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January 9, 2014

Where corporate innovation dies

Why big companies can't innovate:

Big companies have plenty of great ideas, but they do not innovate because they need a whole hierarchy of people to agree that a new idea is good in order to pursue it. If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea — often to show off or to consolidate power — that’s usually enough to kill it.

Corporate committees are where company-saving ideas go to die.

November 18, 2013

Teenagers: not, in fact, natural futurologists

Do we put too much faith in the idea that teenagers are a good predictor of technology trends?

Yet the vast majority of your most-used things weren't initially popular among teens. The iPhone, the iPad, the iPod, the Google search engine, YouTube, Twitter, Gmail, Google Maps, Pinterest, LinkedIn, the Kindle, blogs, the personal computer, none of these were initially targeted to, or primarily used by, high-school or college-age kids. Indeed, many of the most popular tech products and services were burdened by factors that were actively off-putting to kids, such as high prices, an emphasis on productivity and a distinct lack of fun. Yet they succeeded anyway.

Every time someone I work with says "but my teenagers do this thing, we should do that", I shudder. They're NOT good predictors of what will work, and any attempt to argue that comes across as a personal insult to those children's parent. It's pretty much a red flag that I should extricate myself from a project now.

September 2, 2013

Maslow's Hierarchy of Bunkum

Maslow needs WiFi The very first time I saw someone use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in a corporate presentation, I was impressed. It tied the pyramid neatly to reasons for doing social activity around a magazine brand. It was clever, and gave intellectual weight to the presentation.

And then I saw it in another one.

And another.

And another.

And then I started getting suspicious. It was all too neat, too convenient. Human needs, all parcelled up in a tidy pattern of ascending importance. Simple.

But people aren't simple, are they? And the more I looked at it, the less evidence there seemed to be to support that pyramid. The BBC have just taken a closer look and - surprise, surprise, it's bunkum:

However, after Maslow's death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs.

"When you analyse them, the five needs just don't drop out," says Hodgkinson. "The actual structure of motivation doesn't fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence."

So, next time you see that pyramid in a PowerPoint, remember that the speaker hasn't done their research.

Quote of the Day: Professionalism

Euan Semple:

The full impact of the social web will only be apparent when being "professional" - in the sense of restrained, impersonal, guarded and "businesslike" as distinct from being bloody good at your job - is finally seen as unproductive, dysfunctional, often bullying in intent, and a waste of time and energy.

I love Euan's blogging.

October 9, 2012

Meaning - the man without e-mail

Luis Suarez

Nearly four years ago I liveblogged Luis Suarez talking about his nine-month old project to abandon e-mail. How's it going, after nearly five years? Well, he's still not using e-mail, and he hasn't been sacked yet, and he's lost a load of weight, based on photos from the two events...

His talk was as much an interaction with the audience as a talk, and not really a great opportunity to liveblog - but here are my notes:

  • 71% of the employee workforce is totally disengaged. 7/10 don't give a shit about you. Employees are not their to do your work, but their work. This is your problem
  • We're going to stop using e-mail to bully, to build power, to cover our arses. Half of some employees' workday goes to e-mail. What a waste.
  • By dropping e-mail, he's both challenged the status quo, and shown people a better way of working through being open on the network. Four years ago, everyone thought he would be fired. Now, he's featured in their video adverts for their social business offerings.
  • He believes in what he's doing, he owns his work. He lives in his networks.
  • He gives a shit about what he does.
  • Define how addicted you are to e-mail. Resist the urge to respond to e-mail. Inbox zero is bullshit. It doesn't exist. Break the fucking chain.

And that was that. Now I suppose I ought to write something about what I took away from the day...

Meaning: Vinay Gupta on the perils and possibilities of the future

Vinay Gupta

Catching up on my liveblogged notes from last week's Meaning Conference - I ran out of laptop battery, so couldn't post them at the time. 

The second act of the afternoon session is kicked off by a man who doesn't get out of bed for less than 1% mortality...

The rise in computing power between 1990 and 2020 will be insignificant compared to the rise in the thirty years thereafter. Solar panels will be cheaper than coal by 2020. If you're under 30, you've never really seen change, because it take those 30 or 40 years to really become visible.

What does that have to do with Hexayurts?  They're built from standard industrial manufacturing sizes of materials - sheets and half sheets. If the hippies had had these things they would have won. Burning Man is covered with them. In year 10, it's starting to acquire exponential momentum.

Our houses are three things: accommodation, storage of wealth and investment. Right now - accommodation is well met, storage of wealth and investment are ruined, because prices are going down. If we build millions of new homes, you can drive prices down so far that everything changes. Mortgages go away. Ireland has 200,000 empty units. The over-build is gigantic and we won't let the housing prices drop, because no-one wants to admit that the houses aren't worth what they once were. The market is totally illiquid. Abundance breaks the financial system.

Economists get a bad rep, but there are some good new ones. The new economists:

  • Coase - companies are efficient pockets of command-and-control within market chaos. But that only holds for some costs of decision making.
  • Nash - it's possible that everyone can get stuck in a situation which will destroy all of them, because the costs to the individual of changing the situation are too high - you need co-ordinated action from all - the goat rodeo.
  • Benkler - new kinds of value creation exist in an abundant information, cheap communioncatin world. It appears commons based per production works bett than capitalism.

Valve is apparently the most profitable company per employee in the world. They mythology is that you pick and choose your projects in the company. It has no internal coercive structure. If you drive out fear, you get good quality communication. Hierarchy create fear which reduces productivity. The boss of Valve can't get his own games made - but the people who work for him make him $300,000 a year. The pyramid doesn't work in this environment. It's an internal anarchy.

Hexayurt is not a business. There's no bank account. There's just a domain name. Yet, it's the most efficient shelter in the world, and its growing exponentially.

Windows is a corporate ecosystem, and is full of evil midgets - the crapware. Apple is a benign dictatorship - unles you're the app developer who gets kicked out of the store. Linux is structured like the Goth tribes that sacked Rome. The secret to Open Source success is looking like you can finish it on your own. They've sacked the server market and haven't quite done the same with desktop. Apple has put a thin level of dictatorship on top of Open Source BSD and sacked Microsoft, but you can't contain the anarchy.

The three futures:

  • Cheap energy, cheap information
  • Resource scarcity and war - the classic bleak future
  • Decentralise (Naxalites) - a machete version of capitalism

Fear of the nuclear bomb stopped us thinking rationally. It might all work as long as we can get the nanotechnology or biotech risk under control. Stop anyone making an open source 3D printer for genes...

We could end up in a world where the largest functional organisation is 24 people for 4.5 months. Could happen. To survive, we need one planet consumption and no apocalypse technology.

They did a book: The Future We Deserve. Sourced on Twitter, two weeks to edit. Go.

October 5, 2012

The power of "why?"

People

Christopher Murphy, writing for Multidisciplinary Design on "human resource"

It's no wonder monolithic businesses often fail. They grow and, in so doing, lose sight of what matters; people become humans and, in that subtle, but important semantic shift the people - the passionate individuals who drove the business forward, who gave it its lifeblood - become disillusioned and leave. The business, however, moves on, like a giant machine, unable to comprehend the significance of what it just lost, unable to understand the consequences of its now mindless actions.

Here's a thought: this shift often coincides with a business losing its strong sense of "why?" Why does it exist? Once, that would have been to "do a great job of providing X", where X is their line of business. At some point, the answer becomes something between "to continue existing" and "to provide stable income for senior management". 

Humans are very motivated by "why?" - they are very unmotivated by those other questions. Never underestimate the power of "why?".

October 1, 2012

Meaning: Alexander Kjerulf on the happiness beyond job satisfaction

Alexander Kjerulf

Why is there so little concept of happiness at work? In Scandanavia there's even a word for it: Arbejdsglaede

It's not about being deliriously happy, it's about that feeling of kinda liking what you do. It's a feeling, not job satisfaction. A lot of companies measure and try and improve job satisfaction. Arberjdsglaede is how you feel about your job, job satisfaction is what you think about it. It's measured through a cerebral exercise of judgement. 

Anyone can have it. Sewage workers have it. You become part of the team when you have your first head-under accidental dunking... 

What make you happy at work? Pay? Perks? Promotion? Good coffee? None of those. 

1: Results

Making a difference - being proud of what you do - feeling that you did an awesome job, and contributed positively. It doesn't need to be in a checking-off tick boxes way. Not completing tasks - but knowing that you made a positive difference. A lot of jobs offer this - and some don't. Say... you make landmines. Is that meaningful? To most, probably not. 

2: Relationships

It's very banal: it's when you like the people you work with. Everything goes easier when you like each other. Knowing something about the person behind the professional title - when you have a coffee break in the work place, take the time to talk about other things than work. More and more people skip coffee breaks and eat lunch at their desk, missing an opportunity for this. 

The Meaning crowd

He had us greeting, complimenting, and touching each other to prove this. 

About 30 to 35% of the English hate their jobs. Why do we put up with this? There is an idea that work something slaves do so free men have time for philosophy and sports that started with the ancient Greeks. This came to the fore in the industrial age - that was a terrible time to be a worker. The attitude is that work is something you have to do. 

We spend most of our waking hours at work. It's the number three factor in life happiness after a romantic relationship and family. People who are happy at work do better work. Chasing success thinking it will make you happy is a failed idea. But working at something you love is more likely to make you successful. 

Southwest Airlines make employee happiness their number one priority, because that will make customers happy which will make investors happy.

What can you do? Really greet co-workers tomorrow, do random acts of workplace kindness, give yourself a little me time - and write down three things which were really awesome at work today. 

Happiness at work is something you create together, every day. It's a great business strategy. 

Meaning: Karen Pine on how to change your brain

karen-pine.jpg

What do businesses do when the way to develop people? They put them in the equivalent of a classroom. We go on a course, the employer tick a box, and then we go back to our desks and do what we always did. Why? The brain is a habit machine. When we learn, we create connections between neurons. The more often we use a pathway, the more likely we are to use it. Our brains are hard-wired for inertia. Argument doesn't make a difference - action does. 

She cites the example of a 42 year old engineer with a stressed life - redundancy at work, difficult children at home. Work put him on a Do programme to reduce stress. One day, he was given the task of a 15 minute walk. He did it after work. And continued doing it each day. And then, one day, his autistic child came with him. And started talking to him. It's really difficult to make big sweeping changes in you life - but you can make small changes, and create ripple effect. If you do nothing, nothing will change. If you do something, you don't know what might happen.

To change behaviour, you have to break down old habits. We all have behavioural patterns we use all the time, but we also have ones we don't use that could serve us well. On the way to a crucial strategy meeting, one operations director got a Do message telling him to be unassertive. He was persuaded by a colleague to give it a whirl. At first it was hard, but then he listened and learnt. He discovered that one that he thought was on his wavelength wasn't - and the ineffectual one was asking probing questions and insights. If you keep reusing the same behaviour trait - you'll just stay where you are. You stay on that same brain pathway and don't develop. 

Just having one behaviour is like going around with just hammer. Sometimes it'll help, and sometimes it will smash everything to pieces...

To grow the toolkit, you make people more flexible, and you do that one activity, one Do at a time. The adult brain can rewire itself - but you do it by changing people's behaviour not people's thinking. It's CBT turned on its head. 

Meaning: Stowe Boyd on Postnormal Culture

Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd is encouraging us to actively imagine a future where we ahem to rethink the fundamentals of business and society. Too much "social business" thinking is just too timid, he suggests. We have a challenge - we are always one step behind. We can only see the present clearly once it has become the past. But he's gonna help us try...

We're moving from a solid to a liquid world - the rate of innovation is growing exponentially. Great for medical research, for example, but bad for newspaper business models and the funding of investigative journalism. Social business has been an attempt to adapt to these changes. Things that arose in the social media world started to infect the business world. The big picture drivers are more important than the marginal economic benefit. Social business is post-modern. 

The loosening to connection to employers and employment has been largely negative. Huge tranches of jobs are being swept away by automation and computers. Are taxi drivers next, killed off by automatous vehicles. 

We've renovated our business by sanding the floors and painting the walls, not moving the walls around. 

This is a concept used by the military to define decision-making problems in war:

  • V = volatility
  • U = Uncertainty
  • C = Complexity
  • A = Ambiguity

It applies to our lives now. Cities, like social networks, increase social density. People move there because they're cheaper, you can make more money there. They innovate out of proportion to their size. New York has low numbers of gas stations and air-conditioning costs because of that density. 

VUCA undoes the conventional style of leadership. 

Marketing latched onto social media as another channel - but they got infected by it. They started using it internally as well as externally. They wanted to do more of it - and it infected the whole business. But the old company is still there - it just has a new layer on top of it. Research shows that if you increase people's social density - give them more connections in the business - they're happier and more productive. This is independent of any other changes in the business. People will use these tools to make work better - even if management do nothing. Businesses are going to get more porous - weaker barriers between departments, weaker barriers between the organisation and the rest of the world.

Companies are decreasing their office space and allow employees to work whoever hey are. A Citrix study suggests that companies are planning 6 seats for every 10 employees. 

Swift Trust: human beings have the capacity wired into us to co-operate. That's why freelance style projects - like Hollywood movies - work so well. People will come together and suspend their disbelief, do their work, and not bother with the battles for dominance and power in established organisations. It's projected to be 40% of the creative and professional working the US. This means companies can be more agile and experimental. That means that there's less commitment to workers, to their skills, to their pensions... 

Social business doesn't really support social business yet. The tools don't really facilitate it. They don't interoperate very well. 

So, what do we need to imagine? The Schutze method - that allows a huge number of people to vote on particular issues.

We need to move from exploitative models, to models based on people's relationships with small groups, that builds up based on the fact that everyone is connected.  Our leaders are not giving us visions of the future. We need to do that for ourselves. 

August 24, 2012

Corporate voice is inherently impersonal

skyline-from-a-brown-tower.jpg

James O'Brien, quoting Alex Goldfayn:

"Most of the content that companies put out on social media doesn't catch on," he said. "It's too corporate and promotional. Despite the money invested -- and the myriad social-media marketing agencies that have popped up -- there is no 'conversation' with customers. Bad, embarrassing material often goes viral. The good stuff isn't interesting, so it doesn't catch on."

Much as it pains me to link to something called the "Evangelist Marketing Institute" (really?), I do think there's something significant in that. The issue here isn't about the social media agencies - wherever there are people willing to spend money, there will be people willing to take it, and not all of them will be skilled - it's about the lack of courage and vision in big companies.

Big companies, by their nature, tend to attract people who like working in big companies - who like hierarchies, committees and a very slow pace of change. None of these things are conducive to genuine voice, an ability to not take yourself too seriously and the sense of fun needed to make really good social media content. It takes real vision from the top - and the courage to defy the self-protecting norms of committee decision making - to turn that around. 

August 6, 2012

The work/life infusion

One man and his mobile phoneDan Catt on his reasons for leaving The Guardian:

It was the crushing lack of scope for creativity within the projects that was the problem. They fell very much into the category of 'move this over here, put that there, add something somewhere else'. Undoubtedly very important but without very much scope for creativity within them[4].

The flip/flop re-org I could handle... in a team? Great, new projects? Why the heck not, new process? Sure, I like a challenge. All those things were fine. I figured I'd do them 9-5 (actually 10-6) with my usual flair and skillz and carry on fiddling with my own hacks in the evening and weekends.

What I wasn't expecting was that the lack of being creative during work time would suddenly and mercilessly suck all the energy and joy out of those evenings and weekends.

It's been my experience that people who do great work in publishing businesses also tend to be doing great, creative things in their spare time - and that the two sets of activities cross-inform each other. 

A very long time ago - another century ago, in fact - I was told that employers looked as much at your extra-curricular activities as your degree when offering people their first jobs. There's a wisdom in that that applies to people recruiting at any level for digital creative jobs. 

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