Welcome to our portal to the interesting, informative and inspirational. Stuff’s about to get real. Explore the minds of Motivation Technologies’ leadership team, Dick Estes, Beat Bartlome, Steve Hoerner and Zach Lips.
I recently watched the AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire” on Netflix, a tech drama that takes place somewhere between the first version of Microsoft Word in 1983 and Windows 95 in 1995. Over the course of the series, the characters’ business interests range from building personal computers to videogames, web-based chat, e-commerce startups to antivirus software and finally early search engines for the emerging web. Throughout the show, the talented characters are perpetually successful enough to live comfortably while pursuing their ideas and dreams, but they never quite strike it big, whether that’s because of conflicts between the partners, technological limitation, or, most often, the presence of an enormous corporation capable of choking the market.
While certainly not a show for everyone, it struck a nerve with me and brought back a lot of memories – both good and bad. I got my start in software development during the same time frame, writing my first program, a simple arcade-type space shooter game, using Simon’s Basic on a Commodore 64 sometime in 1983 (damn, 1983! Amazingly, I’m coming up on 40 years in software development and I still enjoy writing code immensely. But I digress). I got my start in PC development using Turbo Pascal around 1988, writing synaptic receptor simulations and 3D rendering of molecules during a stint at a neuroscience research lab in Switzerland. Next up was my first experience with startups, a custom software development shop I started back in Switzerland and later sold when I moved to the US in 1995. I continued my career in the US where I gained industry experience as a software consultant for various companies, experiencing a large array of mostly successful approaches to software development. Frustrated with the lack of flexibility and talent in larger companies, I eventually returned to my true passion of smaller startup environments, first as the Chief Software Architect of web startup Clickgarden and finally here at Motivation Technologies as the VP of Technology, leading a team of talented and dedicated software developers.
Watching “Halt and Catch Fire,” I could not help rooting for the characters and drawing parallels to my own career as they faced an endless and at times frustrating series of late nights and weekends, intractable workplace decisions about integrity, product quality, business logistics and arbitrary client deadlines. The truth is nobody really likes working late nights or weekends. But there are times in your career where working late suddenly doesn’t feel like “work” anymore. Instead, it becomes a personal mission – working late nights to prove that it actually can be done, to hit a crucial deadline, to get that make-or-break product out the door, or to convince investors or clients that your small company is indeed unique, can play with the big boys and will undoubtedly succeed.
Looking back, some of these late nights define the most crucial periods of our careers, and some of the strongest team bonds are created during such efforts. One of my most memorable efforts happened around 2010 here at MoTech. Our company was at a critical junction. We were overdue to deliver a complex worldwide rewrite of a heavily customized web-based training system for Retail Sales Professionals called IREP (Intel® Retail Edge Program) that we maintained for our largest client, Intel Corporation. We already had to delay the launch one time and an official launch announcement to our user base of over 100,000 made another delay impossible. Leading up the launch of the new site, our small team of five or six developers worked many late nights, culminating in the final week, including not one but two all-nighters to get the new site up and running as we successfully hit the deadline.
Only one other developer from that epic effort is still with MoTech today – Scott Prost. Back then, Scott was a junior web developer fresh out of college, but he has since grown into a great developer. Scott’s current job title of Architecture Lead really doesn’t do justice to everything he does for the company. Regardless of the oftentimes excruciating effort, we ended up walking away from this experience feeling like we could accomplish anything, and I’d like to think that this experience also helped Scott over the years. Oh, and there’s one more little thing: Intel is still our largest client and going strong.
That finally brings me around to the main point: How can we bring back and maintain this type of passion in today’s fragmented and hectic world of software development, or any type of work, for that matter? It’s easy to feel like anything that can be accomplished in software development has already been done. But the luxury of looking back on nearly four decades of coding allows me to tell you one thing with certainty: There is a lot of exciting software yet to be developed, and a lot of revolutionary code yet to be written. Just make sure that you are ready when such an opportunity arises! What you are really doing when writing code in the middle of the night is not just working. It’s possibly defining the path for the rest of your career.
I leave you with one nugget of wisdom from “Halt and Catch Fire”: Ideas are what we have. Don’t ever let them go to waste.
We have an amazing Creative team here at Motivation Technologies and we produce some outstanding work. In this first episode of “A Peek Below the Roots,” we’ll dig down deep into the soil, below the roots (you know, because our logo is a carrot) and look at a piece of content we created for a “tech giant” client, focused on the education of a new laptop advancement known as companion displays. These next gen devices feature a supplemental screen built in below the primary display to extend productivity while multitasking or working on the go.
First things first. Let’s meet the creative team for this little stroll down memory lane: our senior writer, Larry “the Irish Poet” O’Neal; a senior designer, Shawnna “the Blonde Bada**” Troxel; and a senior developer, Gwen “You Don’t Scare Me” Mullinix. Together, this senior trio developed a simple, yet profoundly interesting course inspired by the beloved game of pinball.
So, the first step in any piece of content is the concepting. What do we want this training to do? Who are we talking to? And how much information do we need to teach (and how interesting is the info)? Luckily, companion displays are pretty cool. You might even consider them flashy. I mean, who wouldn’t want an extra, built-in screen for their laptop? The second bit of inspiration for this came from an older, beloved piece of content we did where we used carnival imagery to launch another innovation. Could we create another instant classic filled with the same kind of pop cultural whimsy? You bet your bottom dollar we could! With those two thoughts banging around in our heads, we began to focus on the idea of an arcade—flashy, fun, energetic. From there, it was only a short leap to get to pinball. Pinball would provide an interesting juxtaposition between classic nostalgia and new innovation, not to mention, it’s easily one of the most visual forms of an arcade game and about as flashy as you can get. But the theme provided us with another important mechanic: the ability to move our viewer through the information as they followed that iconic silver ball across the table—Yeeeesss! <Spoken with maniacal triumph.>
As design challenges go, this is about as good as it gets because we literally had endless room to play. It really only had to be fun as it moved the trainee through the experience. This is also why we chose one of our scrolling formats that allowed for a quicker pace and a good bit of animation with a little interactivity sprinkled in for the more dense pockets of text.
The most pivotal point in the content’s creation, is where the designer and the developer get to reach into their bag of tricks and figure out how to bring this thing to life without breaking the budget. This delicate dance of give and take performed by two of Motivation Technologies’ finest dancers begins to yield some sketches of where this course is going to go. At this point, Shawnna takes to Photoshop while Gwen sets the technical bar as high as she can making sure the pinball animation would trigger when the viewer scrolls to a certain section of the training. The ball exhibits the correct momentum and velocity as it animates its bouncing properties around the screen, without obscuring any text all while fully supporting IE11 (don’t get her started on that!) and looking as amazing as possible on any device across the world.
I think the results speak for themselves. Another instant classic by Motivation Technologies. We’ve hooked you up with a free play. Save your quarter. Take the training for a spin.
There’s a lot of information going around about the coronavirus and COVID-19. Motivation Technologies developed this insightful resource for our own employees to separate the fact from the fiction and help keep them safe and informed. The article was shared on LinkedIn and between employees and their families. The more we know about this unprecedented situation, the better equipped we’ll be to persevere and meet the demands of our changing social and economic landscape.
IT TAKES AN ARMY
Back in the 1950s, consumers contemplating a significant purchase were at the mercy of the salesman’s canned product spiel, or what limited information the half-inch blurb in the Sears Catalog had to offer. Consumers today have more information at their fingertips than ever before. Brands must compete much more vigorously, optimizing their advertising budgets in a daily battle royal for market share. Working under the adage that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, brands power their amps to 11 and blast away at beleaguered consumers.
While this type of mass advertising delivers shares and likes and a superficial level of engagement, does it really drive the customer to buy one product over another? The cold, hard reality of the times is that advertising alone doesn’t ensure sales success. Companies can throw obscene amounts of money into traditional advertising outlets with little ROI. Today it takes something more. It takes an army of advocates.
BRAND ADVOCACY BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of millennials who don’t like or trust traditional advertising.
Like any good army, sales advocates require effective training. Learning modules customized to make brand advocates out of external retail sales staffs make a big difference. Advocates are the people who champion and recommend your products and brand to others, influencing them to buy yours over those of others. Today, the biggest advertising budget means nothing without brand advocacy. It’s a street team that gives your brand real street cred.
BUILDING BRAND LOYALTY
The goal of any brand marketing strategy is to gain brand loyalty. Customer loyalty helps a brand consistently retain a substantial volume of market share, generating profits. Loyal customers create a long-term association with their brand of choice; they can become brand ambassadors of a product, generating word-of-mouth publicity that becomes a free windfall for the brand. The under-the-radar publicity can greatly improve a company’s bottom line. That advocacy and the recommendations of these loyal customers increase the number of prospective customers for the brand.
BRAND ADVOCACY BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of consumers who say word-of-mouth recommendations are the leading influence on their purchase decision.
There’s been a substantial shift in marketing strategy as brands are rapidly moving from broad outreach on digital, to tapping a core group of loyal advocates to bring their message out to the world. Twenty-six percent of the population now influence the purchasing activities of the other 74 percent. Brand loyalty is begotten these days through a range of influencers that go beyond the benefits or price of the product itself. When the influence comes from a trusted staff of knowledgeable and trained sales professionals, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
ADVOCACY IN ACTION
Brand perception and influence at the retail level is imperative for success. Employee advocacy programs boost employee engagement and morale. Disengaged employees cost companies money. In fact, studies show that disengaged employees can cost companies more than $450 billion per year. However, employees who are active in promoting the brand and feel involved within the larger organization tend to be happier, more engaged and productive. And their influencing power is evident. Advocates have three times more of an influence on purchasing decisions than non-advocates.
BRAND ADVOCACY BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of buyers who trust brands
Percentage of customers who trust recommendations from people they know.
It may have worked in the past where simply buying some ad space or airtime could equate to sales. Even the online evolution of placing banner ads, sharing videos on social media sites and paying influencers big bucks to post and hashtag the hell out your brand might not move the sales needle enough anymore. The solution is advocacy. Real advocacy at the customer level and, more importantly, the employee level.
Check the calendar. The days of simply sitting back and letting your marketing materials and media buys speak for your company are over. Sears filed for bankruptcy in 2018, and their iconic catalog ceased printing in 1993. The customer landscape is no longer passive. Involvement, engagement and excitement get results today.
It’s time to join the conversation with your audience. Engage with the people who can become champions of your brand out in the world. These people are your street team, your army of influencers. They’re your advocates. Your secret weapon. Educate them. Train them. Motivate them. Reward them. Trust them.
BRAND ADVOCACY BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of people who say they trust content shared by regular people more than brands, proving it helps to have the content coming from your team members instead of just from your company.
Uncertainty causes anxiety for everyone. Whether it’s a company reorganization, political unrest or the recent COVID-19 pandemic, employees are concerned about their future. As we navigate through the uncertain times in today’s business environment, it is imperative that management tackle situations head-on and ensure a rational and focused effort to navigate through uncertainty. Below are areas crucial to helping ease employee anxiety and build confidence in management in uncertain times.
Communication – Frequent and open communication is an integral part of any well-run company. During times of uncertainty, communication for all levels of management needs to be amplified. Many employees are being forced to work from home during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home has advantages for some and challenges for others. Managers need to have consistent communication to get a pulse on what’s working and what needs to be modified to ensure employees have a favorable environment to get their work done. It’s human nature to want reassurance that everything will be fine.
Confidence – Employees need to feel comfortable with management and trust in them to make the right decisions for the betterment of the company. Many times, managers will make a knee-jerk reaction to an issue to address it quickly without really thinking it through. Thoroughly analyzing an issue and coming up with the best possible solution will show employees that the company truly does want the best for the organization and will instill confidence within all levels.
Adaptability – Companies MUST be able to adapt to changing environments and business conditions. Those that adapt will survive and those that don’t will perish. It’s that simple. How a company looks today will probably be very different than what it will look like a few years from now. As companies adapt to change, it is imperative employees get on board with the changes being made. Having employees buy in to the changes being made is key to help relieve some of the uneasiness that comes with changes.
Compassion – Treat your employees like you would want to be treated if they were managing you. Sometimes as managers, it’s easy to feel a sense of empowerment over others in the organization. Managers need to feel heightened compassion for others during times of uncertainty. Managers should take a step back and mentally reverse roles with their employees and get a sense of how they would feel with whatever change is occurring.
Trust – Managers must trust employees to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Unwanted employees in an organization will be weeded out. Excellent employees need to be given the freedom to thrive and do their job in whatever business environment a company faces. Micromanagers will cause undue pressure in uncertain times.
Bottom line: Managing in uncertain times is not easy. It requires open communication, confidence, adaptability, compassion and trust. Being able to address these areas will give your company an opportunity for a more positive outcome as uncertainty diminishes.
The reward strategy is in full force at MoTech. We’ve always known what this article explains: that points, credits, badges, leaderboards and recognition go a long way in motivating staff and reinforcing learning.
It’s indisputable that working from home during a pandemic has created some unique challenges for both employees and business owners. This article helps ease the WFH tension by suggesting scheduling strategic break times into your day as a way of combatting fatigue and mental burnout. Break time just may solve the predicament that is 2020. Check it out.
If you haven’t seen how microlearning can push across knowledge in short, fast, well-positioned bursts, you need to check out this short article. MoTech has been perfecting these formats for years.
Special thanks to Brian Baumgartner (Kevin) and Kate Flannery (Meredith) from The Office for taking the time to send a special shout-out to the entire MoTech team. Working from home for 8 weeks now and still going strong. What an awesome team! Miss everyone and I'll see you all soon... in the office.
Having spent much of my professional career as an agency Creative Director, I know the value of creativity, in both the workplace and in personal life, even in times of crisis. Maybe more so in times of crisis.
With gyms and parks closed during the coronavirus quarantine, people have adjusted their fitness routines by taking advantage of home exercise equipment, scheduling regular runs, bike rides and walks in the neighborhood or even practicing yoga to streamed video instruction. For creative types, it’s just as important to exercise those creative muscles during this time of forced self-isolation.
Aristotle had a word for it: catharsis, defined by Britannica as “the purification or purgation of the emotions (especially pity and fear) primarily through art.” The fabled Greek philosopher proposed that the purpose of tragedy was to provoke “terror and pity,” thereby affecting the catharsis of these emotions. We’ve come to accept the term as a process of releasing the tensions of repressed emotions as a form of relief. Like music soothing the savage beast or uptown funk gon' give it to you, the power of art has curative properties for the human psyche. Don’t believe me, just watch.
In times of crisis, whether personal or national, those with creative talents see the value in their art as restorative and therapeutic, an outlet for emotional energy. A global pandemic that pushes the population indoors to shelter in place seems like the most opportune moment for musicians to embrace their instruments as a form of release, a time for painters and illustrators to gravitate to their canvases and sketch pads to express themselves artistically. Writers take to their computers and notebooks to let their words do the talking, perhaps resulting in accomplished poetry, stories, plays and memoirs. Dancers convert living rooms into dance studios and reel off parlor pirouettes in balletic style. Honestly, there’s enough streaming content on Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ to last a lifetime of quarantines. But avoiding the TV and making your own art is pure catharsis that binging Tiger King could never produce.
Your Brain on Grief
Neurologists and brain researchers have identified an area of the brain that deactivates when one experiences sadness and grief. The left hemisphere of the brain concerns itself with hope, joy and other social emotions, while the right hemisphere processes emotions like fear and anxiety. Grief jacks up the right hemisphere and deactivates the left. So, left-brain functions like logic and analytic thought, reasoning, science and math skills become suppressed at the expense of the right brain’s stock in trade: art and music awareness, intuition, imagination, holistic thought, insight and creativity.
Now, I’m no neurologist. I’m a Creative Director. But it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to make the cerebral leap between grief and creative energy. The cathartic nature of expending creative energy during periods of grief and crisis has measurable effects.
A Creativity Call-up
The international crisis we currently find ourselves in sees us sheltering in our homes as a preemptive way of not catching or spreading the novel coronavirus. For those of us who fancy ourselves as creative types, it’s a time to call up our talents and use the arts to relieve some tension. For those who claim no creative ability, I say: Perfect time to get some.
You always thought it would be cool to write a book? Start outlining. Convert thoughts and ideas to written words. You used to enjoy art class in school? Bust out some paper or a sketch pad or order some paints and canvases online. For people who love music but couldn’t imagine ever playing an instrument: Ever tried a ukulele? They’re inexpensive, simple to learn, easy to play and the perfect accompaniment for a backyard luau. I have musician friends who are recording albums remotely, sharing tracks back and forth and compiling songs without the need to be together in a studio. Quarantine creative collaboration.
Here are a few other ideas to express your creativity at home, pandemic be damned.
Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become surrogate stages for performers denied their traditional venues. Musicians and songwriters have been posting live performance clips. Established performers denied nightclubs and regular show outlets have enlisted the help of livestreaming services and live social media platforms to bring their music to their fanbase, offering virtual front row seats to fans. If you’re musically fluent, use your smartphone to record yourself performing a song. Then post it for your legion of adoring Facebook fans. And Aunt Rachel.
Famed B-movie director Roger Corman is curating his “Corman Quarantine Film Festival” and calling for submissions. The cult director of Bucket of Blood and Attack of the Crab Monsters is challenging established directors and would-be Scorseses to submit their mini masterpieces. The rules include 1. You have to stay home and stay safe and film the video inside your house or in the backyard; 2. The short must be filmed on a cell phone; and 3. It must be under two minutes. Can’t wait to see Attack of the Quarantine Monsters.
Ever heard of Taylor Swift? You may be surprised to learn that this multi-platinum album-selling chart topper got her start singing karaoke at ten years old. So there’s hope for you! Convert your family room into a makeshift karaoke bar simply by accessing YouTube and searching out karaoke versions of your favorite songs. There’s a plethora of karaoke videos, complete with lead vocal-less songs and scrolling lyrics. No special equipment required. Even if you have no aspirations to hit the Billboard Hot 100, it’s always a blast to belt out songs you love. You can even sing Taylor Swift songs and put her to shame.
Hey, as long as you’re stuck in the house, why not go a little Marie Kondo on your crib and unleash your inner interior designer? Seek out tips for cleaning, organizing, rearranging, decorating and decluttering that’ll make your place seem new, different and visually compelling. Hell, Taylor Swift was probably into interior design as a kid too.
You don’t have to be a poetry snob or even know the 15 types of poetic forms to enjoy the literary art and pluck up the wherewithal to produce a nice poem. Challenge yourself to write a haiku (three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables) about some daily observation. The next day, pen a witty (perhaps bawdy?) limerick (five lines of a single stanza with an AABBA rhyme scheme). On Day 3, conquer a sonnet (14 lines using the ABAB rhyming structure with a concluding couplet at the end). Progress to lyric poetry, the ballad, an elegy and a villanelle. At the end of the quarantine, you’ll have a collection of poetry to share with the world (except the bawdy limericks; keep those to yourself).
Talent is Subjective
Keep in mind that creativity isn’t limited to the traditional arts. I’ve known individuals who are absolute artists at gardening, cooking, woodworking and home decorating. It’s a perfect time to let those talents blossom as a personal extension of creativity. Practice and perfect magic tricks. Learn to dance. Launch a podcast or start your own YouTube channel. Write a script then use your iPhone to shoot your own in-home mini-epic movie, starring your family. Edit it on your computer (there are a ton of editing programs available). Paint portraits of your family members. Start your novel. Tie-dye some old T-shirts. Assemble a photo collage. Whip up a museum-caliber meal one night. There’s no limit to creativity. And a crisis just might be the best time to let yours shine.
What’s in it for You?
Tell almost any corporate concern with a staff to train about the values of a customized LMS platform and they’ll eventually reply with “What’s in it for me?”
And rightly so. According to a study by the Brandon Hall Group, nearly 40 percent of U.S. companies that use eLearning are less than satisfied with their Learning Management System. Off-the-shelf LMSs can only go so far to meet the needs of a company. And while some businesses may find their training needs met with one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box programs, many more require a robustly customized platform that reflects their ideal business process flow.
That’s where Motivation Technologies rides into battle on a thundering stallion, a wind-rippled banner unfurled over the battlefield of staff training solutions. Too dramatic? Probably so. But with years of handcrafting customized learning programs for some of the world’s largest companies, we think we’ve earned the right to a little exaggerated cinematic imagery.
But let’s rein in the horses for a moment and ask a basic question:
Do You Really Need a Custom LMS?
Seriously. Do you need a heavily customized Learning Management System that informs and reinforces your brand ideals and process flow, or are you better off adapting to a prefab product that meets your needs? Is extensive LMS customization necessary? Do you want a right-for-now platform or one that is future-proof and tailored for a long-term, comprehensive fit?
Chances are you want it all. To have access to a program with your name and brand all over it is limitlessly appealing. But deciding on a custom LMS is a big decision. They aren’t just handed out like trick-or-treat candy or Mardi Gras beads. Not everyone should have a custom LMS. It takes a commitment to time and a fair amount of courage to pull it off. And, like anything exclusively designed, the upfront costs are considerably higher than their generic counterparts. It’s always easier to pick an off-the-shelf system. But those nonspecific programs have a higher rate of missing the mark and becoming rapidly obsolete.
So, yeah. You probably really do need a custom LMS.
Think Outside the Generic, Dull, Common, Uninspired Box
For those businesses daring to dream big and take bold chances, the rewards of a custom LMS are plentiful. But thinking big and taking chances are not without their share of considerations.
Don’t let your requirements be limited by past experiences. Learning systems should adapt to your needs, not the other way around.
Reasons FOR a Custom Solution
Reasons AGAINST a Custom Solution
Reporting + Analytics
The numbers don’t lie. They may bend the truth ever so slightly to prove a point, but for the most part, they can be trusted inherently. Most high-end custom LMS systems require a powerful analytics system that allows for real-time reporting on any kind of activity within the system. Everything is trackable.
A customized LMS platform offers in-depth reporting and full-spectrum analytics. This includes:
The best superheroes know that with great power comes great responsibility. For powerful LMS systems, with higher costs comes a great responsibility to provide profound data and analysis. If you’re not getting this for your money, you need to rethink your choice of superhero.
The Dark Side of LMS Customization
Okay. So it’s not all springtime and sunshine in the world of LMS customization. Pitfalls happen. Increased costs without increased benefits can happen. So can vendor lock, that moment when you realize the relationship just isn’t working and you want to see other people but you’ve got this contract binding you together. Over-customization can make your LMS more difficult to manage. Then there’s the dreaded Open Source Factor, that awkward moment when multiple vendors and third-party vendors present an overwhelming glut of homogenous base products, leaving you with a severe case of LMS burnout.
Why Motivation Technologies? Aren’t They Just Another Vendor?
Yes! And no! With nearly two decades in the industry and a key client list featuring some of the world’s biggest brands, Motivation Technologies leverages its tight-knit, small company vibe to do gargantuan things. Smaller vendors are better suited to giving clients more of their attention, providing a personalized experience that goes way beyond the project brief. Our small business configuration is large enough to feature seasoned professionals with years of experience in account management, solutions development, creative arts and more.
What we offer is training without limits, customized solutions that build knowledgeable staffs, as well as brand awareness, identity and advocacy. Now, reread that last sentence, but imagine it with sweeping, emotional end theme music playing over it. And probably a crane shot that pulls back to reveal the daring Motivation Technologies logo as the credit roll beneath. Wow. That was a great movie.
The human brain is one seriously complicated machine. This article I found totally confirms it. Read about how the intricacies of the brain shape exciting new learning techniques.