Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Science Behind GTD

A pair of Belgium scientists (Francis Heylinghen and Clement Vidal) published a psychology paper that actually gives scientific ground to David Allen’s (and Kelly Mc Ghee, and others with similar methods) methodology.

They even propose an extension of GTD for collaborative work purposes.

In this paper, the researchers focus on a couple of human brains attributes that explain why GTD concepts work that well.

  1. Limited short-term memory capabilities
    The concept that the Pyramid Principle book talks about too is that the human brain cannot remember, without structure, more than a limited number of things (typically 7, give or take). This fits perfectly with the "trusted system" concept of GTD. "Free your mind"
  2. The brain is much better at recognition than at recall.
    If you remember a time where you had the name of this person on "the tip of your tongue" you know what’s meant with limited capabilities for the mind to recall. However, perceptions (sights, sounds, scents, locations…) help trigger memories. For those familiar with Marcel Proust’s "A La Recherche du temps perdu" and of his Madeleine (a French cookie), you’ll get what I mean exactly.|
    GTD, with its "@Computer", "@Home"…. recognizes this. When in the right place, with the right next action you’ll know what to do.
  3. The brain works best when given feedback on actions than in a vacuum. It’s also what motivates us most.
    GTD’s clear "what’s your next action" and the immediate reward of ticking it off (and the sense of accomplishment that goes with it) clearly maps to these psychological traits of ours.

Other aspects are also mentioned so I’d advise you to read it if you’re still not convinced GTD does make sense.

The authors then review the advantages of using GTD in a collaborative environment.

Additionally to the obvious ones (better team productivity through better individual productivity, clearer deliverables…), they also point to project planning type activities where clear next actions, shared and clear goals, single place to store data on a project will help and, looking forward, a potential system where action would not be done depending on job description but on individual capabilities and a "point" system resembling a lot like a permanent open market for skills within a team.

Now we just need someone to map Agile and GTD methodologies to see how to get to a best of both world approach.

Talking about the The Tipping Point book…

This great article from about Duncan Watts research on how fads, product successes or viruses spread is (though not new) quite interesting.

In a nutshell, the article argues that the whole premise of the tipping point book, i.e. that a limited set of super-connected (“the connectors”) influencers can make or break mass product adoptions (or disease spread), is flawed. He postulates that they will indeed accelerate things but that, when all is said and done, breadth awareness and adoption is what’s really work in the long run.

Fascinating read for a marketer.


212, an inspirational video that originally came from Nightingale-Conant:


A great metaphor to show how an extra effort can make all the difference. This reminds me of the premise in "The Tipping Point" from Malcom Gladwell, which postulates that it only takes a small difference but at the right time on the right point (audience, object…) to make a huge change.

I guess they should also have a non-US version called 100 movie instead of 212, after all Celsius are much more used world-wide than Fahrenheit…

Tools for building and using your own megapixels pictures tools

In this previous post I was sharing this amazing 26 gigapixel image of Paris as well as a zoom into it.

You can create you own very large pictures and navigate through them easily now.

First: Create your own stitched picture (panorama or just large sum of xMP photos. For this the most scalable and easy to use to I’ve found is Image Composite Editor (ICE) from Microsoft research. You can download it for free there.

Then, upload your picture online, for instance on your free Skydrive or Dropbox.

Finally, create a view in (also a free service from Microsoft research) by pointing to this file.

For instance here is an example of a stich of the inside of Capitol’s dome in DC:

The secret to raising smart kids?

Scientific American had this very interesting piece on children’s development and how to best, as a parent, foster their long term growth.

The full article is there:

The basic premise from this article is that if you reward children for being smart versus from trying to learn and grow, you’re not going to -or at least not as well as if you were doing it- maximize their long term growth and intelligence potential.

What the article highlights is that if you congratulate your kid because (s)he had a good grade in math while (s)he is good at math, the day (s)he will fail it will be the perception of a failure of his or her intelligence vs. just another obstacle to conquer.

I like this view because it really matches well with things I’ve seen growing up in France and now leaving in the US:

  • Praise: French culture does not promote praise, much more criticism. The article states that praise is important
  • When to give it: In the US praise if often given (too often to mean anything? Yet another debate), but indeed the praise is most often given for the result not the effort although…
  • In little league baseball I see kids being praised even if they fail however…
  • They also get praised when it’s not obvious they tried their best. e.g. a kid being scared will be told "It’s OK, you’ll do better next time" (i.e. praise although neither result nor effort was achieved)
  • There are countless examples of people of decent intelligence but who never give up and keep on trying and learning that achieve great successes. There are also examples of smart people that end-up with mediocre lives or even mental collapse at their first failure. (obviously when you get both the brain and growth ethics you reach amazing heights: Bill Clinton, Bill Gates…)

This is also corroborated in the studies on time spent on tough math exams by westerners children vs. Asian children that Malcomm Gladwell refers to in his book “Outliers”. Westerners often gave up quickly (i.e. “it’s too hard for me, I’m not good enough for this”) while Asia (Singaporeans in the book I think I remember) keep on trying (and often succeeding) much longer (i.e. “I can do it if I work enough at it”).

Another great book that came out after this article, Nurture Shock also points to the same need to focus praise on efforts and results vs. intelligence and results.

To the parents reading this: what’s your take on this? I had a comment this was a very American culture centric view and I tend to disagree. I think the whole reasoning (promote effort and resilience over sheer brain power) works across cultures.

Managing Projects and Tasks as a Manager with GTD

One thing that I struggled 6 years ago as far as GTD is concerned is the move from an IC (Individual Contributor) to a manager role.

The book describes the high-level concept: a task for you is a project for one of your reports. Or a tactic for you is probably a whole strategy that needs to be broken down to become a set of actionable tactics for your reports. That’s the theory. How do I work this out?

I’m going to first start with my constrains when I first had to implement this:

  • I have both "stuff" I need to do (projects or simple tasks) and "stuff" my team needs to do
  • I want to be sure I don’t micro-manage them BUT… (empowerment)
  • I also want to be sure that balls don’t get dropped (ensure accountability)
  • And I don’t want to end up with hundreds of projects either
  • Finally, many don’t have immediate next actions, especially on my side, and what I need is really a mechanism not to forget to check the project is moving forward, every now and then
  • Oh, and yes, it has to be simple enough to manage.

Given all this I think I finally converged to a pretty interesting approach. I’d be curious to hear other’s view on this.


  • I’m using the "1:1 – Mike" and the likes to monitor who’s doing what (vs. me having to actually do something on it)
  • If some project is run in parallel by several team members, for instance if all need to come with their next year marketing plan or something like this, then, instead of creating n tasks 1:1 (n = number of people having to deliver this), I have an "@1:1 – All the team" and I use the task not field to take notes (or a link to a OneNote page if this is more complex than a few lines)


I really don’t like to have tasks without any projects associated with them. Therefore, I have created "misc" projects. This is a good way for me, during my weekly review to ensure I did not leave any item alone: no "no project" item = I’m good.

Here are few "misc" projects I use:

  • Misc (actually the name is "_misc", this way it shows up at the top of the project list in Outlook. It’s easier to manage)
  • Admin-IT: approve a purchase order or invoice, update my computer, add a software, respond to an internal satisfaction survey…
  • Team misc projects  (the team member’s various small projects)
  • Team Management misc projects
  • etc…

This way single task projects (be them actual single task projects or complex ones delegated to my team) are still somewhat organized and therefore easier to manage weekly.

The next step with this approach is to find a way to oversee projects advancement without having to monitor them in details. In my line of work, we often have many small to large projects running in parallel and GTD is a great way to ensure none fall through the cracks.

When an item comes up I look at putting it in 4 major categories:

  • A project I need to drive personally, often outside of direct team involvement such as hiring for a new position in my team I will need to take care of: write job description, contact HR, screen resumes, etc.. You get the idea. This can also encompass "special projects" of any kinds I might have to drive or be part of: a division’s strategic initiative, etc.
    In this case I will -assuming there is more than 1 step to complete the project- create a project on its own. I will just assign a "misc" project and create the task for me to tackle if it’s a simple set of few consecutive (i.e. non parallel) tasks. This is the regular GTD project concept for which next action could be @plan (i.t. figure out what to do, what the steps will be…), @desk, @read…
  • A project I need to drive with my team such as yearly marketing plans, etc. I will there too create a project or just put in into my "team management misc projects" depending on the complexity, but will then often have an action: 1:1 – All the team to start with. specific sub-tasks/projects may then end-up as several 1:1 – X, being delegated to my team.
    In the "build next year plan" example, 1:1 – X (X being Mike, Paul, Sarah,… whoever in the team is concerned) could be 1:1 – Mike: Get market assessment and key goals for next years. Same for Paul, Sarah…
  • A third type of projects are projects driven by one of more of my team members that I want to be kept abreast of without personally managing the "how" (the steps). This way I’ll probably use a project like "Team Misc projects", and let the action at 1:1- X, using this as a reminder during our 1:1 to ensure I get updates regularly on these projects’ statuses.
  • Finally, a last type of "projects" is random ideas that I would have without being sure these are actually important ones. I’d just classify them as "misc", action being "1:1 – X", provide the input to X at our next (or whenever appropriate) 1:1 and then just close the item. X will then bring it back to the discussion if he or she decides to do anything with it and when he or she will.

Note the difference, a crucial one as a manager, between this last point and the one before. The former is really for ideas that could be interesting but that I’m letting full freedom to my team to decide whether they think it’s worth is or not. i.e. I let them choose the "if" and "when" we do it, on top of the "how".

In the latter, the "if" is not an option. We have to do it and I need to ensure it will happen. The "when" could be negotiable. The "How" is completely left to them, with more or less guidance on my side depending on their own assessment there.

Interesting take on the new do’s and don’ts of PR in the Internet age

Although 5 years old, this is still a very interesting set of ideas for people involved in the PR space. Especially for those in high-tech.

One of the key learning, at least to for me, was the concept that in today’s Google/Bing worlds the actual target a company should have for a PR is not the press per se but its actual customers. This changes everything as far as content and format. Would be quite a change for large companies’ processes though…

The New Rules of Marketing and PR: reaching buyers directly with blogs, news releases, online media, and viral marketing:

  • downloadable pdf is here 
  • David Meerman Scott also has a few other interesting papers you can download for free on his site