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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts from the Business Category

Quartz continues to power ahead

In an internal memo that Fortune managed to get hold of, publisher Jay Lauf said the site’s traffic rose by 65% in December to almost 17 million unique visitors, more than The Economist or the Financial Times.

Wile it’s worth bearing in mind that the uniques of both of those venerable titles are constrained by paywalls – that’s still remarkable growth from the digital upstart.

John Robinson on laying off journalists:

In the ensuing days, it was clear that a bond between the company and the employee was broken. The deal had been this:

They would work hard, do good work, miss family dinners, have coworkers critique their work, hear from readers that they were stupid and biased and worse.

We would give them a place to do what they loved, a paycheck and job security.

We could no longer provide the security.

After that day, that covenant wasn’t ever fully restored.

It’s a good insight.

I’ve only ever been on one side of the redundancy conversation, and it wasn’t the less unpleasant one.

(I’m with the coach in John’s tale: however shitty laying off people makes you feel, you’re not going home to your family to tell them your income is gone. The moment I realised I would have to go home and tell my pregnant wife that we might lose the house we were buying – that was the result of literally years of work, dreaming and planning – through no fault of my own must rank as one of the worst of my life.)

But that “bond” John talks about? You realise that it’s a lie in most companies. It’s a fiction that serves the company, but rarely the employee. The main reason I’ve never gone back to a “proper” job is that I’m making a good living working for myself. But the realisation that the “bond” between a company and employee is a comforting fiction is another one. When that is stripped away, the downsides of corporate life – the politics, the pettiness – are thrown into sharper relief.

Corporate bureaucracy kills the network, says former MySpace VP, Sean Percival:

“The analogy I use is like you were the half-time [basketball] coach, and I walk in and it’s half-time, and you’re down by 100 points … They had been beat down by that corporate bureaucracy, they knew they were about to lose to Facebook. They knew that the end was near. They could smell it.”

Short version: News Corp internal bureaucracy slowed site development to a crawl, making it unable to challenge Facebook. But the long version is worth reading.

No wonder Zuckerberg was so keen to keep Facebook independent.

[via Post*Shift]

Warning: Liveblogging. Prone to error, inaccuracy and terrible, terrible crimes against grammar. This post will be improved over the next 24 hours

Bob Doak

Bob Doak works for WL Gore & Associates – a global business whose products you’ve probably worn.

He’s a case study of a big, old organisation, but one that lives values that many assume are liberal or cultish. And yet, Gore don’t owe anyone money – so they’re probably destroying it. And Bob Doak is terrified to think what he’ll be like when he’s over 35

WL Gore & Associates was founded in 1958 and is privately held – and has over $3 billion in sales. Their staff – in 30 countries – are associates. It’s one of only five companies to be on every “100 best places to work” list since 1984. They’re written up as innovators all over the place. Bob Gore is their chairman – and he’s firm that the products must do what they say they do.

Their products are everywhere – clothes, aircraft, full cells. But most people know them for their consumer fabrics. Their medical products division is “growing like topsy”. Their products are used for minimally invasive procedure.

Divisions, lattices and slaying bureaucracy

They have four divisions:
* medical
* electronic
* industrial
* fabrics.

They keep the core technologies centrally, not in the divisions. The divisions are run by business people, so think to deadlines and targets. Held centrally, they can do long-term research. Their core products need to be hard to copy, and viable over time.

They’re a lattice-base organisation, and strive for minimal bureaucracy. You do need some with 10,000 people – but can minimise it. They’re keen on innovation and creativity in their internal systems – and leadership is defined by followership. Without it you’re a manager – and if you’re a manager you’re gone.

Their objective? Make money – and have fun while you’re doing it.

A presumption of trust

They work with a presumption of trust in people from the moment they hire them. They encourage self-direction. It allows people to grow and be more creative, and that leads to passionate champions. Nothing happens at Gore unless there is a passionate champion to drive it. You can’t have a good idea for someone else to do – if it’s such a good idea, do it yourself.

They organise into small, connected teams. There’s no hiding place in a small team – but it makes people feel empowered. They’re not a democracy – a leader makes a decision – but all people are able to have input, and all are in the same boat. All associates are shareholders. Individual shareholding grows year on year.

They buy companies – but for their technologies, not their revenues. They’re patient about getting products to market.

The Gore Principles

  1. Freedom – the most misunderstood principle. The freedom to help the enterprise and to grow in knowledge, scope of responsibility and skill.
  2. Fairness – they strive to be fair. That’s not the same as being the same. Fair is about fairness, not equality.
  3. Commitment – everyone makes their own commitments – and is responsible for keeping them.
  4. Waterline – we’ll always use others’ expertise when making decisions that might be “below the waterline” – that might risk the company. It’s a challenge getting people to take risks, but they encourage it in situations that aren’t below the waterline.

Feedback is a gift – but “a funny one when your bum is sore from being kicked”. Teams rank each other. Compensation is a secret between you and the enterprise. It’s not equal – but they strive to be fair, to match contribution to compensation. Credibility is earned.

Getting the right people is painful – it’s hard to find them.

(And with that, Bob evicts himself from the stage, as he notices Tom Dixon lurking…)

Hail Hydra

re/code on Amazon’s rapidly escalating war with media owners:

Retail giant Amazon is giving Captain America, Miss Piggy and Maleficent the cold shoulder.

Consumers are suddenly unable to place advance orders to buy DVDs or Blu-ray discs of forthcoming films from Walt Disney Studios, including two popular summer releases that each captured more than $700 million in global box office receipts — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Maleficent.”

Hail Hydra.

Massively disappointing article in The Guardian yesterday: John Naughton, professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University, starts off promising to present a debunking of Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. And the piece started promisingly.

But then this sleight of hand happens:

More generally, the Lepore critique prompted more self-aware folks to ask whether they should perhaps have been more discriminating in their use of the term. “In the past few years,” wrote one industry observer, Kevin Roose, “I’ve gotten literally hundreds of pitches for products billed as disruptive innovations. (My favourite? A wooden cuckoo clock, whose creator promised it would ‘add verve to more austere ambiences in search of a stylistic disruption’.) I’ve been invited to conferences on disruption, seen books with titles like Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic, and read about USC’s new innovation programme, which advertises a ‘degree in disruption’.” When everything is disruptive, Roose concludes, “nothing is. Which is exactly why it might be time to kill the word disruption altogether.”

When I first read it, I assumed that term people should be “more discriminating” in their use of was “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. But no, it’s the generic “disruption”. The article actually pivots at this point from talking about Christensen’s work to talking about “disruption” and its use and abuse in startup culture.

The entire basis of the “debunking” is one article by a historian (rather than say, a specialist in business) and Naughton’s dislike of the abuse the term “disruption” is enduring. In the end, he proves nothing, bar that startups abuse the phrase “disruption”, and that one historian has started a dialogue on the innovator’s dilemma. It’s a shame, because there is a dialogue to have here. But this wasn’t it.

Blue Light Camp 2014

Saturday morning… and I’m in Southampton. I’m at the Ordnance Survey’s rather impressive new offices here, working with my good friend and colleague Matt Buck to do live capture of an event:

Matt Buck doing live capture

Blue Light Camp is an unconference for people working in or with the emergency services. I’ll be livecapturing the proceedings with Matt over on the Blue Light Camp blog. It’s been a while since I did this at an unconference – I’m looking forwards to the challenge.

Livio and Lee at Post*Shift

When some of the social media gurus of the world started proclaiming that “social business was dead” a while back, my immediate thought was “this is where it gets interesting”.

Why?

Well, when the shiny suited bandwagon jumpers move on it’s pretty much a sign that the peak of inflated expectations is over, and that we’re passing through the trough of disillusionment towards a plateau of productivity. And yes, gentle reader, I am alluding to the Gartner Hype Cycle here:

Hypecycle

Once the flash and dash of the early hype is over, the serious work gets done. We’re seeing some interesting new businesses emerging in the space, like my friends Agile Elephant and now a post Headshift/Dachis Lee Bryant and Livio Hughes with Post*Shift.

They held their launch part last night, and while I can’t claim to completely understand what the company is right now – some hybrid of an incubator, an investor and a strategic consultant as far as I could tell – I’m certainly interested to see what they do over the next couple of years.

A few interesting notes from the introduction talks

  • Existing companies are prone to “innovation tourism” – where they go visit innovators and startups, and then go back to doing exactly what they did before.
  • Existing companies tend to become entities whose purpose is protecting their business model. They’re disruption-adverse.
  • Startups may be more professional than many businesses, as they run lean and with zero waste – they just can’t afford it.
  • There are many company structures which have existed conceptually for decades – but which social technology is finally making practical
  • The management consultancy model hasn’t significantly changed in a century. It needs rethinking.

Right at the end of the talks, Lee touched on a small obsession of mine, when he started talking about how the disruption that the internet can bring could interface with more physical businesses – industry, manufacturing and the like (I’ve written about this for NEXT Berlin). I’m desperate to see startup thinking and social business start to spread beyond the obvious confines of knowledge workers and mobile apps. Looks like Post*Shift could be planning on making some inroads into a much wider discussion about the future of work – and that could be worth watching.