Eric Kraus

Eric Kraus

How To Come Up With Great Ideas

Whether you are a professional in a career, a student working on a thesis or boot-strapping entrepreneur looking for the next big thing, producing a stream of new ideas may be something you struggle with. You often hear people say, “But I’m just not good at coming up with ideas”. Regardless of the purpose, the process is pretty much the same for everyone: Practice.

We all possess this amazing tool for creativity, our brain. It’s true that some people are better at ideas than others. It doesn’t come from some innate power where ideas just come to them. It comes from their approach and practice toward problem solving.

Here are some suggestions to rev up your own creative engine.

Start mental exercises 

  • Write problems down on a piece of paper or at the top of a page in OneNote, Evernote, etc. This will help you keep track, but also being clear on the problem you are trying to solve will help you focus better.
  • Start journaling. Fiction writers do this to break through writer’s block. If you’re stuck on developing a problem statement journaling can help. The goal is to get your mind working.
  • Make lists of things you like/dislike about your personal life, job, etc. This can help spark new ideas or vet out potential solutions. See below for more on this.
  • Read Quora for trending questions. Add filters to narrow on your interests.
  • Review Google Trends for things people are searching for
  • Use a random idea generator to give you a topic to think or write about
  • Be open to ideas that are related but not relevant to what you are seeking. These “tangents” are often the thoughts that spark other ideas that get you want.

Have dedicated “thinking” time

  • Do it early in the day. You are likely a better thinker at 6am than you are at 6pm after a crazy day. Much like a runner feels the best before a race…don’t try to dedicate time to creativity after you’ve just run a mental marathon.
  • Dedicate at least 10 minutes to thinking. Daily. It’s only 10 minutes. Depending on the type of method you use, meditation can be great tool for this as well.
  • Uninterrupted time will serve you better than trying this with kids running around or emails/IMs distracting you.

Make lists, diagrams and other notes to spark ideas

Topics can include anything from world issues to common challenges encountered while preparing a meal at home. I often experiment with diagraming these topics. I’ve found The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking incredibly helpful for generating ideas and example diagrams. Each page of the entire book is a different strategic model. It’s really easy to skip around and try different ones out.

Don’t just think. Do.

One of my favorite quotes: “Starting a business is like choosing lunch.  Picking nothing is guaranteed to leave you still hungry.  Picking ‘something’ is better than nothing.  It’s not about being right, it’s about being.” – Seth Godin

I think the same applies to getting started with anything. It’s better to start thinking today than to wait for ‘the perfect idea’ to come along tomorrow.

After a short amount of time, you will be amazed at the new ideas that your exploration brings to you. As you get better at it, managing all the new “tangents” will be more difficult than generating them. It’s best to have some type of “Icebox” to let your ideas chill so they aren’t a distraction. I use OneNote  which allows me to quickly create a new Page and toss in a few bullet points about the idea to build on later. I have also had good experience with the Werdsmith app, but found it’s rich editing capabilities lacking.

Good luck and happy ideation.

37 Things You Probably Don’t Know About The New Microsoft

In the words of the founder and creative behind the amazing culture at Microsoft…

[tweet_box design=”box_01″ url=”” float=”none” excerpt=”‘It takes more than great products to make a great company’ -Bill Gates ~37 Facts About The New Microsoft”]”It takes more than great products to make a great company.” -Bill Gates[/tweet_box]

Read More …

8 Mistakes We Continue to Make on LinkedIn

Almost all recruiters now use LinkedIn as part of their employee search program. However, trying to line up a company’s need for an employee and your need for a new job is a little bit of a game of luck. Waiting until you need a job to update your LinkedIn profile is by far the worst thing you can do. Keeping your profile current, building connections and building a personal brand is a theme through these 8 mistakes that people make on LinkedIn.

1. Not including a professional photo.

LinkedIn is not Facebook…or MySpace or any other personal social networking tool. Let’s just get the naughty list out of the way:

No selfies, No alcohol, No picture of you with your girlfriend cut out.

As far as tips for a good picture: Hire someone to take it and dress professionally. There’s a reason why it’s never good to submit a photo with your resume (unless of course you’re a model). Don’t give a recruiter any reason to dismiss you before they even know you.

2. Failing to complete your entire profile

You may not want to share your University or volunteer activities, but think of the possible connections that you may have with other people. Great networkers are always thinking of possible connections. (and they leverage them)  Anything positive that might connect you with another person is worth sharing.

3. Not using it to network.

LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool. It gives you the ability to connect with other professionals and, more importantly, connect with your connections connections, and so on. If you are not using LinkedIn to navigation relationships and ask for introductions, you are missing out on the power of a professional networking tool.  Don’t wait to network until you NEED it.

4. Failing to be strategic with your headline or leaving your profile outdated

Somewhat old advice, but still something that is frequently overlooked. Your LinkedIn profile is like yard work. It’s not much work to keep it updated and fresh. But leave it go for a while and it will take some effort to clean up. In the meantime, think of all the people that drove by and said, “Eh, look at that…he obviously doesn’t care”. For many people, updating a LinkedIn profile is something they do after they leave a company. Like a resume, it is something you should always keep ready and up-to-date.

5. ANY grammatical errors

This should be self-explanatory… Grammatical errors are the kiss of death for a professional job. I can’t tell you how many resumes I review with severe grammatical errors on them. Personally, do I care? Eh…  However, how can that person represent the company I work for? I can’t assume a potential client will have the same forgiving perspective.

6. Focusing on quantity of recommendations and not quality

Ten mundane recommendations will never beat out three rockstar recommendations. If you are soliciting recommendations from colleagues, ask them to send you their recommendation ahead of time. You don’t want to tell them what to say, but you can get a glimpse of what they would post and encourage them to be more specific or use examples. Without telling them to write, it may not hurt to remind them of the work you have done together and always offer to return the favor (LinkedIn or privately).

7. Listing generic qualities

How does this sound?  “I am a self-motivated team player with exceptional communication skills that learns quickly and is very professional.” You would hire that person, right? Words are just words. This advice is universal for your LinkedIn profile: be specific. Use examples to show how you “earned” everything you claim about yourself on your profile.

8. Not engaging your connections.

These days, 50% of my LinkedIn request are from people I have never met. I do filter who I accept as a connection, but I do not immediately say ‘No’. ABN: Always Be Networking. After you’ve mutually agreed to connect with someone, then what? Hopefully not “nothing”.  Reach out and introduce yourself especially if it is someone you have never met before. If there is an area you can offer expertise in or something you need help with, share that. At a minimum, start a relationship. You never know when you might need it.

Leading a Grassroots Initiative

For the last year, I’ve been working on a project to increase efficiency and communication across my team. Sounds easy enough, but it wasn’t. It involved fundamentally changing how my team and teams that work with us behave. I’ve recently started reflecting on patterns that I have been using to lead this effort and finding a core set of principles that have led to its success.

Make sure your project doesn’t interfere with your day job

It certainly won’t do you any good to work on something while your “day job” suffers.  Making sure you are exceeding in what you are supposed to be doing first will ensure you continue to have a job to come to.

Tackle a real problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization

True to the first point, finding a problem that is specific and benefits the whole organization, and being able to articulate it, will help get stay aligned to the responsibilities of your job. It can also help you get support down the road. If you can find a problem that is meaningful to you or your team, it will make things a lot easier.

So, if you’re in an exploration/ideation phase, look no further than your own team or processes. Things here might be related to inefficiency, wasted expense/cost, poor team morale, etc. Just ask yourself:

“What’s the most frustrating part of doing my job?”

The answer should give you a good idea of something that deserves further thought. Also, instead of existing challenges, you can also look for opportunities to drive new revenue, productivity or employee satisfaction.

Have manager awareness and support

One way to get support from your manager is to know what is important to him/her. It’s also important to know how your skip level manager is evaluated and ultimately compensated. If your effort aligns to those measures, management will have an easier time understanding and supporting your effort…

Build a campaign

In order to build a movement, you need people joining with a clear message. Initially, you’ll probably do the evangelism. But eventually, you won’t scale. Having a place where your campaign can be discovered and referenced (like a blog or website) will help people share the right message. Many times with large cultural changes, it’s helpful to track success stories as well. Some tips I’ve found helpful:

  • Use a #hashtag on your company’s enterprise social network
  • Post updates on an internal blog
  • Track mission/charter and other important info on a Wiki

Solicit Feedback, look for champions/evangelists

If your intentions are good, you’ll want as much honest feedback on the effort possible. If your effort is just a political, ladder climbing exercise…you may have to do it alone.

Find out what others are thinking and incorporate that feedback into your plan.

Ask those who have been successful in similar activities to review your plan/progress and offer advice. Also be perceptive to people who may fear your project could replace their job. Gather their direct feedback (and ultimately their buy-in) so your plan can account for that earlier in the process.

Plan to experiment, learn and adjust

Run mini-experiments and trials to test your theories out.  Don’t spend too much time planning, just go do and learn.

There is no sense building some grand vision only to find out there is a kink that prevents it from actually happening. The entire process should be iterative when possible.

Share with Executives

Once you have some good material and successful supporting stories…start sharing it with executives. I have not talked with an executive who wasn’t very *intrigued* with the outcome I am seeking. Not only will this help your career, but it’ll give you a good indication of the likelihood your project can go mainstream.

Be persistent

If you believe in your cause, don’t listen to nay-sayers.  Enough said.


Month #10 – Be More Social

At the beginning of 2015, a few colleagues and I set out to beat the odds of failure of creating one big “New Year’s Resolution”. Our plan was to create twelve smaller Responsive Resolutions that were easier to achieve and built upon one another. Each month we would work on that one thing and at the end of the month, use learnings from our experience to inform what the resolution would be for the next month, and so on. Goal: A full year of continual learning and growth.

We started off with a lot of success. I had success with resolutions like Journaling and  Meditation.  However, like most new habits, I failed at keeping the rhythm going. I lost the monthly review of what I needed in my life and the goal setting for the next month. Why?

The interesting thing about struggling to keep this habit was that it had nothing to do with the value/benefit I was getting from the activity of self-reflection. In fact, I still did that for myself quite often. It was just the structured activity of picking a new goal for the next month that was gone. In someways I felt like I was still doing it, but just not calling it out.  I believe calling it out is still important.

For the months that I was successful in setting goals… I have still kept many of those. For example, I started this post at 5:15 AM. Getting up early and working is still one my happiest/most productivity parts of the day. Another resolution that I have kept and couldn’t live without: Journaling.

So, I thought I would spend this morning’s journaling session sharing about this reflection on the Responsive Resolutions journey and my thoughts for the remainder of the year ahead. Because I believe being intentional with your actions is important, I am also resurrecting my Responsive Resolutions, starting with October.

Month # 10: “Be More Social”
With all of the things going on “at work” and outside, I want to focus October on being more active on social media. Whaaa?! Who ever says that?  I don’t mean life tweeting every moment of every day. I want to be more engaging with content that I post and content I generate.

I’ve created a personal page on Facebook as an additional platform to engage with people on. Looking forward to October being a solid kickstart for that.

Internet of Things (IOT) – Part II

In Part I, I went over the overview of use cases, scale, ingestion and storage. In Part II, I will cover the real-time streaming of data to longer-term storage for analytics. I will also go over the configuration of Power BI for real-time Q&A analytics.

Data Movement

Once the data arrives in an Event Hub, it won’t stay for long. Event Hubs have a configurable retention period of 1-7 days, so you need to “read” the data out fairly quickly. To do this, you need a service that can scale to millions of records per second and offer the flexibility to interpret the data along the way by minor forms of aggregation. For this, Azure Stream Analytics is the perfect solution.

Read More …

Internet of Things (IOT) – Part I

If you’ve been following the cloud buzz, you’ve inevitably heard of IOT or Internet Of Things. At a high level, the concept is simple: connect a bunch of devices that weren’t previously accessible and use intelligent data to inform other devices or take some action. A couple simple examples might include sensors on doors, vending machines or robots. Where in the past, a repair person might have to repair a motor on a scheduled basis, sensor data could inform that individual to take action sooner (or postpone) based on what the data is saying.

Read More …

The Worst Advice We’ve Been Given About Productivity

I’ve been talking with other productivity experts about the worst advice on productivity and how they would evolve it to be more valuable. I’ve put together a collection of outdated “tips” and broken down the points of failure and finished it up with a recommendation for a modern update.


If you don’t say “Yes”, you’re not a team player


Everyone knows this probably isn’t true, but we often feel guilty about saying “no”.  (saying “no” will be a recurring theme across this entire post).  In reality, focus is not about what you choose to do, it’s about what you choose NOT to.  If you always take on too much, you run the risk of over-promising and under-delivering. That is certain to kill your reputation as a reliable teammate. Also, people are horrible at estimating. There are numerous discussions on this topic too.  You may think you can handle a small amount of extra work, but it might really be bad estimating and guilt taking over.

Modern Update:
Choose whether or not you can say “no”. Sometimes you can’t. An alternative to rejecting the ‘ask’ altogether is delegation. Offer to work with the requester to find an alternative person to get the work done. If you have the capacity, offer to supervise the work. It will show your boss that you are a leader and can juggle multiple things at once, without adding a significant amount of extra work to your day.


To get everything done, you have to multi-task


I hope it’s safe to say most people at least question whether or not this really works. It’s been well proven scientifically (here’s just one example citing sources) that you cannot successfully focus on multiple tasks at the same time. (ok, other than things like walking and chewing gum or listening to music and breathing). In reality, work “tasks” require most of your conscious attention. Think about these activities: email, note taking, blogging, building a presentation, etc. How could you actually work on two at the same time?  Constant switching between tasks takes time and mental strain. It’s similar to shifting between reverse and forward gears in a car. You need to slow down to a near stop before you change gears.

Modern Update:
Pick an activity and work on it for a set amount of time with no distractions. Take a break. Then, go back to work on that activity or, better yet, a different activity.  It’s ok to have multiple projects in flight at the same time, but it’s not realistic to move them all forward at the same rate.


Always finish the things you start


I start a lot of blog posts that I never finish or publish. However, the content in those posts and the time I spent is not wasted. The content usually feeds the source for one or two different blog posts. And the time writing usually sparks additional ideas.  If I were to finish the original version, it would likely not land the message(s) I want as effectively as splitting the work in half.

Modern Update:
Most large work tasks are longer than the mind’s endurance to do them. Good advice for this is to work on smaller chunks and take frequent breaks. Taking breaks is an essential practice and gives the mind time to reflect on the work done so far. Also, look for opportunities to get better return on your smaller investments. If you can split a blog post into two, likely the message in each of those is more concise and the additional work to “double” your output is minimal.


Brainstorming helps you predict problems and avoid them


Ok, this is somewhat true. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t plan or be prepared. Always be prepared. However, don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis about things that are theoretical. I love the quote, “The best way to stay in business is to be in business”  Meaning that, you learn so much by being in business vs. just planning to be in business. The same goes for productivity. You learn a lot more by doing things than you do by planning for them.

Modern Update:
Never let perfect get in the way of good enough. Do minimal (but necessary) preparation and start your work right away. Don’t get discouraged by a change of course. Embrace iterative design. It is much easier to adapt your work as you go than try to plan for perfection.


You Do Your Best Work Under Pressure


While some people have produced more quantity of work while under pressure, it is likely not their best quality. Research shows, most people actually choke under pressure. Some of the best examples of this are in sports. Just read about “The Comeback”. Too much stress causes you to think about other aspects around what you are doing, less on what you are actually doing.

Modern Update:
Nothing will beat proper planning, preparation and prioritization of your tasks (see Time Management). Planning the right things to do, giving yourself enough time to do them and taking frequent breaks to review your work will always produce your best quality output.

Time Management

I have been experimenting with different aspects of productivity lately.  Everything from waking up early, meditation to time management.  Time management?  Blah Blah Blah.  I always thought time management practices were something sold to people who were highly disorganized.  I used to think: “I’m not disorganized, I’m just really busy”.

Productivity Definition

“Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals.”

It took my research into ‘productivity’ to really discover the truth.  I found it easiest to relate to Asian Efficiency’s simplified definition of productivity: “Productivity is spending your time on working towards your goals”.

The two keys to productivity here are:
1. setting goals
2. working towards them.


In my past thinking, “busy” was accomplishing the “time working” portion…and I thought I was done.  However, I was missing the most important part: “setting goals”.  Without a plan or goals for the day, I was a bit scattered.  I worked on things as they came in, was often distracted away to the next “important” thing and I never felt fulfilled after the day was done.

I have come to admit: “I was disorganized.”

Goal Setting Practices

I recently started practicing a morning ritual (following meditation) of goal setting.  For no more than a couple minutes, I dedicate time to plan out my day.  I pull from a general list of tasks that I gather throughout the week (Wunderlist) and categorize them into three major buckets for the day: MUST DO, BLOCK TIME, OPEN.

MUST DO: These are items I absolutely need to accomplish for the day.  I try to do these items first thing, if I can, before I even leave for work.  The better I am at this, the more I’ve opened my day up to work on the other things or handle the “urgent” firedrills that are thrown my way.

BLOCKED TIME: These tasks are ones that are all similar in nature: checking email, reading blogs, etc. I’m the type of person that, if allowed, can easily take 30 minutes to reply to a single email.  Time boxing helps force me to get through as much as possible.  At the end of the day, unless it’s an email to an officer of a company, it shouldn’t take 30 minutes to compose.  I also don’t have time to read through the 1,000s of blog posts I subscribe to.  So, I use this blocked time to read through my Saved list of posts (not the most recent ones that came in). [future post coming on my blog/feed reading strategy].  The key is to stick to your time block, whatever it is: 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc, and then move on to the next item.

OPEN: These items are things I can get to when I’ve completed all other tasks.  Here I include things like choosing blog posts I want to Save for later, replying to more emails, researching something, reading, etc.


Early on, it felt like I would never be able to block time for things like email, let alone get to the “open” items on my list.  Before, I never had time to read a book, and I wished I did.  So, I was curious to see how this would go.  The biggest lesson learned for me was noticing the days where I completed my goal setting ritual vs. the ones where I just rolled out of bed right into my day.  The days where I effectively set goals, I was much more likely to have felt “caught up” early in the day.  Also, dedicating one or two uninterrupted blocks to do email was by far more efficient than 60 separate 30 second quick replies as email came in.

“…it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day”

The snow ball effect of freeing up time was another eye opener.  While I might not have gained a full hour back in my work day, it significantly reduced the amount of time AFTER work that required my attention.  Getting my evenings back to “personal time” allowed me to actually get to the “open” items and it’s what gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment for the day.

Month #5 – Meditation

I have been practicing some form of meditation since the beginning of 2015.  It has been part of my #ResponsiveResolutions (12 monthly resolutions instead of 1 yearly) project, which I’ve regretfully not been consistently blogging about.  On the topic of meditation though, I’ve learned a lot about my own personal practice and about myself in general.  It’s an interesting topic and journey, and it is something I think everyone could benefit from.  Here’s what a typical Q&A conversation goes like.

Why did you start?

To be honest, I started exploring the topic because of the hype I’ve read about it.  It seems like every successful business executive to entrepreneur attributes some level of their success to daily meditation.  A little bit of curiosity and some research later, I was in…and hooked.  As I mentioned in the intro, every month I am exploring a new ‘habit’ to modify.  This was a habit that would also strengthen my (desired) habit of waking up earlier and investing in myself.

What are you learning?

There are three major learnings that I have gathered from this journey.  Absolutely most critical: you need to make meditation a ritual.  You also can’t expect it to be perfect out of the gate and, journaling can help you learn about yourself and adapt meditation to be more successful for you.

Make it a Ritual

First things first was to figure out ‘when’ I could find the time to meditate.  I thought about doing a mid-day meditation…trying to break the stress of the day in half.  I quickly concluded that this would be a hard ritual to keep.  My next choice would be to do it in the morning.  At the time, my morning rituals would consist of sleeping until 7am, helping get the kids up, feeding the pets, showering and taking off for rush hour traffic.  I knew if I tried to fit in even 15 minutes of quiet time for myself — it likely wouldn’t work either.  Luckily I was already keeping a monthly resolution to get up early (5am).  Meditation felt like a perfect way to help strengthen that ritual and also give it purpose.  Obviously, 5am isn’t required for this.  Setting your morning alarm for 20 minutes earlier is all that would be needed.

Shoot First, Then Aim and Adjust

My research warned me there was no ‘right way’ to meditate.  It’s a little bit of the old saying “you get what you put in”.  Unfortunately, this means a little trial and error and some patience is required.  It will take some time to find out what works for you.  So, you should go in with a commitment of at least a couple weeks.  Experiment a little.  First try to force yourself to think about nothing.  Focusing only on breathing is a good way to do this.  Also, experiment with thinking about just one thing. In both cases, as your mind might wander, bring it back to your focus.

Write About It

I wrote another post completely dedicated to Journaling.  I think this is absolutely critical.  It doesn’t need to be a lengthy saga about the experience.  It could just be a few sentences in a Field Notes notebook or anywhere for that matter.  I like small physical notebooks because they are simple and can go anywhere with me.  Write about what you are thinking after meditation.  This will help you tune in to the output of the meditation.  Something quick and dirty, no more than 5 minutes time.  Also, very important: always re-read your written thoughts…often. This will help you discover about yourself and will help you fine-tune your practices.

Specifically, What do you think about?

This is the #1 question, but I saved it for last.  Every day is a little different for me.  Some days, I just want to “stop thinking”.  I wake up and my mind instantly starts going.  A colleague of mine often says, “sometimes you need to slow down to speed up”.  This slow-down practice helps me enter the day, usually with a journaling session, with clear mind.  Other days, I want to focus on a specific topic.  Usually, I’m trying to drill something into my head or explore that topic for alternative ideas.  For example, I may focus my session entirely on how I need to be more patient in my life.  Or, how I am going to deliver difficult feedback to a family member.  Another day, I might just think about what I NEED to get done for the day.  In any of the cases, I have learned to enter my meditation session with a specific goal in mind.

Big Take Aways

Be intentional about using your “me” time.  No matter what you do during your “meditation”, it will benefit you best if you set goals, dedicate time to think (or not think) about it and measure your progress along the way.