Week notes #186

This week I’ve been doing:

Product/market fit for non-profits

I’ve been working on an analysis of the organisations that have products and services in the young people’s employment space. The offers seem to fall into two distinct groups; commercial organisations with a strong online presence that don’t work with disadvantaged young people, and charity/not-for-profit organisations that work with disadvantaged young people but don’t have a digital offer. I think this gap is where we can provide a well blended experience-focused offer with digital products and services that meet the needs of disadvantaged young people. Of course the high quality face-to-face work will always be where young people get the most value but we can offer always-on, easy-to-access, and most importantly useful ways for young people to make their lives better.

Balancing user experience with data compliance

We’ve been working through wireframes and doing lots of thinking about how to ensure we’re giving young people control and choices about their data and meeting our compliance obligations whilst also giving young people a good user experience that helps them make contact and take the next step in opening up opportunities for themselves.

Design thinking in product development 

I went to a ProductTank Oxford meetup about Design Thinking. It was an interesting talk but I left wondering if I could have learned just as much by watching a few YouTube videos. Going to meetups was part of my personal OKRs to participate in the digital charities community but I’m not sure I’m getting much value out of them. I have a few more meetups over the next few weeks so I’ll see how they go and then decide whether to adjust my key results.

CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections

I signed up for CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections. Every two months we’ll be matched with someone else from the charity sector and we’ll arrange to meet up and chat about things. Maybe this will be a better way for me to participate in the digital charities community.

Product teams

Completed John Cutler’s survey. Interesting that my answers suggested different levels of maturity/advancement for different things. I guess I had assumed that a high performing team was high scoring in all aspects of their practice but John’s questions suggest to me that teams can be good at some things and not so good at others. 

User manual for me

I finished writing my user manual for me and added to my website. Next I need to find time to add it to RogBot.

This week I’ve been studying:

Profiting from innovation in the knowledge economy

Strategies to profit from innovation:

  • Choosing the appropriate supply chain structure
  • Choosing the appropriate intellectual property protection strategy

In the most complex situations, the innovators that profit the most are those who are able to organize their supply chain most effectively.

Intellectual property rights includes legal instruments that protect innovation from imitation.

Innovation at Amazon 

I’ve also been working on my assignment about how Amazon approaches innovation which I think can be broadly summed up in three parts:

  • Large investments and acquisitions in software and hardware across multiple sectors and industries, spreading their bets and putting Amazon in control of the value chain.
  • Use the new technology that is produced to develop products and services in a wide and diverse range of sectors, ensuring competitive advantage  in almost every sector they enter.
  • Commercialise those products and services, allowing other companies to leverage them, generating revenue and creating network effects.

This week I’ve been thinking about:

Strategic questions about charities

“If a charity could significantly reduce the number of people suffering from an issue by doing something different, but risk no longer having any reason to exist because not many people have that issue anymore, would they do it?” One side of the argument says that charities should always be working to make themselves obsolete by removing the issue they were set up to tackle, but I’m not sure that recognises the additional value charities bring to society other than by tackling issues, things like offering volunteering opportunities. But for me, the point is that if a charity has been so effective as to remove an issue that people facing then they’re likely to have built up a lot of skills, knowledge, influence, etc., and it would be wasteful to disband such a high-performing organisation. It would be better if they changed mission and worked on another issue.

“Can charity’s create truly scalable ‘business’ (for want of a better term) models?” Amazon talks about building ‘flywheels’ within its business that once spinning generate more momentum for other parts of the organisation and are scalable. Uber’s now-infamous virtuous circle napkin diagram of how to make a geographically dense, hyperlocal marketplace work for travel shows how they get each part of the business to drive other parts. Many charities already have these various ‘engines’; volunteers and supporters, customers and stock donors for charity shops, increasingly digital platforms that enable their work (such as the recently launched Dementia Connect) but these are often thought of and managed in very separate ways. Even when people in charities talk about ‘scaling’ services they usually actually mean replicating the service, growing it by adding more of the same so that it increases at a linear rate of 1,2,3,4,5. When a service is truly scaled (by a factor of 2 in this example) it increases non-linearly as 1,2,4,8,16. I think, if a charity ever figures out how to apply this mindset and connect all of the things it does so that they all support the growth of all the other aspects, it will signal an exciting shift for how charities work in the 21st century.

“Do charities look outwardly enough when thinking about strategy?” Most of the strategy work I’ve ever seen from charities has been internally focused. It’s usually about what they’ll do to be the best organisation they can and how they’ll go about doing the work they exist to do. Looking internally is an important part of thinking strategically as strategy is essentially an action plan to achieve long term goals, but if they don’t understand what is going on not only in their sector or area of expertise but also in the lives of the people they are trying to help, then they risk becoming ineffectual and irrelevant. Whilst I’m on the topic, my opinion of the ‘five year strategy’ is, don’t do it. Things will change so much within five years (that’s why charities need to get better at looking outwards at what’s going on around them) that trying to stick to a plan that was written years ago makes very little sense. The argument I’ve heard that having a long term strategy gives stakeholders (staff, beneficiaries, funders, etc.) a sense of stability might have made sense in the past but in the future it’s just putting blinkers on and pretending that you can be the one stable thing in a world of constant change. Better, I think, to say that we recognise that things are going to change, that they are going to keep changing, and that we are going to get good at keeping pace with change.

This week people I follow on Twitter have been talking about:


Andrea Saez tweeted about prioritising backlogs by what objectives are to be met, what problems are to be solved, what information sits outside, such as market, qualitative feedback & product vision.

Remote retros

Gitte Klitgaard asked what tools people use for remote retrospectives and there were lots of suggestions. I’ve added lots of them into the Compendium of Ideas I’m working on.

Hinton’s Law

Andrew Hinton came up with Hinton’s Law: Any multi-user system that makes it easier to create new information than it is to consume that information will eventually overwhelm its users. He was referring to Slack, but it applies to all communication tools and channels. It’s definitely a challenge for turning the intangible asset of tacit knowledge into codief knowledge that can be used for competitive advantage.

Design thinking in product development at ProductTank Oxford

Design Thinking is a process to gather insights and turn them into innovative products.

Design Thinking is about:

  • Learning by doing
  • Exploring
  • Asking questions
  • Being ok with being wrong

Barriers to Design Thinking

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Unwillingness to share bad ideas
  • Lack of social trust in the group

Benefits of Design Thinking:

  • Easy
  • Affordable
  • Flexible

Problem framing, problem solving, functionality & usability, aesthetics

Empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test.

Be flexible about the amounts of time in each part depending on the nature of the problem to be solved.

Design Thinking is good for tackling big complex, ambiguous problems.

Kaizen, on the other hand, is about incremental improvements.

Divergent thinking is open to explore and change. Convergent thinking is about having a clear path towards a clear goal.

Structure in the world offers freedom in the mind.

Design Thinking is about exploring and testing solutions to ensure they fit the problem before investing significantly.

Get better at finding problems.

Prototyping is about getting feedback and learning from users. The level of fidelity of the prototype depends on what you want to learn.

Don’t get too invested in a prototype, it might not be the right one.

Need to explore lots of different potential solutions to give confidence that the chosen one is the best.

Week notes #185

This week I was doing:

What does a target space look like?

I spent a day in Manchester to discuss the new product we’re building to support a new programme. It was interesting to see another Prince’s Trust office and I learned more about the business model and operations that provide a lot of the context around the problems we’re trying to tackle.

I spent some time collating research from Nesta, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Impetus, and various other sources to build my understanding of the ‘target space’ we’re working in. There are a lot of big concepts that need a lot of thinking about; place and social mobility, poverty and pay, education and employment, disadvantage and opportunity. Above (for want of a better term) all that there are also lots of complex ethical issues to wrangle with. And then below the research is the more ‘real’ space of competitor services, systemic inequalities, and the strategic and operational contexts. All of this forms the target space and important to understand in order to set my sights on a target.

I’ve learned so much in the three weeks I’ve been at the Prince’s Trust and I feel privileged and proud to be part of providing opportunities for young people who have various disadvantages that create barriers for them. 

An experiment with the Dvorak keyboard

The Dvorak keyboard is frequently mentioned as an innovation that didn’t take hold and see any success. The Qwerty keyboard we’re all familiar with is laid out the way it is in order to prevent the character-printing arms of typewriters from clashing. Even though that technical reason no longer exists the Qwerty keyboard persists because of its familiarity.

So in an attempt to see if the Dvorak keyboard, which is laid out to make typing as effective as possible, really was better I installed it on my phone. My typing was excruciatingly slow and error prone, and after trying to type a few tweets I went to using voice for writing tweets. This wasn’t accurate enough either so I went back to my usual keyboard. However, what I learned wasn’t just that familiarity is an important part of usability, but that the feature that really speeds up my typing is the predictive words that are shown above the keyboard. 

It’s not an experiment if it can’t fail.

Bitcoin Wallet 

I set up a bitcoin wallet. Just to find out a bit more about how it works because the decentralised web is a big deal. If anyone wants to send me Bitcoins the ID is: 193Aey5K2bdSKCQpDQ9mXAyxfpCGPvU3jK

This week I was studying:

Intangibles, networks and “winner takes all” markets

We only started to understand the nature of the knowledge economy and intangible assets in the nineties. Intangible asset require upfront investment and deliver value over a longer period of time, in contrast to physical, tangible assets that deliver value as soon as they are in place, but depreciate over time. 

That means that the majority of managers in senior roles spent most of their career with a physical assets mindset so it isn’t surprising that most longstanding organisations struggle to turn their thinking around realise the case for investment in something that they don’t understand. It requires positive feedback economy thinking rather than diminishing returns economy. Understanding the “four S” of how intangible assets differ from tangible (Haskell & Westlake, 2017) is useful:

  • Scalability – Once produced, they can be reproduced many times at almost zero cost
  • Sunkenness – Difficult to resell
  • Spillovers – Difficult to protect from imitation (non-excludability)
  • Synergies – More beneficial when used together with other intangible and tangible assets

“Winner takes all markets” are markets in which a few companies end up dominating globally and these are increasingly prevalent in the knowledge economy. There are various theories explaining why. Haskell & Westlake (2017) make a “supply side” argument, that intangible assets are scalable (they can reproduced many times at zero cost) so if you have a successful business model, organizational system, or digital product, you can replicate it over and over very cheaply, and others cannot compete. David (1985), Arthur (1989): make a “demand side” argument  saying that due to network externalities, many products are more valuable the more other users there are so if you reach a critical mass of users you dominate the market.

This is interesting to me because I think organisations (and the ones I’m most interested in are charities) still fail to understand the connection between innovation and investment in intangible assets, and that market dominance and a “winner takes all” approach to solving social problems is a hugely complex, probably difficult for most people to swallow, but so important for tackling the issues (I should say here that I’m not advocating for a single charity to dominate the market of a single issue but instead for all charities, working together in an open innovation ecosystem model, to dominate the market of all social issues to prevent the systemic causes of those issues from dominating).

This week I was thinking about:

Decoupling innovation from newness

Is it possible to decouple ‘innovation’ from ‘newness’?

The dictionary definition of innovation is ‘a new method, idea, product, etc.’, so the concept of newness is baked into our ideas of innovation, but it has history and it isn’t simple.

When Schumpeter talked about newness being part of innovation in the 30s he was on about introducing new economic value at the time of the Great Depression and World Wars. But since then, and even though we now live in a very different world, innovation has been all about newness.

But how new is new? If I try a new flavour drink am I being innovative? If I’m first am I more innovative than the hundredth person to try it even if it’s their first time? Does newness and innovation have to be so tightly coupled? Can innovation exist without newness?

The idea of first-mover advantage has been debunked as necessary for the success of new business. There have been lots of examples of newness failing to deliver value and close-followers stepping in to build successful businesses.

Newness also drives the ‘building products for the sake of building them’ behaviour rather than being led by providing value to customers, which isn’t a sustainable approach.

Could our definition of ‘innovation’ be more about keeping pace with change? More innovative organisations get ahead of the pace of change in their industry, less innovative lag behind the pace of change.

The pace of change might be led by customer expectations, and would be different for each industry, sector, country, etc., which helps embrace the complexities of the 21st century.

Inventing the future of FMCG

The future of supermarkets is multi-level exchange and refills. So rather than going to the supermarket to buy a bottle of ketchup you’ll return your empty bottle to the supermarket and pick up a refilled bottle that the supermarket received from another customer, cleaned and refiled. This exchange and refill model would work on a larger scale between the supermarkets and suppliers who do the same thing with tanker lorries of ketchup. This also fits better with a consumer subscription model, with is the future of paying for things.

This week people I follow on Twitter were saying:

It’s surprising anything ever gets done

Tom Loosemore tweeted “Candidates for a top 10 of systemic blockers to Internet-era ways of working in your org, please!

I’ll start:

1 Your business case process demands false certainty

2 Your budget funds projects, not teams

3 Your people can’t move teams easily”

And lots of people joined in…

Charities working together 

There have been a few tweets about charities working together, especially in the digital space, this and in previous weeks. I think it’s the only chance charities have of fighting back against the weaponisation of digital by other parts of society and a good step towards a future for the charity sector where organisations work together in ecosystems to tackle the complex problems in society rather than tackling single issues in isolation. 

Charity digital training 

Bobi Robson asked for some feedback on a digital skills questionnaire, and as participating in the digital charities community is in my OKRs for this year, and as I believe that charities need all the help they can get to level up their digital knowledge, I offered to help. I’m not sure my observations were useful.


I didn’t go, but Becca Peter’s did and wrote up some interesting notes.

Week notes #184

This week I was doing:


It was my second week at the Prince’s Trust and I still haven’t been onboarded. I don’t have an ID badge or a laptop. I have no idea how to book leave or if I can claim expenses. And it has been fantastic! I’ve been able to look at things as an outsider, explore the target space that the Prince’s Trust operates in, look at what other organisations are doing, and think like a competitor, ‘if I wanted to beat the Prince’s Trust, what would I do?’, and then bring that thinking into my work.

The experience has completely changed my thinking about how to onboard new hires into an organisation. Giving new people the time to explore and see what they find out might actually be a good way to get a fresh perspective on things.

Exploring the target space

I’ve been using a Miro board to map out all of the things I’ve found and learned about in the target space of young people facing barriers to opportunities, organisations, policies and systems affecting them. I’m not sure it’s advanced enough to communicate the nature of the relationships between the parts but it feels like a good start.

I went a little off track thinking about how the digital teams working of government services approach things. They are very service orientated. Understandable as users of government websites don’t want to establish a connection with the government, they just want to accomplish a task. But at the Prince’s Trust we have the assumption (to be validated) that young people, mentors and business delivery partners want to form a connection and relationship with the Prince’s Trust because they get some value out of it. This took me back to the ‘designing and building experiences rather than products and services’ thinking, and whether the IRL experience and the online experience should feel seamlessly connected or whether people want different things from different channels. Face-to-face fosters connection, digital provides always-on access, they meet different needs.

Strategically, we’re moving away from a programme-based approach to a place-based approach. In thinking about place, and how digital products and multi-channel experiences might be affected by place, I’ve been thinking about place not in the geographic sense but as being about which systems affect a young person and their opportunities. These systems might include education and benefits systems, cultural and heritage systems, etc. For me, this helps us understand why different people in the same geographic place can have very different experiences of that place, because they are interacting with different systems.

Some other things I did

  • Joined the Tech For Good Live Slack group and chatted about a ‘taxonomy of problems in the world’. 
  • Went to the Bucks Mind Finance and Risk committee meeting to discuss budgets for the next year.
  • Listened to podcasts with Dr Max McKeown about how to move from original insight to new ideas to valuable real-world innovation, and Seth Godin about the Overton Window and how there is a continuum from policy to popular to sensible to acceptable to radical to unthinkable as we only develop new things.
  • Went to our team away day and played the Prince’s Trust enterprise game that teaches young people how to run a business. 

This week I was studying:

Innovation and industry evolution

How does technology evolve, and what are the implications for industry structure and performance? Well..

  • Technological change is ‘punctuated equilibrium’ with sporadic major innovations are followed by a long stream of minor, incremental innovations that build upon it, gradually enhancing productivity, until the next radical breakthrough either replaces the previous technology or coexists with it. 
  • Productivity increase takes a long time (decades) after the tech breakthrough.
  • In the early stage of development, radical innovations often have many competing technological variants which, according to sociologists of technology, solve different problems which are relevant to different groups of users. Over time, one variant will emerge as the dominant design and it will be the one which addresses the needs of most users, or of particularly important groups of users.
  • Once a dominant design has been established, it can constrain the process of technological change for a long time. Firms develop competences in line with the dominant design and develop a general consensus which gets established in the technical community about what are the important design dimensions that need to be improved. The design can become a cognitive paradigm; the accepted way.
  • Coming to the end of a technological trajectory (when no further improvements are possible) creates the conditions for a new trajectory to emerge (as in Perez: a new paradigm emerges when the possibilities of the old paradigm have been exhausted)
  • The industry life cycle stage is an interesting way to consider how organisations introduce new products, and when the profitability of the product declines the organisation looks to process improvements to maintain profitability, and when that approach provides no more returns, they introduce services to support the aging product. This model is underpinned by the trends of how technological change occurs, so if the organisation is able continue to use the technology their product is based on then the servicisation approach works, but if the technology is replaced by new technology, and so customers no longer want the old technology then the product must be abandoned. Organisations that don’t see this change coming or can’t respond to it quickly enough will get forced out of the market by organisations that can.
  • Radical innovations can be competence-destroying:
    • Required new skills and competences with respect to current dominant technology
    • Usually introduced by new firms or by incumbents in other industries that possess relevant competences
    • Lead to major industry shakeups with exit of incumbents and entry of new competitors
    • Examples: compact disc, integrated circuit, float glass
  • Radical innovations can be competence-enhancing:
    • Although radically new, build upon the same competences needed to produce the current dominant technology
    • Usually introduced by established firms
    • Does not lead to large industry shakeups or large firm sales variability Example: Nintendo Wii (Mu, 2008, case study)
  • Incumbents who do not respond to the creation of a new demand because they are successful within their existing markets and customers can’t make the most of the demand window of opportunity.

So now you know.

This week I was thinking about:

My personal OKRs

I’ve started reviewing and updating my personal OKRs on a weekly basis to focus my efforts. This week my scores are: 

  • Have an impactful career in charity & not-for-profit digital product and innovation: 0.15
  • Be well educated in business, innovation, product, and digital: 0.10
  • Lead an intentional & healthy life: 0.09.

I’m really interested in setting goals and monitoring progress in ways that contribute to greater things and don’t drive negative behaviours. I’m not sure OKRs are the right way to achieve this but they definitely help me achieve things.

A dashboard for publicly available data

If I had the skills, know-how and time I’d do some discovery work on a product that pulls together publicly available datasets and creates custom dashboards. So, for example it could take data on homelessness over the past ten years, overlay government spending on housing, and fundraising for homelessness charities to see if there is any correlation. 

But what I’m most interested in is how we develop a picture of the complexity and interconnectedness of problems facing people in our society and world. My thinking about a ‘taxonomy of problems’ with the TfGL Slack group is about providing a foundational standard of problems which can be used to map how many people face multiple problems so that we can begin thinking about how charities of the future can help people from a problem-centred approach rather than an isolated issue point of view. If only I had the data science skills to do this in a useful way.

This week people I follow on Twitter were saying:

How to future

Scott Smith tweeted about his new book, ‘How to future – Leading and sense-making in an age of hyper change’ and that it is available for pre-order (the link is to Amazon Smile because you should be getting Amazon to donate to charity). It looks really interesting with it’s ‘sense, map, model and communicate’ approach to futuring, and I’m looking forward to reading it in the summer.

Towards a future vision of how charities might work together digitally

Emma Bazalgette tweeted, “It’s not enough to design new services, we need to design new collaborative organisations to operate and iterate them too”, to which James Plunkett retweeted, “Almost every sentence in here applies to charities too. We need new collaborative ways of building shared digital capabilities. We are mulling how we can help.”, to which I retweeted “Absolutely essential for charities to be effective in society in the 21st century. We need an open innovation ecosystem model that enables charities to collaborate and cooperate around digital, design and data.”


Simon Wilson was talking about the difference between problem roadmaps and solution roadmaps, solving problems in a fluid order rather than on a fixed date, outcomes to be delivered rather than features, anticipating future problems, adding certainty by having the research to back-up the decisions, and how roadmaps might express a Theory of Change. This is interesting for me as I write our roadmap, think about what kind of tool it is (communication, alignment, to-do list, etc.).

Week note #183

This week I was doing:

Started at The Prince’s Trust

It was my first week at The Prince’s Trust. The thing that struck me most is that the atmosphere in the office is full of energy. Everyone seems really passionate about what they do, there is lots of positive conversation and people have smiles on their faces. I think that says a lot about the culture of an organisation. The culture is also very much in favour of flexible working. There is no pressure to be seen to be in the office at any particular time, and I feel that there is lots of flexibility in how I apply myself and what value I bring. Part of the reason for the flexibility in how my role shapes out is that the product space is in flux with priorities still being set. This has meant that rather than having to hit the ground running I’ve had time to begin to understand the landscape more.

Writing about the robot invasion

I finished my first essay for the current Innovation and the Knowledge Economy module. It was about whether automation technologies will threaten the employability of graduates. Personally, I think on a long enough time line automation will replace every job, but the research shows that routine jobs will be the ones most affected and that highly skilled creative roles that face novel situations will be least affected. Graduates hold the majority of those roles but interestingly the majority of graduates aren’t working in the same field as they studied which could suggest that being a graduate is more important than what was studied.

Strategic storytelling

I reviewed and provided feedback on the 2020-23 strategy document for Buckinghamshire Mind. It’s been an interesting process to be involved in again. The last time we worked on strategy it was very much about steadying the ship and getting the right foundational things in place. In contrast this strategy feels much more positive and aspirational. The tone of the document is quite conversational and has a narrative feel about it as it tells the story of what we want to achieve over the next three years.

Lean Tea, please

I went to the first of what I hope to be many Agile Lean Coffee meetups. Lean Coffee is a really interesting way to run discussion groups where everyone has equal say in proposing topics and deciding what is talked about. As this group is about Agile, and was attended by engineers and coaches, it was interesting that the majority of the discussions were about the clash between Agile teams and ways of working with the rest of the organisation (or more precisely upper management). It shows that lots of organisations are still struggling to effectively manage the change around Agile and that you can’t really have Agile teams without having an Agile organisation. And a got a sticker.

This week I was studying:

Predicting future leading technologies

The first part of this week’s lecture was a discussion on General Purpose Technologies, how they are defined, and why it’s important for governments and industry to be able to forecast the next big GPT and understand what socioeconomic impacts it might have. There was some discussion on whether things like 5G really are a new General Purpose Technology or just a continuation of the ICT GPT, and that although it’s impossible to predict the next GPT might be Advanced Materials, Regenerative Medicine or Synthetic Biology.

The second part was a guest talk by Dr Brian MacAulay, Lead Economist atDigital Catapult on “Innovation and Complexity – challenges for modelling change”. He talked about how he is using complexity in building models for understanding the diffusion of innovation in the UK. It gave me a better understanding of complexity and how it might offer some idea about why product direction is so difficult and how to approach it differently. Perhaps picking a direction needs an agent-based model where individuals follow simple behaviours within clear constraints which lead to patterns emerging. So, micro behaviours lead to macro changes, and meso level behaviours between the two. Then, we can see direction as an emergent behaviour and accept that there is no one true trajectory but instead a constantly changing response to change.

This week I was thinking:

We’re in the experience business

How do we to create a cohesive experience of digital products and real world services that deliver the outcomes users need? Given that our users are young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and getting to the outcome makes the difference between surviving and thriving for them, it seems like an important thing to think about. People talk about ‘creating a seamless experience’ without being clear on what that means or what it will take to achieve it. I think the obvious assumption is that it would require a lot of coordinated upfront work, but I think it could be achieved through user validation on a case by case basis. So, for example, should clicking on a Facebook ad take you to a branded website to offer you multiple channels to make contact, or should it go straight to WhatsApp? We might have to challenge ourselves about how unseamless a thing might seem in order for it to be effective for the young people using it.

Reinventing charity

I did a bit of thinking on Reinventing Charity. It’s really hard to get away from the ‘setup to tackle a specific problem’ thinking for a charity. My thoughts on how problems require a better coordinated approach than they currently get has shifted slightly because of the things I’ve learned about complexity and how outcomes are emergent and so impossible to predict or control. I also did a bit of thinking about the business models for charities, how some are funding conduits, others service delivery, etc. There is a lot to understand.

This week people on Twitter were saying:

What designers and developers want from product managers

John Cutler tweeted some results of a poll: “design and developers weigh in on the “best” product manager they’ve worked with…“, or to put it another way, “what the people who work with Product Managers want from those Product Managers”. The themes that seem to come out aren’t surprising, things about listening, negotiating, decision-making, but it’s fascinating to see it expressed in this way.

Experiences and solutions

Nate, principal designer for membership, community and ventures at COOP, tweeted about the boundaries between digital products and services.

Tweet from Nate about products and services

It seems like lots of people have thought about this same question and some of the replies included some interesting links: “New models for service ownership and leadership” by Ben Holliday and “From squads to swarms” by Chris Collingridge. It’s interesting to me because I’m thinking about how we create experiences that work for young people regardless of whether they are accessed digitally or IRL, and regardless of whether we think of them as a product or service, it should just be a solution.

Joe’s week notes

I read Joe’s week notes every week, he has lots interesting things to share, and this week he mentions the NHS Service Design Manual, which was a big deal on Twitter this week and might be useful for me to know more about in the near future.

He always had a really useful bit on Facebook’s use of data from other sites. Clearly it’s a privacy issue thing, which is important to me given my rants about the weaponisation of digital technology and what the charity sector needs to do about it, but Seth Godin’s podcast about privacy on the internet talks about it really being about expectations and surprise. If you are surprised by how much an organisation knows about you and how they use that information then that is obviously an issue for you. If you expect an organisation to have information about you and they use it in ways you expect then it might not be an issue. It makes me think about ways of reframing the discussion away from dramatic scary words like ‘privacy’ and ‘security’ to words like ‘expectations’ and what’s ‘acceptable’. I don’t think scaring people engages them, it causes a freeze reaction in most people where they decide to do nothing, and as I also ranted about, that confusion-leads-to-paralysis is a tool used to control people widely across our society.

Week note #182

This week I’ve been doing:


I haven’t done much on RogBot this week because I’ve been focused on the assignment for my masters course, but I have started writing a user manual for me and collating some info about being an INTJ. I need to get some bitesize chunks from my Insights personality test and then put all of these together in the ‘about’ section on my Miro board so I can figure out the connections between them all.

Will automation threaten the employability of graduates?

I’ve been writing my first assignment for the ‘Innovation in the knowledge economy’ module. As with my other assignments, I’ve enjoyed writing it and reading lots on the subject. Automation replacing humans is something I’m interested in anyway so getting some theoretical background to it has been fascinating.

This week I’ve been studying:

Lecture 2: Skill biased technological change: Automation and the future of jobs

The second lecture of the ‘Innovation in the knowledge economy’ module was essentially about the trend of technology changing work and how it might change it in the future, or to put it another way, are robots going to take our jobs. The dominant thinking seems to be that automation will affect the routine work that is easy to codify first and the creative work last or possibly not at at. I think it depends on the timeline you are considering. I have no doubt that on a long enough timeline all jobs will be performed by robots, and this raises interesting questions about what society looks like when individuals no longer generate their own wealth and our current concepts of contribution and consumption no longer stand up.

Reading list

  • The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? 
  • The case for a robot revolution, in “Our work here is done. Visions of a robot economy”, NESTA.
  • Talk by Eric Brynjolfsson on “The key to growth? Race with the machines” TED talk.
  • Reasons for skill-biased technological change
  • The CORE curriculum (2015) Unit 2, Technology population and growth
  • Effects of skill-biased technological change on jobs.
  • Talk by Anthony Goldbloom on “The jobs we’ll lose – and the ones we won’t” TED talk.
  • Creativity vs robots: The creative economy and the future of employment, NESTA
  • Classifying occupations according to their skill requirements in job advertisements, ESCoE Discussion Paper.
  • Which digital skills do you really need? Exploring employer demand for digital skills and occupation growth prospects, NESTA report.
  • The Rise of Skills: Human Capital, the Creative Class and Regional Development, CESIS Working Paper.
  • The shrinking middle: how new technologies are polarising the labour market, LSE CentrePiece.
  • Effects of skill-biased technological change on inequality
  • Skills and social insurance: evidence from the relative persistence of innovation during the financial crisis in Europe, Science and Public Policy.
  • Technological change, bargaining power and wages, in “Our work here is done. Visions of a robot economy”, NESTA.
  • The truth about the minimum wage: neither job killer nor cure-all, Foreign Affairs, January-February.
  • Digital Dividends, World Development Report, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

This week I’ve been thinking about:

How capital investment delivers increasingly marginal returns

Neoclassical economics with its focus on investing in capital vs New Growth theory with its focus on investment in knowledge. Seeing how the neoclassical thinking filters into things such as consumer culture’s drive to buy more things and the project management idea of more people equals increased productivity, it seems like an interesting thing to understand. I also think organisations don’t focus enough on knowledge management and intellectual assets so its interesting to find an economic theory that provides some validity to the capital vs. knowledge argument.
Also I heard the term ‘Return On Asset’ on a podcast in contrast to ‘Return On Investment’ so I might try to find it again and see if it has any connection for me.

Workplace collaboration startups

Merci Victoria Grace‘s article about the current market space for workplace collaboration startups.

Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups

I think the real prize is in the Documentation space with anyone who figures out how to help companies turn people’s knowledge into intellectual assets and then leverage these for a competitive advantage standing to make a lot of money. It looks to me like that is what Microsoft is trying to do with Teams, and any direction big players are taking their product strategy is always worth paying attention to.

Theory of change

I’ve been thinking about ‘Theory of change’ and how it could be used for providing context for team and individual OKR’s and/or goals. Rather than setting goals that might be impossible to achieve because no one truly understands the barriers, constraints, and influences on all the complex things that affect even one goal, a team (or even better the entire organisation) should start with a well-documented system map and theory of the changes required in order to achieve the mission. Then, it should be easier to see if achieve the goals is getting the organisation closer to it’s mission.

This week on my Twitter:

Reinventing charity

Ben Holt, charity innovator previously of CRUK and currently of British Red Cross, posted this request to find people to work with on what a new charity might look like if you designed it from scratch.

Ben Holt's tweet about reinventing charity

I think the hardest thing when starting a charity from scratch would be deciding what its purpose should be, what issues is it going to tackle. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I foresee for the third sector over the next few decades is going to be how to coordinate services and organisations to solve people’s problems in a connected way rather than the disparate way we do at the moment where we know that the problems people face are often connected but we make them go to one organisation for help with one problem and another organisation for help with a different problem, even though it’s the same person. Perhaps this conceptual charity should start from the point of view that choosing just one problem isn’t really user-centred enough.

It started me thinking about how to approach this as a thought experiment, starting with doing some target space discovery to understand the various ways in which an organisation can exist, whether it is a legal entity like a charity or social movement which doesn’t, what some of the underpinning assumptions are. So if/when I get time I’m going to try to do some work on it.

OKR’s: to cascade or not to cascade

I’ve often struggled to get my head around the different ways people think of and use OKR’s. One of the prevailing ideas seems to be that they should be set up to cascade down through the company. I think this risks complicating what should be a simple (and that’s what makes it difficult) idea about how to align everyone behind an objective. One of the problems with cascading in this way is it often takes months for the uppers and betters to write and agree their OKR’s so that by those in the lower levels of the organisation can set their’s. By the time everyone has done their OKR’s the year is almost over.

I think a clearer approach is ‘This is our mission’ (the Objective), ‘What are you going to do to help achieve that mission?’ (the Key Result). Clearly the answer to that question is going to be different depending on who answers it, but the benefits are that if anything changes, from company strategy to a new recruit joining the team, it’s easy to change the things one person or one team is going to do to help achieve the mission without having to coordinate a change anywhere else as no one else is affected. It also gives more breadth to include learning key results rather than just delivery key results, which isn’t the case with the cascading approach.