord to a star. So about every 3-4 years I’ve had to climb back up there and replace a squirrel-mangled star with a new star. But each time I got a better, bigger, brighter star!

The holiday star has become an iconic feature of our neighborhood for all these years and gives me a great source of pleasure. Every year our neighbors look forward to seeing the star go on the first weekend after Thanksgiving and they are sad to see it go off on January 6.

I appreciate this is a very small accomplishment in the big scheme of things. I didn’t scale K2 or bring peace to the Middle East. But it is these simple traditions that make life so pleasurable and meaningful in a neighborhood such as we have on the Boulevard. We’ve been in our house for 33 years and plan on being here 33 more. I don’t know how long I will keep climbing up that tree for the inevitable star replacement. My kids remind me that I shouldn’t be doing this anymore. But how could I not?

This simple story has no best-practice takeaways for the busy linkedin professional, except to say I hope you can follow your star this holiday season while enjoying the fellowship and love of your family and friends.

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