The King of Limbs is an emense cathedral of a tree, centuries old but standing strong.
With all his worldly possessions on his bike, this man travels endlessly, but with minimal impact on the world around him.
This week I did:
Presented our new digital service to our Executive Committee, describing how it enables a young person to click on an Instagram post in the morning and have a place on a course by evening. They might seem like a long time to book onto a course, but believe me, that is drastic improvement given all of the things that have to happen behind the scenes. I also looked at the analytics so am getting some idea of which steps in the journey we need to improve.
Software ate my car
I bought a new car. It has a lot of electrics, lights everywhere, bings and bongs at everything I try to do, and is really just a blackbox of decisions I don’t yet understand. In my old car things were either on or off. In this car whether something switches on or off depends on a number of prerequisite conditions being met. Saying all of this makes me feel old, especially given how much software I’m involved with everyday, but it’s been an interesting experience of putting myself in the shoes of a new user. It isn’t that technology is a problem, it’s that not understand why things work the way they work is problematic.
100 innovation ideas in your inbox
I launched Innovat100n, an email course about important ideas in the field on innovation. There will be one hundred short lecture-style emails delivered one a week for almost two years. Writing them is going to be a lot of work, and might have to wait until September when I’ve finished my dissertation, but given that I don’t yet have anyone signed-up there’s no rush.
We released version 1.2 of Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road and got some interesting feedback on the usability of the format and how children understand the story. Some of the ideas we want to explore is how to make the story work visually and using audio. I’m really enjoying using a rapid prototyping approach and getting early feedback
I finally fixed (temporarily anyway) the DNS issues for the vanlife-lockown-survey website. so whether someone visits the www or non-www site, by directly typing the url or scanning the QR code, they still be able to complete the survey. I know there is a better and more direct solution, which I want to learn for other projects, but right now I’m just glad its working. I’m picking up the flyers next week so will be heading off to find vanlifers to complete the survey soon.
I had the first lecture on the Blockchain module I’m studying, which whilst about Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, is more generally about how emerging technologies affect innovation management and policy. All of the students introduced themselves and their reasons for studying, and I was the only one who seems to be there just because I’m interested and not because it’ll help with my career. It’s an interesting idea (for work too) that the purpose of education is to achieve something external to the learning, rather than just to learn interesting ideas for their own sake.
I started reading Blockchain Revolution, which is on the reading list for my masters. I haven’t got very far yet but it’ll be interesting to see what opinions the book holds about Blockchain and whether that ‘a point in time knowledge’ about emerging technology from 2016 stands up today.
Digital fundraising plans
Digital transformation in the age of disruption is an interesting article about how charities can and should ride the wave of digital transformation in other sectors to change how they operate, communicate, deliver services and achieve impact. Vial talks about digital transformation as “a process where digital technologies create disruptions triggering strategic responses from organizations to alter their value creation paths while managing the structural changes and organizational barriers that affect the outcomes”, which seems to align with hat article. Both suggest that digital transformation is a response to technological change rather than a proactive opportunity seeking process.
Innovation process for humanitarian work
I read some of the Humanitarian Innovation Guide, which is fantastic resource for (not just humanitarian) charities developing innovation practices. I’m particularly interested in the process they have developed for solving problems that involves recognition, search, adaption, invention, pilot, scale, and how that was research and other models it was developed from.
And I thought about:
One of the concepts I’m developing around the role of product management is that it performs an ‘integrating’ function, by which I mean connects the strategic thinking of senior management to the tactical inputs and outputs of developers, testers, etc., and connects teams and functions horizontally through the organisation. One of the costs to this that I’ve discovered and have been considering this week is that impact of so much context switching. If switching between similar tasks is disruptive to productivity, what effect will switching between different points of the general/specific, strategic/tactical matrix have?
Balancing user needs
Jon tweeted about how the service offered by the NHS vaccine booking website doesn’t meet the user need of finding a vaccine centre near him. The booking system seems to be based on the assumption that user want to see availability by soonest time rather than nearest distance, which quickly starts to look like it’s solving and organisational capacity management problem rather than a user problem. But, what if meeting the needs of a single user in that way creates capacity waste in the system and increases the time it takes for all users to have their needs me? How do you balance meeting a single user need against meeting a collective user need? One of the things about being part of a collective is that is that everyone is expected to accept some personal disadvantage for the advantage of others. Maybe this is a bit a of a Social Design approach where the wider system is designed for rather than putting the ideal single user at the centre of the solution.
This week I did:
You know that scene in Apollo 13 where all the NASA people repeat, “Go Flight!” to confirm they are ready for launch? Yeah, product launches aren’t like that. Launch is more of a phase than a point in time, but this week we launched our new young person -facing product that will help young people sign-up to Prince’s Trust courses completely digitally. Our deputy CEO referred to it as “a step change in how we will support young people.”. It’s a complicated beast of a digital service that connects eight systems and we did it in two months. Now the hard work begins.
Vanlife Lockdown Survey
I started a new project (as if I’m not busy enough right now) to conduct research into how lockdowns have affected people who live in vans, campers and cars. I set up an online survey, and used Cloakist to mask the survey website URL with my website domain name (which is actually a world first) in order to make the survey easier to find and so I could put it on the flyers I got printed. So, as lockdown eases and I resume my roadtrip I can ask other vanlifers to complete the survey and build an understanding of this marginal part of society (I have a hypothesis that they were less affected than the general population but we’ll see that the results show).
I had the first dose of Coronavirus vaccine, and didn’t have any side effects. No flu-like symptoms, no changes to my WiFi, and absolutely no super powers.
Bought some books
I haven’t bought any books for a long time, but this week I bought a few. Most of them were about innovation management for my dissertation and the others were by Colin Wilson and Alan Watts. One day I’d like to write a book, and what that book is about changes depending on what I’m interested in at the time. Right now it would build on Wilson and Watt’s work on ‘the outsider’ and figure out how they apply to the modern digital world.
And thought about:
Five years time
Sometimes I have conversations with myself. And sometimes I ask myself questions like the usual career progression questions, “Where do I want to be in five years?”, to see what answers I come up with. I had three thoughts:
- I want to work on hard problems. I thrive on the complexity and constraint of figuring out how to be clear about what problem we’re tackling and then how to build a solution that brings together people, systems and processes. Charities have the kinds of problems I want to be contributing towards, and usually where the solution involves digital thinking and technology.
- I want to maintain intrinsic motivation. I want to work because I enjoy what I do and why I do it. I don’t want to be motivated by money or status or anything that depends on others.
- I want to widen and deepen my knowledge rather than progressing upwards. There are enough middle-aged white men in management/leadership roles in charities so I don’t want to contribute to that problem. And if there is any truth to the idea that people rise to their level of incompetence then I’d rather stay at and improve upon my current level of competence.
I wondered a bit about how Product Managers fit across the entire lifecycle of a product. Should they have more focus on the initial product development phase or equal focus as a product becomes operationalised and eventually closed down. I guess what I’m wondering is how we maintain a position of validation and value delivery throughout the life of a product?
I spent some time thinking about how to approach increasing digital skills. The Government Essential Digital Skills framework is an interesting and useful place to start as it defines (quite loosely) what a basic level of skill looks like. From it, I think you could create an intermediate level (where the difference between basic and intermediate is ‘knowing how to use a tool’ and ‘knowing how a tool works’) across the five skills: Communicating, Handling information and content, Transacting, Problem solving, Being safe and legal online. So, an example might where the basic skill is ‘set up an email account’ and the intermediate skill is to ‘set up rules, know how to block a sender, etc.’.
I’m a big fan of visual working, whether on a physical wipeboard or virtual canvas, but I’ve become increasingly aware how much easier it is to misunderstand and misinterpret drawings and diagrams. We have a much more developed sense of when writing makes sense or not (I mean, just consider all of these rambling and you’ll know what I mean), than we do for visually communicated work. Does left to right in a diagram always indicate the passage of time? Is something always more important if it’s at the top or in the middle? We just don’t have to critical understanding of diagrams and drawings to know. And this lack of robustness in interpretation makes it harder to ask those clarifying questions about the diagrams, which makes it harder to build up those thinking skills.
Digital Has Killed the Strategic Plan
This article from 2016 (shared by Ross in his newsletter) on how digital has killed the strategic plan, is five years old now, so it’s interesting to look back at it. I take it to essentially be a call for shorter planning cycles and better feedback loops (two aspects of digital work that have become more familiar in the last five years) to replace long term planning for businesses. It ends with how “strategy in the digital age has become an increasingly interactive process”, which seems to mean that strategy and tactics have become more intertwined (I’d suggest they always have been in the reality of achieving a strategy, just not on PowerPoint presentations and website articles). Perhaps not that much has changed in the last five years.
Believing in the Barnum Effect
I read The Barnum Effect: why we love astrology and personality tests by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, and immediately thought that everything it describes about how we interpret personality tests also applies to the obscure business/life advice tweets that so many ‘creators using Twitter to build an audience’ rely on. Those short, pitchy, out-of-context statements can apply to you personally if that’s how you interpret them. The trick to thinking about personality tests (I think) is the same as how we interpret what we read on Twitter. If it has resonance for us, then it’s a starting point for thinking about what we think of it. You aren’t meant to swallow it hook, line and sinker. If you do, then you are biased and suffering the Barnum Effect, but that isn’t the fault of what someone wrote on Twitter or the personality test. The opposite is equally true if you choose to interpret personality tests and tweets as not holding any meaning for you without some consideration. Personality tests both describe us specifically and are very generalised. And both of those things can be true. They’ve always both been true but we’ve been raised to believe in a single, rational, scientific truth, and it’s only now in a post-truth world that we’re beginning to understand a different perspective.
What I did this week:
The last few days before a product lunch as always intense. It’s when everyone realises all the things we didn’t quite finish and just gets on with making stuff happen. I love it. I love the pressure and pace of work. I thought about that saying about work expanding to fit the time available but I don’t think that’s fair. I think the earlier, slower work is all about the thinking and learning that makes the later work go faster.
The last session of the Service Design course I’ve been doing is coming up so I’ve built a prototype of an asynchronous project-based learning course. The idea is for people to undertake projects such as building their own website in which they learn to do that as they progress through the course but just as importantly, finish the course with a website, or whatever other tangible outcome. So much training training fails to fill the gap between learning and applying the learning, so I’ve interested in ways of filling that gap. It made me think a bit about my ideas around a social enterprise for teaching life skills.
What I thought about this week:
What changes in digital culture can tell us about digital work
I’ve been thinking recently about how the way we do digital work might not be that great. I’ve been wondering about some of the process-based practices we use, where they come from, and why they feel so immature and ineffective. I thought it might just be because our ways of working digitally haven’t been around that long, but there’s quite a lot of thinking, especially from Bolter, about the ways in which technology have affected culture, so I wondered if the same process might be happening with how we approach digital work.
Weeknotes as reflective practice
I’ve been writing weeknotes for almost five years. They’ve changed purpose over that time and become part of my practice in improving my understanding and so my behaviours. For me, weeknotes are part of the ‘reflective observation’ step in Kolb’s learning cycle, a chance to consider the ‘concrete experiences’ of the week. The ‘abstract conceptualisation’ phase seems to happen more subconsciously and is probably due some optimisation. It might be a bit meta talking about weeknotes in my weeknotes but it’s all about the meta-learning.
On the outside
I’ve had five run-ins with society’s authority figures since becoming a digital nomad. I take this as sign of my growing realisation of myself as an outsider. Watts talks about the outsider and it’s role in society, and how it attracts the suspicion of the mainstream. My understanding of my place is the world is changing.
What I read this week:
I read some design thinking stuff, and a bit of social design stuff, because I think I might use Design Thinking as one of the innovation management methods in my dissertation. The main stance of social design seems to be a critique of human-centred design for putting the user at the centre and not considering the environment, systems and structures that act on them, which I can’t help but agreeing with. They are the design equivalent of humanism vs. post-humanism.
I found this chapter on Digital Bricolage which “investigates how the concept of bricolage translates to contemporary digital artists and tools.” I think it might hold some useful ideas for solving the problem of too much structure and process in digital work. The blog post I mentioned above is an attempt at a quick summary of why our digital ways of working are so much about process, because they have followed in the footsteps of digital culture as it became ‘databased’ (organised, structured to fit a schema, etc.).
The most important conversation
I listened to the Modern Wisdom podcast with Thomas Moynihan on his new book on the history of existential risk. It’s a mind-opener. It has some really thought-provoking examples like where is the biggest gap in effects; between peace and the annihilation of 99% of the human population, or between annihilation of 99% and 100% of the human population. Our intuitive thinking makes jump to saying the first option because it looks like the biggest gap, but that’s wrong. 100% is the extinction of the human species, the end, no way forward, no future. That has a far greater effect than the death of 99% of the human population because it means 1% continues. And aside from existential risk, which is clearly a big enough to be thinking about, they talk a bit about how we struggle to get past applying old ways of thinking to new things, which is one of my rants about digital transformation in organisations.
Digital technology has significantly and fundamentally shifted how we think about, produce and consume cultural objects, and I think the same understanding can be applied to digital work and help us see what makes it different from work that went before.
Jay Bolter, a professor of New Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, explains how digital technologies were originally developed as storage for digital information, and how this conceptual framework influenced how we think about cultural and media objects as they became digitised. Every cultural items now exists in a database. Maggie Appleton’s description of databases as the storage shelves of the internet could bring thoughts of cultural objects on the shelves of museums catalogued for easy retrieval. Whereas pre-digital media, take cinema for example, has linear narrative and a sense of start, middle and end, the 21st century digital replacement of YouTube is a database. Together, all of the video on YouTube have no narrative, no story, they relate to each other through the structured data of the system that holds them.
Work has changed in a similar way. The production of physical items mirrors the linearity of cinema whilst a digital item, siting in a database on the internet, hyperlinked to, called as and when required, is to the economics of production as a cat video is to culture. Work is databased. The tools we use to create digital work catalogue each item of work by status, owner, cost, time, priority, all providing the structured schema of how one piece of work relates to another.
Bolter has has other interesting things to say about how we experience digital culture that equally seems to apply to how we work in a digital age. He uses the terms ‘procedurality’ where things occur according to a set of rules, and ‘flow’ to describe the absorbed state of scrolling through Instagram. If this is how we experience digital culture then it’s also how we experience digital work. Work is all about process and protocol. Design thinking takes us step by step through the creative process. Scrum rituals enforce a rhythm to the work.
Digital work doesn’t have the flexibility it could or should. Can we un-database digital work?
Since becoming a digital nomad my relationship with my own body has changed. I feel my body far more. And I understand what those feelings mean more than I used to.
I used to eat on a schedule so I never really reached a point of hunger. Now I eat when I’m hungry.
I used spend most of my time indoors, in climate controlled environments, never really feeling hot or cold. I was hot or cold, but I just didn’t feel it.
I used to walk to get somewhere. Now I walk not to go anywhere, just to feel myself walking. I’m more aware of the stones beneath my feet and stretch behind my knee as I take a step.
My bodily functions were habit. But now they are more considered, more intentional.
Innovation means ‘create new value’.
Create, because ideas have to be turned into a reality.
New, because it involves novelty.
Value, because what gets made has to be valuable.
I attended the intro course with Jonathan Courtney, Co-Founder of AJ&Smart and Product Strategist, and Jake Knapp is the creator of the Design Sprint.
I want to learn more about the Design Sprint process and use it in product work. And I’m intrigued by the idea of a one hour Design Sprint.
What are Design Sprints?
Structured step-by-step system for solving big problems as a team in one week, one day, one hour.
Who are Design Sprints for?
Anyone involved in design thinking, strategy and business.
What problem does Design Sprints solve?
Gives projects a structure to kickoff.
Helps make big decisions.
Provides a repeatable recipe for being able to guide a team through the experience and guide them to do more valuable work.
Brings together a team of people around collaborative process that builds a momentum.
This week I did:
Coordinating information, spotting patterns
This week has been about working through ways and means of coordinating information from different sources to create a single cohesive picture. A big part of that is around bolstering our digital safeguarding response in the short term and figuring how the picture changes into the future to affect a longer term response.
I’ve also put a lot of time into scoping the next version of the product we’re developing, understanding what problems we should be solving and being specific about which problems we aren’t tackling. I’ve approached it in more structured way than how we scoped the current version, partly because I’ve had more time but also because we’ve learned a lot about our capabilities over the last few months so I have a better idea about where to focus my attention.
Why we need a better understanding of problems
I wrote about how sometimes we have a tendency to jump to solutions, and often technology solutions, without truly understanding the problem we need to solve. I wrote it as a talk for a charity meetup that didn’t happen but as its something I believe strongly about I thought I’d add it to my blog so I don’t lose it.
I’ve started using Stand-up template in the journal app that Ross has been building. I’ve made various attempts at daily personal stand-up/journaling but it feels different when its a dedicated app. The challenge, regardless of how they are written, is in getting value back out of what was written. I haven’t quite figured that out yet but it’s something I’m thinking about.
1000 digital tools
The Ultimate Digital Tools List reached a thousand entries. I’m still unsure what to do with it, other than my creator tech/business models idea, but I’ll continue to add to it in case it becomes useful one day.
I posted my fourth Twitter thread of things I’ve read recently. Although each one takes a couple of hours but I find it quite useful to look back over the things I’ve read to remind myself why I was interested in it and I hope they are useful for others too.
This week I thought about:
‘Meaning, ‘constructed or created from a diverse range of available things’, bricolage might be the term that describes an idea I have about mixing methods and techniques together. As a ‘digital bricoleur’ we could bring together daily stand-ups from Scrum, storyboarding from Design Sprints, service safari from Service Design, etc., and so construct working practices made up of elements from a diverse range of frameworks and methodologies, each solving identified problems (which is the hard bit).
Why are strategy and tactics seen as opposites?
Sometimes when I hear people talk about strategy and tactics I sense an implication that strategy, and strategic thinking are seen as impressive important things whereas tactics are dismissed as unimportant and not worthy of consideration. I think the real skill of strategic thinking isn’t just in the big ideas and ambitious aims but in how all things are connected. Good strategic thinking is realistic and integrates the details that will make the strategy happen. I feel like there’s a version of S.M.A.R.T. thinking for creating strategy rather than setting objectives.
This week I read:
A body of knowledge
I’ve become a little enthralled with the Digital Practitioner’s Body of Knowledge, not just it’s really well written (it isn’t) but because of the challenge of what it takes to create such a thing. Where would you start with creating ‘a body of knowledge’? How would you decide what to include and what not to? How would you keep it up to date?
Paradox and conflict
Chaordic organisations are “self-organizing, adaptive, nonlinear complex system, whether physical, biological, or social, the behavior of which exhibits characteristics of both order and chaos or loosely translated to business terminology, cooperation and competition.” So many interesting ideas to get into.
The theory of multiple intelligence’s
The theory of multiple intelligence’s challenges the idea that intelligence can be measure linearly (low to high) by a single metric of logical thinking, and we should approaching understanding our intelligence(s) as mixes of visual, social, spatial, etc., intelligence’s. It seems obvious when you think about, but where I think it becomes interesting is in the ways the digital working methods and techniques can be adopted that make greater use of this mix of ways of thinking an learning.