Stress and soaring thoughts

I know how it feels to be stressed. My thinking slows down. It gets heavy and sluggish, like each chain of thoughts drags dead weight with it.

When I’m not stressed my thinking soars. My thoughts become fast and light, they float and bump into each other merging into new ideas. When my thinking is like this I come up with ideas like future.charity, my weeknotes stretch into two thousand words or more because I have so many ideas to get out, and I write essays for my masters with fluid ease.

I’ve been aware of stress’ effect on my thinking for some time but never really gave it much thought. And then, on a day when my thinking wasn’t stressed and ideas were colliding, I listened to a What Comes Next podcast about AI for good, featuring an interview with MyCognition, a “digital platform that enhances cognitive fitness through a structured programme of insights, assessment and training”.

They mentioned case studies from schools using their platform to help children with special educational needs learn to self-manage their behaviour, and research that shows “poor cognitive functioning increases the risk of poor mental health and increasing evidence shows that cognitive issues are predictors and risk factors for mental illness” My interest was piqued. I wanted to know more about cognition. LMGTFY

“Cognition is defined as ‘the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.’ At Cambridge Cognition we look at it as the mental processes relating to the input and storage of information and how that information is then used to guide your behavior. It is in essence, the ability to perceive and react, process and understand, store and retrieve information, make decisions and produce appropriate responses.”

Cambridge Cognition

How our brains take information from our senses and experiences, and process it, affects how we react, understand and behave. That makes sense to me. It fits my conjecture that mental illness and ill-health is a result of traumatic events ‘rewiring’ the pathways in our brains and manifesting as stress, anxiety, depression, etc.

So, if mental ill-health can exhibit as poor cognising, could the reverse be true? Could getting our brains thinking in a particular way help to relieve anxiety and stress? When I’m stressed and I go for a walk with my notebook, pick a topic to research, google things, make notes, explore ideas, I feel less stressed. When I go for a walk and take my stress with me I don’t get to my thought-soaring state. Maybe having something to focus my thoughts on, and get a particular kind of mental process happening, allows for cognising in a way that results in positive feelings for me. 

Maybe this is why some people enjoy sudoku puzzles and crosswords, because engaging in something that makes our brains cognise in structured, logical, focused ways means we aren’t using the pathways in our brains that allow chaotic, fight-or-flight stress-inducing cognising to occur.

Week notes #199

This week I did some stuff…

Online mentoring

I’ve been working how we can use Microsoft Teams to facilitate online mentoring. Fundamentally, Teams is built as an enterprise collaboration platform with certain assumptions built-in, things such as everyone in the organisation knowing who each other is, which don’t always meet the needs of mentoring where safeguarding and privacy is really important. Our challenge is that Teams is the tool we have, and we won’t let not having the right tool stop us from enabling mentors to support young people, so we have to find ways to make it work. 

One of the things I like about my role is that I get to do a lot of zooming-in and zooming-out, so I move my thinking from almost philosophical ponderings about the value young people get from one-to-one mentoring to the technical details of how Teams handles permissions for certain types of users, and the organisational stance on safeguarding and the volunteers experience of using Teams in between. I think finding the best solution to a problem comes from being able to hold all those different and sometimes conflicting perspectives and figuring out which parts trade-off against which other parts. 

Teachers using Teams

Microsoft wants to get Teams into 27,000 schools across the UK. Lots of people don’t like MS Teams, and it certainly has its product peculiarities, especially if you are used to ‘one-product-one-function’ approach like using Slack for messaging, but Teams is a far more complex product, and I wonder if the hate comes from not taking the time to learn how it works and how to use it. I’m sure this is something all those teachers will go through as more schools introduce Teams.

If the schools had good IT people to teach the teachers, or if Microsoft provided really good onboarding, then Teams would make a huge impact on digitising schools, but I worry that it’ll come up against the same old problem of expecting the tech to solve/change everything and not do enough for the people using the tech. When Teams is used as part of an ecosystem with other MS products it could take a huge chunk of what schools do onto the internet. Teams and Sharepoint could be a far more effective intranet than lots of companies have. Timetables could be managed in Shifts. All school work could be done within documents in Teams, allowing teachers to provide fast feedback and students to iterate on their work. Lessons delivered via video could be recorded so that students can watch them again later if they missed anything or was absent. Chat between students and teachers would be secure and monitored for safeguarding issues. There are so many benefits schools could get from Teams and I can see a future of education where location is irrelevant and rather than attending a school because they live near it, students will attend ‘the school’ because it will be the one and only online education platform.

Anyway, back to real life. We’re using Sharepoint to build a content repository for teachers working with young people outside of mainstream education. Sharepoint can be used to produce some quite interesting public facing websites, but the question of whether Teams is the right frontend is an interesting one. On one hand, if teachers are using Teams in their school then they will be familiar with how it works and can switch accounts to access our content easily. One the other hand, it doesn’t look like a marketable product and something that will encourage adoption, especially if teachers have had a bad experience with their Teams. So, as with so many product decisions, deciding what to make trade-offs between is part of the challenge.

Cookies

I’ve become a bit obsessed with cookies (the website tracking files, not the confectionery) and how websites handle them. GDPR and the ICO say users should be given the choice about whether to accept non-essential cookies (those used for analytics, advertising, etc.) but the vast majority of websites don’t do this. I think it’s an interesting moral choice; should you respect your visitors enough to not track them without their permission, or as you own the website should you be able to implement things that work for your business objectives? 

It makes me think back to my old ‘hierarchy of compliance’ that says comply with laws first, e.g. GDPR, then industry specific regulations e.g. PCI-DSS, then your organisation’s policies, e.g. security, then your organisation’s procedures and practices. Should morals be first and above laws, or does it belong alongside every layer?

Browsers don’t differentiate between essential and non-essential cookies. If you block them all, some stuff on the site won’t work, and then you have to allow all cookies again. Browser controls are too blunt a tool. When Chrome shows that cookies are blocked on a page it uses a red square with an X in it, the universal sign for something bad or wrong. Interesting, but not surprising that Chrome tries to signal to us that blocking cookies is bad given Google advertising business model. 

But the Cookiepocalypse is coming. Before too long cookies won’t be a means of tracking users on a website. Some browsers block third-party cookies by default already. And Google looks like it’ll follow suit in time, but probably not before they’ve introduced a means to track users without cookies and so lock-in websites to using Google Analytics.

There’s so much to those little cookies, if I get time I’d like to write up all the stuff I’ve learned.

User Guides

I wrote some more for my Whiteboard product user guide, and tested how formatting in Google Docs renders as an ePub file. I’m keen to make my little shop of user guides the next project I put my time into after I’ve finished this term for my masters.

I’ve also started thinking about how this might evolve into online courses for using products more effectively, and how a course could be delivered by email, perhaps with a button in the email that triggers the next part of the course so that learners can control their own pace.

And studied some stuff…

Reinforcing business design decisions

An effective business model is made up of “business design choices that reinforce one another” (Osterwalder, 2005). This week’s lecture was about business models. Something that lots of people talk about and very few can explain. I like Osterwalder’s definition. It helps us understand that a business model isn’t a finished, discrete thing that exists ‘over there’, but actually is made up of lots of choices that in order to be successful need to reinforce each other. Lots of organisations, that probably don’t do enough business model thinking, seem to make choices that have them competing internally or one department requiring a level of support from another department that they don’t have the skills or people to do. A business with a good business model makes choices that makes the parts work together.

There are no rational agents

I listened to the recording of last week’s lecture about the nature of digital goods. It was about the nature of different types of goods and how defining them along the lines of excludability and rivalrousness leads to four types of goods: Private, which are things that a person can own and so prevent another from using and can only be used by one person at a time, e.g. a car, Public, such as street lighting which anyone can use and using it doesn’t stop anyone else from using it, Common-pool resources, which anyone can use but if they are that prevents anyone else from using them, and Club goods, like television which requires particular access and you watching a show doesn’t prevent anyone else from also watching it. It’s a bit of a revelation to me to think about the model for providing a product or service being driven at the micro level from the nature of the goods themselves and not from the marco level of whether the government or the commercial sector should provide it. Internet access (see Cassie’s tweet below) is an interesting example of this. Currently my access to the internet is somewhere between a private good and a club good, because I can prevent anyone else from using it, and has some technical limitations on how many people can all use it at the same time. To shift internet access to being a public good would require tackling the technical limitations that then mean everyone could access the internet and no one accessing it prevents anyone else from accessing.

As lectures this term have been digital, starting as video meetings with the lecturer presenting the slides and moving to recorded lectures for pre-watching and then group exercises and discussions over video calls, it has made me consider the format of lectures as a means of providing information. I got a lot more out of listening to the recording of the lecture and listening live, perhaps because the lecturer was more focused. Lectures often seem to have tensions between providing information because it’s part of the curriculum, providing some context and real-life examples to aid with learning, but not biasing the content. I have to sometimes remind myself not to get lost in exploring ideas.

The economics says that Public Goods shouldn’t work because a rational agent should free ride as they get all the benefits without any of the costs, but people aren’t rational agents they are social creatures which is why we have Public Goods paid for indirectly through taxes.

Bigger and better

Worked on my analysis of Shopify’s business model, digital product offering and pricing strategy. Shopify announced its partnership with Facebook and their stock price jumped up. I saw a tweet that said investing in Shopify after their IPO would have given you better returns than investing when they were at Series A funding, which is usually not the way those things work, and perhaps shows . Anyway, it’s been interesting to work on something that feels so ‘now’ but still uses economic thinking from the seventies.

And thought about a few things…

The business of charity 

Over the years there have been a few occurrences of business people thinking they can apply business thinking and techniques to make charities work more efficiently. It never works because charities are obviously different to businesses in lots of ways. Having been thinking about the nature of economic goods I wondered whether part of the reason for this misunderstanding is that the nature of the services charities provide are excludable and rival, like many commercial services. Being excludable means the services provided by a charity aren’t available equally to everyone, and being rivalrous means that if the service is already being used by someone it can’t be used by anyone else.

In contrast, a service that is non-excludable and non-rivalrous (the classic examples are lighthouses and streetlights) can be used openly by anyone regardless of whether anyone else is also using it. So I started thinking about how charity services could be public goods. The closest example I could think of was Citizens Advice, whose services are available to anyone via their website. They came from, and still have a rivalrous & excludable aspect in the face-to-face advice sessions that they provide, and I’m not suggesting that any charity should get rid of the face-to-face work they do if its meeting a need, but most service delivery charities haven’t figured how to make the shift, and arguably because most charities tackle issues that affect a small segment of society, but it’s interesting to think about the thinking of how they would scale services as public goods if they need to.

New news

I’ve got into email newsletters lately. Email, and so email newsletters seem to be making a come back. The idea that web messaging was going to kill email didn’t happen, instead email evolved, and I think for the better. I’ve mentioned before the trend of emails becoming more like an editable document that passes between people, so that’s one trend of improvement. The other trend is in improving how people use email, something hey.com is working on solving. And then the third trend is in the quality of content that utilises email’s unique features. Emails aren’t limited in size like a tweet, and can either contain all the content for the reader or links to more content. They can be read at a time that suits you and are easier to find later if you want to go back to something interesting.

Email newsletters are also a great means of building an audience as even if you took a no-tracking approach you’d still know how many people are sign-up to receive your newsletter. If email could solve the problem of being able to select which content you want to read before you get it (usually informational products problem) then I would definitely rather have the ‘our content/thoughts/opinions sent to me’ approach rather than ‘we put our content on our website and expect you to find it if you search hard enough. Also, an idea for a product, imagine getting search results by email rather than websites. Describe in greater detail what you are actually looking for and get a high-quality curated list of links emailed to you for you to read at any time. That’s pretty much how I search for things, it’s just that I do the work of copy-and-pasting into my notes.

And some people tweeted…

Internet for everyone 

Cassie Robinson tweeted, “Digital infrastructure should be considered a vital 21st century public good “We need to build a digital landscape that provides world-class connection to all, is sustainable, privacy-enhancing, rights-preserving, innovative & democratic by design.” Having studied public, private & club goods, and common-pool resources, it makes sense to me that access to the internet should be a public good (in the economic sense) that is available to everyone. If Raymond Coase was right when he wrote The Lighthouse Economics then existing purely for the good of society is enough of a justification for making a good public, and it would be hard to argue that internet access isn’t good for everyone. 

Limiting meetings in progress 

Woody Zull tweeted “Heuristic: If you spend “too much time in meetings”, it is likely that you have too much work in process. Limit WIP for a week and see how it affects your meeting time. Adjust accordingly.” ~@duarte_vasco

One of the replies to the tweet was about how many problems vanish when work in progress is reduced. I think this is because it reduces complexity across the whole system of work rather than just allowing individuals to focus more.

Fluid office 

The Verge tweetedMicrosoft’s new Fluid Office document is Google Docs on steroids”. Microsoft is getting into blocks in a similar way to tools like Notion, where a document (if there will even be such a discrete object in the future of work tools) is made up of lots of blocks from different sources that pull content and functionality into the ‘document’ you are working on. 

I think it’s another step in the journey of information moving from being centralied to be decentralised and distributed in an internet-y way, and the next step will be in how content is made discoverable to pull into a document, so the author doesn’t have to write original content that becomes locked into the document if someone else has already written it or the data is already available. Rather than having to go and find last year’s sales data and create a chart to then create an image to be embedded in the document, you would import the live data into the document and the chart would be up-to-date in real time.

Being a mental health carer

For the past six and half years I’ve been a carer for a family member who has serious mental illnesses. And this is the first time I’ve blogged about it. There are lots of reasons why I’ve never written about it before. It seems unfair to write about my tough times when her’s are so much worse. I never knew how to separate what she was going through from my experience, and it doesn’t seem fair to tell her story, that’s for her to do. But over the past few weeks I’ve become more aware of my feelings about my experiences, and since it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d try to put some of those thoughts in writing.

Being a carer is isolating. I’ve never met or even talked to anyone else who cares for someone with mental illness, and I’ve never been able to talk about my experiences. I wonder about how other carers cope, what they have to go through, whether I could ever help them.

Being a carer is inspiring. I’ve seen someone who has experienced the most devastating of life events and the effects of a life-defining, self-destructive, crippling illness and yet never give up. With every victory over a fear she shows me what being brave really means, and with every step she takes towards a better life she shows me what being strong really looks like.

Being a carer is physically and emotionally draining. Nights without sleep, days without eating, hours of holding her in restraints, even more hours of standing between her and the negative consequences of her actions, dealing with police, ambulance, doctors. No breaks, no days off, no holidays. All of it takes its toll. I feel it in the ache of my back and in the heavy slowness of my thoughts.

Being a carer is defining. It made me question the kind of person I want to be and helped me figure out what is truly important to me. When I hear people talk about TV programmes they’ve watched I’m glad I don’t have time for such mundanities. When I see people getting worked up about stuff that doesn’t even affect them I’m glad my stresses are the result of having a positive impact on someone else’s life.

Being a carer comes with lots of responsibilities. Last week was a tough week. Looking back on it I can see how one decision in particular that I made turned out ok. If I had made a different decision the repercussions would have been life threatening. That’s a huge burden to bear, and one that I bear alone because of the isolation.

Being a carer is an adventure. There are so many things I’ve done, places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had (good and bad) that I would never have had if I wasn’t a carer. I’ve never been one to settle for an ordinary life but being a carer took that to an entirely new level.

Being a carer is unappreciated. I never expected any gratitude for being a carer, but I also never expected the negativity, criticism and suspicion about my motives. I guess that’s just people being people and it doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it perplexes me.

Being a carer is awesome. Although no one will ever see the work I’ve done or know the things I’ve achieved, I feel like her life is my masterpiece. That probably sounds weird, and I struggle to find the words to communicate what I mean, but when I look back over the last six and a half years I know there is nothing I would have rather done with my life.

There have been lots of tough times, more tough times than easy, and I’m sure more to come. I get through the tough times by being tougher, because it’s the only way I know how. I feel lucky to have been prepared for all of this by my own life experiences, training from jobs I’ve had, and a stoic personality that doesn’t like to quit. Is my approach healthy? Probably not, but I feel a certain amount of self-sacrifice is called for in order to achieve something more important. I feel privileged to affect a life so profoundly.

Week notes #198

This week I’ve been doing:

Go Manchester

Our new website went live, and very smoothly if I do say so myself. 

The only issue we had was with how third party analytics services handle cookies and being GDPR compliant. I’m clear on my stance for any product I work on that GDPR compliance is more important than tracking so I made the decision to remove the tracking scripts until I can figure out how to implement them in a compliant way. It wasn’t a popular decision but I strongly believe in adopting a stance of putting our users first, and if we can’t reliably give our users the means to choose whether they want to be tracked then we shouldn’t track them. Given how many websites implement cookies correctly ( I read it was somewhere around 11%) and that the ICO isn’t proactive in fining websites for it, this decision isn’t even about avoiding a financial risk, it’s a moral decision about how we treat the people that come to our websites for support.

Show & Tell

I did a show & tell for a new educational product we’re developing. Show & tells always reveal lots of things. This one showed that the requirements aren’t really the requirements, or maybe that in addition to functional requirements there are expectations and ideas people form that are never implicitly communicated. Helping people verbalise them and be open-minded about how to approach things is a challenge. Next week we’ll take the PoC into a research and development phase (if there is such a thing as phases) so that we can begin testing it with users to understand where it is and isn’t meeting their needs. I’ll also start working on a go-to market plan to help figure out some of our questions about adoption and place in the market.

Notes on a second brain

I turned what used to be the Reading section of my website into a Notes section to collect more diverse ideas, off the back of The Building A Second Brain podcast. I deliberated between using Notion or WordPress as the tech bit of my second brain. Notion is better as a database for things like my books, but WordPress is easier to add to and the Tags work better as a means of connecting things. Anyway, for the time being I’m using WordPress and have started posting more to the Notes section, including my daily journal entries as private posts, tweets I like, links to websites I’m using for research, etc. 

This week I’ve been studying

I missed this week’s lecture on the nature and characteristics of digital and information goods but read through the slides.

And I added a little to the framework for my assignment. My assignment strategy is the go through all the slide decks for the lecture series, pull out any references, models, useful info, etc., into each of the sections of the assignment, then find references to Shopify’s pricing model, revenue performance, etc., and then link them into some kind of coherent essay.

This week I’ve been thinking about

Collaborative working with myself

The majority of the tools I use seem to be built for teams and collaborative working (e.g. Teams, Planner, Trello), which makes me wonder about previous tools that were for individual working (e.g. Word) and how such tools would be built today.

Loose-coupling

The idea we need most for re-shaping a more resilient near-future society is that systems can (and given what we’ve seen throughout the coronavirus crisis, should) be built with less dependency on each part. The more loosely coupled the different parts of the system are, the easier it is to route to other parts of the system if one part becomes overwhelmed and replace parts that fail. This applies to all kinds of systems. After decades of globalisation and optimisation, the supply chains of goods being manufactured and shipped around the world are tightly coupled. How this can be changed to accept more variability and quickly replace one part with another will be essential in the new world. 

Information networks for alignment 

I think organisations set up communication in the same way as power, and I think this is what makes it difficult to achieve alignment. But enabling and allowing communication networks rather than enforcing hierarchies offers a better means for reaching alignment. 

This week people have been tweeting about:

Wardley’s Doctrine 

Simon Wardley tweeted about his doctrine: universally useful patterns that can apply regardless of context. It’s almost like having all the modern practice thoughts on one place, things like ‘move fast’, ‘be transparent’, ‘there is no core strategy’, and ‘listen to your ecosystem’. What seems to read as the most advanced is ‘design for constant evolution’, which is at the same time the biggest challenge and most essential focus for any organisation. There is still far too much industrial folly in what and how orgs build everything that presupposes the project mindset, fixed timescales and some ambiguous notion of done.

Communication is fundamental to good product management 

Bhavika Shah tweeted about the most important artifacts product managers use to communicate, and it’s a really interesting list. I wonder how those artifacts are received. Communication being a two way thing, I think there is lots of education required in interpreting each of these.

Information, communication and alignment

Alignment of people and teams in an organisation seems directly proportional to how information about things like strategic priorities is communicated. And at first glance it looks like a goldilocks problem; too much communication and people get information overload, not enough communication and people don’t know what is going on. Either extreme diminishes alignment, and so the solution seems to be to communicate just enough.

But perhaps it isn’t a question of quantity. I think the solution might be more to do with how information flows rather than how much is communicated. If information only flows vertically through a hierarchy, and relies on the skills and actions of an individual to pass on information then two things occur, bottlenecks and interpretation. These slow down the flow of information and change the message, resulting in different people across the organisation getting different information at different times, even if they started with the same information.

Networks that allow information to flow more freely through multiple routes speed up the transmission of the message and allow the same people to receive multiple interpretations and so question the message to reach a more well-rounded understanding. Networks don’t rely on a one-way flow of information, which means that rather than alignment being the result of compliance with a single person’s or small group’s vision it is something that emerges from the collective communication across everyone in the organisation. Power can be hierarchical in an organisation with communication having to follow the same structure.

Loose-coupling is the idea we need now.

The current crisis we face has revealed lots of systemic and societal issues and inequalities, and lots of inadequacies in our thinking and how we’ve constructed our lives based on our mental models. One of the ideas we’ve built upon is that tight-coupling provides security, solidity and reliability. We’re starting to realise that the downsides of tight-coupling include over-reliance on structures and systems that by their very nature include single-points-of-failure, cascading failures, and knock-on effects.

Tight-coupling is the idea that the parts of that system should be dependent and reliant on the other parts. A business with a fixed supply chain that relies on a single supplier is tightly-coupled, and if that supplier fails then the business fails. A family with a single source of income from one person’s job is tightly-coupled, and if that employer fails then the family fails. A person with few or highly specialised skills needs an industry that requires those skills, and if that industry fails to need those skills then the person fails.

Loose-coupling comes from computer system design, and in our internet-era we should be considering how ideas that understand the nature of networks can be used in our mental models. Loose-coupling means that any part of the system can be replaced without disrupting the entire system. A business can quickly and easily swap suppliers, a family can shift to another income source, a person can make use of lots of different skills.

Now more than ever, as we think about what the future of our society, our economy, our businesses, and our lives look like, we should be avoiding building tightly coupled systems and convincing ourselves of the illusion of solidity that comes with it. Instead we should build loosely coupled systems that give us multiple routes through the networks, allow us to replace parts more easily, and are adaptable, flexible, and able to respond to changes and crisis.

Week notes #197

This week I did:

Does it work?

I’ve been writing test cases for a new website, and I’m keen for them and the results to add to a body of knowledge about how the product works. Testing that is just about making sure it works as expected is useful but isn’t as valuable as testing that validates assumptions that have grown throughout the design and development. 

Teams and Sharepoint 

I put together a Proof-of-Concept implementation of a Microsoft Teams site with content powered by Sharepoint and automation by Flow. It’s an interesting and potentially powerful combination, especially for teams and functions that are document heavy. The trick is to get the meta data structure right from the start. It makes me wish for a block-orientated content management system from Microsoft that could drive consistent information out to a variety of sources and applications.

This week I studied:

Data, information and knowledge 

We discussed the differences between data, information and knowledge, and how they are used competitively by businesses. I’m interested in knowledge management as a competitive advantage, and I like understanding the definitions of concepts like these so I found it an interesting topic.

  • Data is raw facts and observations
  • Information is processed data
  • Information can be processed information
  • Knowledge is processed information
  • Knowledge can only be produced by intelligent beings (humans at the moment but maybe not for much longer, but that’s a whole other debate)

Unfortunately I’m finding the lectures a bit dull. I don’t know if it’s because they are delivered over video call or if the pace is too slow, or that the content isn’t engaging enough but I don’t think it should take two hours to understand the difference between data, information and knowledge.

Analysis of Shopify’s business model 

I’ve chosen Shopify for my assignment because their business model involves lots of topics from the Digital Business module; they use open source software, produce a digital good and support information goods and have a pricing strategy that creates a coherent business model around maintaining a certain level of quality in their customer’s use of their product. I’m going to enjoy the analysis but the recommendations of what they can do to improve might be a bit more of a challenge. 

This week I thought about:

Start simple, use what works, evolve towards complexity

Gall’s Law says, “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”

Maybe Gall’s law provides an interesting parallel to Mui’s famous mantra of “Start small, think big, learn fast“. So, “Start simple” tells us that beginning with what is known and easily expressible gives us a reliable foundation. “Use what works” tells us to be realistic and pragmatic in how we build on validated knowledge and proven mechanisms. “Evolve towards complexity” tells us to remember it’s a journey and that good outcomes are best achieved in increments. 

Visualising over conceptualising

Humans are visual animals, no doubt about it. We take in information visually, communicate visually, and when we’re trying to build a product to solve a problem it seems easier to start with ‘what’s it going to look like’ rather than ‘how is it going to work’. This can be problematic. A Proof of Concept most often provides the proof part visually to show how something works, and this is considered more important than the concept part, which is either assumed or ignored. If we don’t understand our concepts in a meaningful way we run the risk of misunderstanding how things actually work. How we express and discuss concepts coherently is another challenge. 

This week on Twitter:

The league of accessible websites

Silktide has an index of public sector websites ranked by accessibility. I think it’s a fantastic idea and think UK charity websites should be on there.

Browser detection for better website experience

James, Ross and I had a chat/online brainstorm about cookies, responsive content choices, accessibility, and using browser feature detection (in a way that doesn’t exist yet) to allow users to shape the experience they have of a website.

How small teams do good work

Amir Salihefendic, CEO of Doist, tweeted about his experience of how small teams work best to do good work, including things like vision, constraints, autonomy and dependency. 

Strong tools, loosely held

Interesting thoughts from Andric Tham on not relying on specific tools to enable a workflow but instead having strong mental models that can be applied whatever the tools. Useful if you work in an organisation that has policies about tool use and because getting the right mental models is so important for so many things. 

Twenty five takeaways from Escaping the build trap

Escaping the build trap is right at the top of my ‘to read’ list, but in the meantime Paulo Andre tweeted twenty five useful things to think about from the book.

(Twitter seems to be getting over its Covid-shock and returning to its usual self)

The Sun’s attack on the charity sector

The front page of The Sun today featured a story about the fees Just Giving charged for processing donations to Captain Tom’s campaign to raise funds for NHS charities.

Front page of The Sun with article about Just Giving fees

I won’t comment on the contents of the article, partly because I didn’t read it, but mostly because there isn’t anything interesting to be said about the ‘charity sector should do everything for free’ assumption that underpins this and other similar articles.

Various far more influential charity sector people than me tweeted their support for Just Giving, their distaste for The Sun’s position presented in the article, and implicitly a criticism of regular charity-bashing that occurs in the press.

Although it’s right to defend the charity sector from this kind of ill-considered attack, it also plays into the hands of The Sun and its strategy of getting attention through feigned outrage. This is what The Sun does. It is like a petulant child doing things it knows will get a reaction. It is in the business of selling newspapers, not selling news, and it chooses to do so by finding ‘stories’ that it can present in ways it thinks will cause outrage. This also isn’t very interesting to me.

What is interesting to me is that The Sun (and other media/press organisations) find it acceptable to undertake this kind of charity-bashing. I’m all for open discussions about and critique of charities and the charity sector as it’s an important force for improvement and preventing ‘untouchable’ people from doing very negative and illegal things in the name of charity and doing good, but that isn’t what is going on here.

In political theory there is the idea of the Overton Window. It describes how politicians can only propose and support policies that fit are popular, sensible and acceptable. No politician could do anything radical or unthinkable. There exists, I think, a similar window for the press of things that are considered acceptable to use for generating outrage, and things that aren’t.

Articles about the government’s funding of the NHS is considered fair game, but if The Sun went too far outside the window, for example by criticising the NHS, then it would run the risk of the public outrage it seeks to create being directed at The Sun. Another example; the Queen is outside the window of topics of outrage but most of the rest of the royal family isn’t. And quite clearly, the charity sector is currently within that Outrage Window.

So, if we want to change The Sun’s attitude towards the charity sector and stop unwarranted charity-bashing, we need to shift where the charity sector is in the Outrage Window. Making it as socially unacceptable to bash charities as it is to bash the NHS is the goal here.

The charity sector is starting from behind as past scandals give reason to be mistrusting of charities, and it doesn’t have a single identity in the way the NHS does, but it doesn’t seem like an insurmountable problem, although perhaps one that would require greater concerted effort than could be achieved at present times.

The circular problems of mental capacity

There are some infinite loops in how someone suffering from a mental health crisis receives treatment in hospital that makes the situation more difficult for everyone involved than it should be. The scenario plays out like this:

Infinite loop 1: physical and mental health

Someone who requires medical attention for physical health concerns is seen by paramedics. The person refuses treatment but because the paramedics judge that they don’t have mental capacity, they are told that the decision is being taken from them and they have to go to hospital. Once in hospital they continue to refuse treatment. The doctors and nurses are powerless to treat them because even though its obvious that they lack the mental capacity to make decisions about treatment they haven’t yet been seen by a mental health professional. But the mental health professional won’t see them until they are medically fit.

This is the first infinite loop the person finds themselves in. They can’t receive treatment for their mental health until they are physically healthy, but their mental health prevents them from becoming physically healthy.

Infinite loop 2: decision making and mental capacity

If they do speak to a mental health professional at some point whilst in hospital, they are told their options and given a choice about whether to accept treatment, but that mental health professional knows that they don’t have the mental capacity to understand the choice because that’s why they are there, but because they haven’t had a mental capacity act assessment yet and deemed officially to still have mental capacity.

This is the second infinite loop the person finds themselves in. The lack of mental capacity gets them into a situation where they have to make difficult decisions that they don’t have the mental capacity to understand, but because they are still considered to have sufficient capacity they are expected to make decisions as a person with capacity would.

So, as with so many things, these infinite loop problems are characteristics of a systems problem where no policies and procedures can encompass the complexities of human behaviour and real life, but the people in those situations are bound to follow the policies and procedures.

I’m grateful for…

Hand coloured design of the word Grateful

…learning restraint techniques so many years ago. I was taught restraint techniques when I worked with children with severe and complex emotional and behavioral problems. The techniques provide physical and emotional containment for someone in an emotional crisis. To onlookers, the physical restraint looks like it’s just about stopping the person from moving freely but it isn’t like the restraint techniques used by the Police which are designed to ensure compliance, these technques help the person feel safe when they aren’t able to manage their own emotions and stay safe when their emotions make them behave in ways that put them at risk.

I’m grateful for knowing how to do that