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3 Free Visual Analysis Tools to Help You Gain Insight Faster

Visual analysis of DNA

Visual data analysis help organizations make decisions and learn faster by leveraging our natural ability to visually detect patterns quickly.This presentation reviews the motivation to visual analytics research.  We also review demo visualizations from, Google Charts API, and other tools.

Check out to learn more about their awesome JavaScript visualization tools.

Programmer visualization tools

Visualization tools for non-programmers

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Creating Positive Culture Using Appreciative Inquiry


Appreciative Inquiry is a strategic planning framework helping non-profits, businesses, and organizations discover a shared positive vision and make it happen.   In contrast to traditional business analysis that explores strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT),   appreciative inquiry organizations focus on growing their strengths and opportunities while minimizing their weaknesses.   Every organization needs positive change.   I appreciate that this framework encourages open positive participation from EVERYONE in the organization.

Why do I believe appreciative inquiry(AI) is important?

  • In our modern age, I can understand why we tend to focus on problems. In our news media, how easy is it to find news about people who are making improvements or positive change? I believe organizations should know their weaknesses. I, however, believe that we can often let weaknesses dominate the process of making our organizations better.
  • After reading and listening to EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey, I believe that creating positive culture has become the new imperative. I love the idea that you have to “start with a dream and end in a goal.”
  • Plants and organic systems grow toward light. I believe human organizations also grow toward “light.”
    (leaders and organizations who make positive change)
How does the process work?

For a brief summary of the process, please visit the appreciative inquiry page on Wikipedia.

In my previous employer CompassKnowledge group, I had the opportunity to see this process in action.

  • Senior leadership team created and documented a shared vision for the organization.
  • A senior leader interviewed me. During this interview, we talked about moments where I felt I was excited about my life and work. We talked about the strengths used during those high points in my life. We also brain stormed ways that my strengths can be used in the work place to create more positive change for our team and customers.
  • This process was repeated for all 200+ employees. (Wow!)
  • Without getting into too much detail, the company aggregated the data from the strengths and opportunities to form a master plan regarding how CompassKnowledge was going to rock distance learning in the future while charging up the team. The shared vision and dream was enhanced with ideas coming from every single member of the organization, a sample of the students we served, and our customers.
  • Impacts that I treasure: (1) During this process, I pitched the idea of doing innovation time off to senior leadership. This discussion evolved into a few strategic research projects. (2) I especially loved that we spoke with some of our knowledge partners(customers) and students. It helped me connect my job with the stories of students getting excited about finishing their degree through one of our programs and the positive impacts it will have for their families.

How can I use this process today?

Put yourself in an environment where you can think for 20 minutes. I would recommend getting a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Take the time to answer the following questions.

1 – What are the high points or most celebrated stories in your life?

2 – What was a time that you were excited to jump out of bed and start working
on your project or cause?

3 – What personal strengths do you have from those high points in your life? In general,
what are your personal strengths?

4 – Imagine a world where you are happy and creating positive change in your work daily.
What does that dream job look like?

5 – How can you use the personal strengths from question 3 to create the dream
job that you talked about in question 4?

What insights did you make about yourself?

As we dream about the future in five years, how can you use this process to enhance your life?    How can it impact your organization?

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Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

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Why should we communicate starting with “WHY?”

  1. In the context of leading, the average presentation can spend a lot of time down in the details.   The inspired teachers and leaders talk about why they believe a particular lesson is important.   This can also help leaders to discover common ground with the audience.
  2. By encouraging yourself to start with “WHY”, you can start to find wasteful activity.   If a task or lesson does not create value, why should I do it?
  3. The question of “WHY” is often related to the question of personal mission.   How does this lesson or task fit into my personal mission of life?   If my daily activities do not line up with my life mission, what can i do to change it?
  4. I love Simon Sinek’s comment on Martin Luther King Jr.    Martin Luther King gave the “I have a dream” speech.   He did not give the “I have a plan” speech.
  5. The world needs your inspiration.
The following talk by Simon Sinek has been a great inspiration to me.

Abstract: Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers — and as a counterpoint Tivo, which (until a recent court victory that tripled its stock price) appeared to be struggling.


What is your passion?  What inspires you to make and create?\


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If you have a dream, stop waiting for it. Make it!


In one of my favorite podcasts on open source software, Tim O’Reilly, publisher, speaker, and thought leader in open technology, challenges us to create a world where we “create more value than you take.”    This core idea appears in many contexts.    The agile leadership movement challenges teams to increase communication, accountability and create “value” using regular iterations of time.    In the culture of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy challenges leaders to become “servant leaders.”   In the act of becoming a servant leader, you become a teacher and a guide to your teams.  Servant leaders find success in helping their teams become the best version of themselves.  Becoming service oriented is a great place to start!

During our family road trips, my wife Sarah and I are very reflective in our conversations.   While taking our kids to the zoo, we started to reflect upon the following question:  What does our dream job look like?  What type of work helps us feel passionate and excited about our day?   As we talked, I sketched out this funny little sketch.

Agile, Creativity, Business

During my most potent and engaged times of life, creativity, agile culture, and a spirit of caring for our community have been the magic ingredients of those moments.

  • As a choir director, I started learning the craft of continuous and incremental improvement with our team of volunteer music ministers.    I loved how collaborative and fun our choir was in making music.
  • As a software developer for a distance learning company, we were not supporting a cold sales process.   Our team was helping to connect adult learners with hope.   With the hope of getting a better education and degree, these learners can help their families and careers to thrive.
  • As an agile coach for a research institution, I really enjoy helping our software teams serve the community with creative software solutions.  It’s especially fun to help organizations find ways to streamline their processes and push the boundaries of knowledge and technology.

In regards to creativity and entrepreneurship, I have been delighted with the trends of the “Makers” movement.    In his book “Makers”, Chris Anderson explores trends in open innovation, 3D printing, CNC machines and open source that are leading to a new industrial revolution.    After reading parts of this book, I just can’t wait to start designing toys with my sons, printing, and playing with them.  Researchers and hackers in this space are creating computers that cost $35, quad copters, robots, R/C cars, and much more!   This space is ripe with opportunities.

In this blog, I hope to serve my readers with practical ideas for encouraging creativity in business.   I will share useful apps and lessons learned for Agile teams.   I hope to explore ideas that help organizations become more innovative, attract a tribe, and foster a culture of continuous learning.   I hope this content helps motivate you to start.   If you have a dream, stop waiting for it.   Make it!


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10 Games To Foster Innovation with Your Team

I believe that projects should be fun.   When projects are fun, people share their best and most innovative ideas.   I am very thankful that my team leader introduced me to the book Gamestorming, a playbook for innovators, rule-breakers and changemakers.     As an agile coach for a software development team, it’s important for our team to learn how to collaborate, support our customers on making judgments about priorities, requirements, and to keep improving the product and the team.   As leaders, how do we encourage innovative thinking that encourages team members to be creative?   If we want creativity, we have to practice this art.    Why don’t we practice this craft of creativity using games?

For a brief introduction to GameStorming by David Gray, check out the following video:

Here are 10 games that I have used with my teams.   For leaders, I hope these games help inspire a spirit of innovation with your teams.

10 Easy Innovation Games

  1. Trading cards - In a learning and innovation environment, it’s important for your players to build rapport with each other.   This is a pretty easy ice breaker game.
  2. Post-up - I really love this device since it helps EVERYONE to contribute. (whether you’re a very vocal person or a quiet thinker)    Post it notes are a simple way of capturing an idea.   This game gives the team silence and space to reflect upon creating new ideas.   Other games can be used to organize those ideas.
  3. Affinity map - In “Post-up”, the primary goal was to capture ideas.  Affinity map encourages your team organize your ideas on a white board or table.  If one idea is very similar to another idea, those ideas should be placed in closer proximity.     This helps you see relationships between ideas.
  4. Mitch Lacey Team Prioritization - For any project team, it’s often useful to consider the question “what should we do that will generate the most value with the smallest amount of complexity?”   This game encourages your project team to arrange ideas on a 2d space.  On one axis, you have complexity.( low to high)   One the other axis, you have value(low value to high value)   By placing ideas on this grid, it’s often easy for your team to spot the next logical steps.
  5. Dot voting - What does your team think we should do?  In this simple game, your team receives 5 dots.   The team places their dot votes next to ideas that they would support.  Voting can also encourage friendly competition.
  6. $100 Test - If we had $100 to spend on the ideas before the team, how would we allocate that money?
  7. Atomize - As we study complex systems, it’s often helpful to decompose large ideas or objects into smaller parts.   For example, as we study cells in biology, this game can be used to help students learn the components of the cell.    If your team is creating something new, this game can help you think about how to break the problem into parts.
  8. 4C’s - As your project team considers creating a new product or service, this game helps your team think about decomposing the problem.
  9. Plus/Delta - This simple game helps the team reflect upon what went really well and what we can improve.   Team reflection and team sponsored improvement can be very powerful.
  10. Actions for retrospectives - This retrospective game is very similar to #9.   In some ways, I like this game more since the team also considers the questions of risk and wishes.    The game also encourages you to make ideas actionable.

You can find more innovation games at the Gamestorming Wiki :


We love to hear from our readers.   What are techniques that help you grow or help grow your team?


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7 Life Changing Lessons From Dave Ramsey on Business Leadership

John Maxwell on Leaders

My wife and I are raving fans of Dave Ramsey, Chris LoCurto, and their team.   As a teaching organization, they communicate their lessons about financial peace, leadership, and business development with clarity, passion and energy.   After listening to one of their Entreleadership lessons, I always feel I have a few ideas that I can use in my family and team today.

So, why should you care about Entreleadership?

  1. I believe that leadership and education are highly correlated crafts.   You stand out in business when you care and you have the heart of a teacher.   John Maxwell in his book “Developing the Leader in You” has a great quote:  ”The growth and development of people is the highest calling of a leader.”   A great deal of the book talks about creating great teams.
  2. Organizations rise and fall on leadership and influence.   I believe that the Entreleadership team has collected some great wisdom on leadership and coaching.

Here are my seven favorite Entreleadership podcasts.    They have been life changing for me.  I hope they kick start your leadership for 2013.

  • Start With Why with Simon Sinek: Dave defines EntreLeadership, and Simon Sinek joins Jon and Chris to talk about his book: Start With Why.
  • Servant Leadership with Dan Cathy: Dave describes “servant leadership” and why it is the only kind of leadership that works. Jon interviews Dan Cathy, President and COO of Chick-fil-A.
  • Start with a Dream & End With a Goal with Jon Acuff: Setting a true goal stretches you. It makes you reach for something that’s just beyond your reach. You have to be deliberate! Dave teaches today about how to set a goal as well as achieve it. As a special guest today we will also be talking with Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author Jon Acuff about his new book Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job.
  • Fear and Opposition with Jon Acuff: On today’s episode, Dave Ramsey shares on taking risks. Jon Acuff joins Chris LoCurto in the studio to discuss succeeding in the face of fear and opposition.
  • Personal Selling with Michael Hyatt: Michael Hyatt joins Chris LoCurto live in the studio to talk about his new book “Platform.” Dave Ramsey shares a lesson on personal selling.
  • Recognition with Leadership Freak Dan Rockwell: In this week’s episode, Dave will talk about the power of recognizing your team and catching them in the act of being awesome. This always leads to amplifying the success of your business. Blogger Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak) will also be in the studio as a special guest.
  • What Makes a Great Leader? with Dave Ramsey: If you want to develop your leadership abilities or if you’re a business leader who wants to develop your team, this episode provides the answers and foundation to get you moving in the right direction. This week Dave Ramsey will be our guest discussing everything from his personal leadership style to what separates great leaders from good leaders.

What other resources do you use to improve your leadership and coaching?