Here's a little secret. I'm only well known on Twitter because I got there before most people had heard of it. It's not because I'm an amazing user of the product. It's not because my updates are stunning bits of news or Shakespearian verse. I was just there early.
Get There First
Location-based applications like Foursquare and Gowalla are all the rage. Google Places is ramping up. Facebook has location services. I, personally, am not especially bullish on these technologies, and yet, look how Estrella Rosenberg used Foursquare to do something great for her charity.
3 Stages to Early Experimentation
There are three stages to all this. First, just try new things out, without any sense of whether or not it makes sense for your business. Second, search around on Google and see what others are doing or not doing with the tool. Don't worry if people aren't in your industry. Third, see if you can see a use for the technology or methodology or whatever you're experimenting with, such that you can measure a potential change. For instance, if you're going to set up a presence on Foursquare, and you're going to try and move coupons through the system, see how many coupons are actually redeemed, and determine whether that level of effort was worth the return.
Be wary of letting stage one go on for too long and be cautious of spending too little time in stage two (finding potential learnings from others). Ultimately, make step three the reason why you do or don't do things with a new technology.
2011 is for Smartphones and Maybe Even Tablets
If you're still using that old Samsung flip that came free with your phone contract, it's time to rethink that. Business is moving faster than that. Check out the Blackberry Torch, the Motorola Droid Pro (which gives you a mix of Android technology plus a Blackberry-feeling phone), or the HTC Incredible. You've heard lots about the iPhone and it's a great phone, but look around at the options before you rush in. However, DO go out and look at smart phones. It's your year.
If you haven't considered the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab (which runs on Android), this might be the year to give that some thought. Tablets let you check email and other quick-bite information very quickly, but in a form factor that works well for preserving your vision. The iPad is about nine inches across and the Tab is around seven. Both let you see things better than you will on your three inch smartphone screen. They're not just toys. They're not for the propeller-head crowd. And they are all chock full of business app goodness.
NOTE: If you've only considered the iPad, you really have to give the Samsung Galaxy Tab a look-see. It has a lot of potential, and there are a lot of the same applications available now for both platforms.
Experimenting with new technologies and new ideas is a great way to continue and test your own company's potential. If you're stuck doing things the way you've always done them, there's a chance that you'll miss opportunities to improve productivity, improve margin, reduce drag, etc. You never know until you test things. One word of warning: don't test too many things at once, or you'll never know what had the beneficial effect you sought.
You might not always have to be at the bleeding edge of technology and other innovations, but it doesn't hurt to get there shortly thereafter on the leading edge.