Using Apps and Checklists to Learn More, Faster, Deeper

4 Comments 04.09.13

After years working as a journalist, I’ve now got a new job as a startup CEO and there’s a lot to learn. I’ve been using a number of new apps, all together, to speed and deepen that learning and I thought I’d share my new routine here in case of interest.

  • First, I use our own service Little Bird in order to view the hottest news among leaders in fields like Human Computer Interaction, Neuroscience, Sales and Marketing. I’ve got Hot News pages bookmarked for a variety of topics and I visit them regularly on my phone or iPad.

  • Then, when I find something that looks valuable – I save it in my beloved Pocket for later reading, generally on my iPad.
  • When I read the articles, if there’s something worth sharing I publish it out over Buffer.
  • Later, if I read those articles and find that there are in fact valuable insights – I want to make sure they don’t just dribble out my ears but that they stay inside my head. Mind mapping expert Chuck Frey says that learning consists of 4 steps: gathering, discerning, assimilating and utilizing. What I do is add any important lessons I learn to a mind map in Mindjet.
  • When I get around to processing updates to that mind map, what I do is put those lessons into a flash card app on my iPhone.
  • I flip through those flashcards daily as one of many different habbits supported by a routine building app called Lift.
  • One additional step I’m trying to add is to fill out this Evernote template to further explore the new lessons I’m adding.

It’s kind of a crazy detailed process, but just like I did when I was working as a journalist – I tell myself that if pilots on airplanes can run down a huge checklist of buttons and dials, I should be able to do something as simple as the process above. I probably need to turn it into a checklist – perhaps even in paper.


Above, my most recent lessons learned mind map, now featuring pictures of the people I learn the lessons from.

“Success is something you attract, not pursue,” argued personal development guru Jim Rohn. “Work hard on your job and you’ll make a living – work hard on your self and you can make a fortune.” I found that via a video that showed up in Hot News in a Little Bird report on Personal Development; I’ve put it on my mind map of lessons learned and in my flashcard app too. I’m not only focused on making a fortune, of course, but you get the idea: opportunity comes to those who have made themselves attractive to it through hard work on the self. That seems to be the idea, anyway.

As they’ve found at Khan Academy, explicit recognition of the plasticity of the brain – for example putting the words “the more you learn today, the smarter you’ll be tomorrow” on the top of a web page – leads to an appreciable improvement in learning. Metacognition.

I thought others might find that useful and interesting! May our learning help us all rock!


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Dear friends, let’s get small talk out of the way before SXSW

1 Comment 03.05.13

I’m going to see a lot of friends over the next week in Austin that I’d like to catch up with, but imagine if we got the small talk taken care of ahead of time and could start our brief conversations from a different place. Scott Beale, Violet Blue, Rachel Weidinger, I’m picturing you in my mind.

It’s in that spirit that I offer below 7 quick bullet points summarizing the most relevant parts of the last year of my work life and what I’m doing at SXSW this year. My personal life is mostly another matter, but know that my health is pretty good and my wife Mikalina and I are very much in love. Above: two of the many facial expressions available from Mikalina and I at SXSW, in this case in 2012. Photo by classic SX’ photographer Kris Krug.

I would love it if you’d return the favor and post some updates from the last year of your life in comments below or email me a note at marshall@getlittlebird.com if you want, I’ll read it on the plane! Imagine what we’ll be able to talk about together in Austin once we’ve got a common foundation of knowing the basics!

* This past year, I left ReadWriteWeb after starting a company called Plexus Engine, which has since changed its name to Little Bird. It’s a suite of tools that helps you find and engage with the leading minds online in any topic. It’s awesome & unlike anything else on the market. I’d love to show it to you sometime, but probably right now because we’re drinking beer on a crowded patio. (Just pretend!) The company was co-founded by my wife Mikalina Kirkpatrick and our technical co-founder Tyler Gillies.

* Little Bird closed a $1m round of funding, lead by Mark Cuban. We’re still in private beta but have sold subscription access to the service to a bunch of companies (mostly marketing, advertising & PR) we have 7 full time team members so far and are opening to General Availability this Spring.

* At SXSW we’ll be unveiling the first app built on top of our API. I guarantee you’ll hear about it because we have a massive promotional partner. I’ll be posting about it here and elsewhere tomorrow morning.

* I am having an incredible time being a startup CEO. Sometimes I miss tech blogging, but not very often and not that much – because I’m having too much fun having new adventures.

* Our biggest challenge at Little Bird is building the capacity to convert inbound interest into paying customers – right now my #1 priority is hiring more sales people.

* Here at SXSW I am not speaking on any official panels, but my very smart wife Mikalina is speaking at a Sunday AM workshop titled
Startup Operations: The Lone Ranger of Tech
. Also attending the event are our hard working marketing and sales guy Nate Angel and one of our data hackers, the fabulous Devin Gafney.

* The technology that’s changed my life the most over the past year, other than our own and its ability to bring the world’s finest knowledge on any subject to me with the snap of my fingers, is the iOS mobile app Lift. It’s a daily habit check-in app, with social and analytics features. I have never been a person with a structured or goal oriented life before, but I’ve been trying it via Lift and I’m happy to say that I am now a guy who does pushups, flosses, thinks about my own mortality and drinks more water as often as I could have ever imagined myself doing those things. Check it out!

That’s what I’ve been doing, now you know! How about you? Imagine if a bunch of us wrote out bullet points like this, we could start conversation all the further ahead of the basics. Feel free to let me know what you’ve been up to since the last SXSW in comments below.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

How I trained a robot neuroscientist to walk my dog

1 Comment 02.21.13

I need to go walk my dog. I could listen to music, to a podcast or to my own fabulously fascinating thoughts – but I’m not going to. I’m going to have a robot neuroscientist make the whole experience a time to learn.

Ok, what I’m actually going to do is use two robots (or automated technologies) to do the following: find me the hottest article of the week among the world’s leading neuroscientists online and then read it outloud on my phone while I walk the dog.

Here’s how I did it:

First I visited the Hot News page in a Little Bird report I ran awhile ago on Neuroscience. On that page, I find the 5 links that are hottest among the most respected neuroscience specialists on Twitter, today and this week. It’s like Techmeme for neuroscience. (If you’re curious, it turns out that the most influential neuroscience on Twitter, in the eyes of his peers, is Mo Costandi.)

I grabbed the hottest link of the week, this one about a new federal project to fund a map of the human brain, and I emailed it to myself. I then opened the link on my phone, copied the text of the article and pasted it into this $1.99 app called Speak It! The app does a great job of reading text out loud in a robotic voice. I’ve listened to a lot of information that way while walking the dog.

And there you go, that’s how I trained a robot neuroscientist to walk my dog…kind of. The last few steps are a little hacky but it works! The first part of the hack, using a robot to find the 500 most peer-respected neuroscience specialists on Twitter and blogs, was not trivial at all, of course. That’s something we’ve now got a whole team perfecting. Even though it’s usually for serious business, late at night it can be a lot of good for fun, too.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Could personal blogs be like the bullpen, to warm-up in for the big league game?

8 Comments 01.15.13

As social network publishing platforms get bigger and better, it gets harder to stay focused on publishing on your own piddly little blog. Could there be a symbiotic relationship between the two, though?

It’s hard not to be impressed by the major publishing outlet that LinkedIn is becoming. Entrepreneur Lewis Howes wrote an instructive guest post on the blog of a startup called Clarity today that offers some smart step-by-step instructions to get yourself in good shape for consideration as an author on LinkedIn’s official Thought Leaders channel. You’d be among great company if you could pull that off.

Likewise, when Google+ launched 18 months ago, several high-profile bloggers were announcing that they were moving all their blogging activities off their own sites and onto Google’s social network. People were doing that because the commenting, sharing and engagement that they were experiencing on Plus was incredible. It just blew on-site blog comments out of the water – and isn’t that a major part of blogging, to get feedback and engagement from readers? All that engagement is a proxy for distribution, too.

Perhaps bloggers should go to the most high-profile venue they can publish from, or the most popular place where they can get lots of engagement, but I’ve always wanted to stay here and do most of my publishing on my own site. That’s hard to do on a regular basis, but I own the site and it follows my rules. As I wrote in July 2011, I’ll Never Redirect my Personal Blog to Google Plus.

Maybe there’s something to be said about using a personal blog as a scratch-pad to solicit initial discussion on a draft idea, though, and then taking the polished end-result out to a corporate hosted forum with lots more audience. I wrote a post on our company’s blog yesterday about ways to leverage the experts in your community to collaborate on blog posts and in that post referenced a saying from Google exec Hunter Walk: that you should post to a blog not to show how smart you are, but to solicit feedback from smart people, because that’s a great way to learn.

I love writing in public, but it tends not to get as much engagement as asking people one at a time for feedback and contributions to drafts. Would it work to treat a personal blog as a warm-up zone before publishing an article elsewhere? Would you feel comfortable publishing less than your best work on your personal blog? I may try to see if I can make that work. I’d love to know your thoughts on it though; might this be a way to have our cake and eat it too? Maybe a reference to your personal blog on a bigger site would serve too as a place to find all of your writing, across many different platforms.

Something I’m thinking about, if you’ve got recent thoughts on blog vs social network publishing, please do share them.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The Surprising Power & Challenge of Saying Obvious Things

3 Comments 11.25.12

You’d be surprised what uses of social media seem so obvious to some of us with just a few years of experience that they don’t seem worth articulating – but that aren’t intuitive to other people. Maybe they just aren’t obvious at all and it’s a sign of immature communication skills when we (I) think they are.

For example, our fabulous mentor Vidya Spandana asked me last week why one of our customers ran reports in Little Bird on their target markets and I said, “well, because when the most influential people in an industry are thinking about you and talking about you, they are more likely to spend money with you or recommend that other people do!” I thought that was obvious but she said it was not and that I should write it down and use it like marketing gold. Many other people I’ve mentioned it to since then have agreed. Vidya guided me through a number of use cases of our software, articulating the ultimate goal of the customer even if it seemed obvious to me, then making it more and more simple, general, comprehensible and easy for our next customers to relate to. It was a fascinating revalation.

It turns out that when working to help people adopt technologies that are new to them but not to you, an inability to describe the forest but for the trees comes at a real cost in terms of effectiveness. Articulating the fundamentals isn’t always easy, though. I suspect like many things, it takes practice and experience.

Readers, if you have other examples of qualities of social software that seemed to go without saying to you, but that you found out weren’t obvious to other people, I’d love to read about them in comments below.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The value of listening vs broadcast in social media

3 Comments 11.21.12

I finally wrote my first post on our company’s new blog yesterday, The true value of online influencers: It’s not about parroting your messages. I hope you’ll check it out, find it valuable, share it and join us for discussion in comments.

The post is a response to my frustration about the limited imaginations I see too often with regard to so-called “online influencers.” What do you do with them? Not just spam them and hope they’ll retweet you! But learn from them, build relationships and capture value over the long term. I know that in agency life, it’s hard to do that though. Clients pay the bills and they don’t pay for the long-term. Hopefully agencies can invest in the long term in a way that drives more business value in each short-term engagement. For example, you can charge more and land more business because you’ve developed long-term knowledge and connections in a field. That sounds more viable than charging a client for you to build those long-term assets.

One counterpoint that I think is really useful though is this, from Enterprise collaboration thought leader Greg Lowe on Google+

I think it all comes down to the industry to define the measurements that translate into $$$. Marketing has been promoting for 75+ years, these behaviors won’t change without incentive.

Something to ponder!

I’m concerned that it’s going to be very hard to define the measurements that translate value captured from learning and relationship building into money, though. Please, someone, tell me I’m wrong about that!


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Introducing Little Bird, the Best Way to Find the Key People Online

12 Comments 10.05.12

I’m excited to announce this morning the unveiling of the startup I co-founded, left journalism to do and have spent the last year working with my team to build. It’s called Little Bird.

Little Bird automates the discovery of community-trusted topic influencers and experts on any topic. You can find the best sources of information online in minutes using Little Bird. Once you find them, we’ve got a whole bunch of very cool tools you can use to leverage their collective knowledge.

Yesterday my co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick, Tyler Gillies and I closed a $1 million round of funding, with the participation of an All Star team of social media innovators, engineers and practitioners. The round was led by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who been a great lead investor to work with through our private beta period. Our other investors are Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage, Wieden + Kennedy, Hubspot and OnStartups.com founder Dharmesh Shah, leading marketing consultant Jay Baer, Henry Copeland, Jonathan Siegel, Matt Haughey and Blaine Cook. If you’re familiar with the last 10 years of social media history, you’ll probably recognize these as some incredibly experienced and innovative people.

Introducing Little BIrd from Little Bird on Vimeo.

If you spend time online doing research to figure out who the best people to connect with are on Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Google+ or elsewhere – you’re going to love Little Bird. If you believe, as we do, that connecting with the right sources of information and engaging with them using the right tools can move mountains for your career, business and worldview – then I really hope you’ll dig in to what we’re building.

Sometimes I describe it as a robot librarian, swooping down out of the sky with arms full of power tools to augment human perception and memory.

I’ll write more later, but I’ve got to focus on getting ready to pitch the company at the demo day for the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). PIE has been a great experience and there are five other companies pitching today. You can check out the live streaming video at 2:00 PM PST today at http://livestream.com/piepdx

You can read more at the following coverage: AdWeek, Techcrunch, The Next Web, All Things D, Venturebeat, Betakit, Digital Trends and GigaOm and Wired! That’s most of the coverage, but my favorite so far has been Lora Kolodny’s write-up on the WSJ. (Yay!)


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.