I’ve been working on a product assessment before making a recommendation as to whether it’s a good fit for meeting organisational requirements across safeguarding, technology, operations, and people, and how that fit might change over time. Part of that assessment is to construct a test so I’ve been collating a long list of swear words, football hooligan gang names, mental health trigger words, and racist and sexist insults to use as triggers for understanding how we might recognise their use, understand their meaning (which is always very contextual), and respond in positive supportive ways.
Had a very interesting chat about what it means to be outcome-driven. It’s not a normal way of thinking (well, for most people anyway). Having to answer for yourself whether this thing you’re about to do is going to get you closer to your goal relies on having done lots of thinking about those goals and how your theory of change works. It feels almost normal to me, but maybe I have one of those weird brains that means I already know why I’m saying what I say in a meeting, and what I’m trying to achieve by saying it, and how achieving that thing will help achieve a bigger goal. You can’t be outcome-driven unless you have outcome-thinking.
Digital Remediation in Art and Culture
This week’s lecture went into the idea of remediation. This was the second lecture but as I missed last weeks it was my first, so my first opportunity to see how this lecturer teaches. He was using a Kahoot quiz to ask questions about the pre-recorded lectures and reading materials and then explain more about concepts behind the answers. This is interesting in two ways; one because the topic of remediation in digital art suggests a very different view of creativity than we usually consider for art, and two, because the lecturer is experimenting with how online education with large cohorts (80 +) can be effective.
Some things I thought about this week:
Product management is just backlog prioritisation
I spend more time on ‘goodness of fit’ work, assessing and coordinating how we might solve organisation-wide problems and how all of the solutions will fit together long before a piece of work gets onto a delivery backlog than I do (or ever would) spend prioritising the backlog. Of course, most of the delivery team I’m part of don’t see this, and the Scrum product owner vs. Product Manager confusion persists so there is an expectation that the main part of my job should be to prioritising the backlog of work for the team. A high-functioning delivery team shouldn’t be relying on any single person to prioritise work, they’re capable of doing that themselves, and it avoids bottlenecks.
Where innovation sites
I’ve noticed a a few Innovation jobs in the charity sector recently, which is really good to see, and it intrigues me as to where in the organisation the roles are. Rothwell talks about how for innovation to be successful lots of factors have to work, including project execution and corporate level factors. So, I wonder if small innovation teams in the fundraising department are limited to only ever having a small impact constrained by innovation not being enough of a part of everything the charity does. Innovation teams are a great start, but innovation cultures, systems and strategies are better.
The role of the collective in wellbeing
Wellbeing at work is a challenge. No kidding. The challenge seems to me to be about the nature of the relationship between the organisation and the individual. Maybe it needs rethinking. Most organisations approach the wellbeing of employees as the organisation having responsibility for the individual, which of course they do, but there is more to it than that. There are more players in this game. There is the organisation, the individual, and the collective. The collective is groups of people with a common behaviour. Outside of work, we have collective social support networks made up of friends and family. Maybe similar co-supporting networks at work might be beneficial to everyone. Perhaps the organisation feels it couldn’t suggest this as it might be seen as abdicating responsibility but that shouldn’t stop people from building supportive networks for themselves.
Knowledge work changes the input of learning to the output of work. It used to be that you could learn one thing and use that knowledge to do the same work thousands of times over your career. Now you have to learn ten things for every one thing you do. Knowledge work places far more emphasis on learning, which requires individuals and organisations to change how they approach learning.
Stuff I read this week:
Charities, artificial intelligence and machine learning
It’s really great to see this article. I firmly believe that more charities need improve their understanding of new and emerging technologies like machine learning. Even if they don’t feel like it’s the right time for introducing these technologies into their organisation, understanding how those technologies might be used in ways that affect their beneficiaries. Charity digital and technology strategies are always about what they are going to do about their internal tech rather than how they are going to respond to technology changes across society.Follow the foxThis video was sent to me by one of Twitter friends. It talks about emerging process, doing the next right thing, rather using models that pretend work happens in straight predicable lines. Learning and adapting as you go is a better https://www.youtube.com/embed/UsWCA505EUc?feature=oembedView original
Charity island discs
I watched the fourth episode of Charity island discs with Zoe Amar. Wayne often mentions about getting behind the LinkedIn profiles and getting to see people’s humanity, and although it’s taken me four episodes, I’m starting to get what he means. For most of the people I know of in the charity sector on Twitter I only see a profile picture. Seeing them speaking about life experiences and their favourite songs, hearing their voices, finding out about their journeys and what motivates them, removes the barrier and veneer that social media profiles create. Helping people in the charity sector to look more like normal people to others helps us all feel more like we can be part of it, that we can all play our part without having to be doing amazing things (even if all those people on charity island discs are doing amazing things) and be super-successful.
How should we prioritise work on a project? The RRR method suggests that we start by assuming projects have a high probability of failure and so we should prioritize tasks based on risk, but actually not in terms of the absolute amount of risk they’ll reduce but in terms of their risk-reduction rate. The risk-reduction rate is the amount of risk you can reduce per hour or dollar you invest in doing them. By doing the highest RRR tasks first, you do them in the order that will most rapidly reduce the project’s remaining risks.
Team scoped an MVP aligned with organisational objectives and funding obligations, confirmed technical feasibility, designed wireframes and got stakeholder approval in two weeks. Absolutely awesome people! Next we move into deep levels of definition and get set up for development.
Lessons from managing products in charities
I had an idea about creating a ten-part automated email campaign based on some of the things I’ve learned from developing products in charities. I don’t know why they couldn’t just be blog posts other than because I like experimenting with different media. I started making notes and figuring out the structure the emails would have. I don’t know how I’m going to get the time to finish them but I guess there’s no rush.
Digital creativity and new media
Although I didn’t attend the lecture (work call. Priorities, you know) I already think it’s a really interesting topic. I’m going to cathc up on the lecture, get into the reading and start thinking about the assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity? Develop a critical argument and illustrate with examples’.
It also turns out that the lecturer for this module is my dissertation supervisor so I’d better be on my best behaviour.
Hwang and Powell said, “In recent decades, the nonprofit sector has evolved from informal activities of charitable do-gooders to highly formalized endeavors by enterprising individuals. In such areas as health care, higher education, social services, and the arts, nonprofits are major service providers.”. In this sense “Nonprofit” is professional term used to convey credibility and influence society, almost a badge of honour and a moral stance. ‘For-impact’ might seem more appropriate from Sinek’s ‘start with why’ point of view but in fact the sector is more complex than can be understood by a single axis or characteristic of not aiming to make a profit.
Morris talks about how “Institutions which are neither statutory, nor profit maximising, have been collectively and variously called the voluntary, third, non-profit, or more recently, civil society, sector.” and looks at the definition of the sector from a range of perspectives including the types of goods and services the sector provides and “the positive externalities that they create for society”.
Pallotta suggest calling it the Humanity Sector. His arguments against the other terms aside, he says, “What brings us to this work is our humanity. And what makes the work happen is the generosity of countless people from all socioeconomic levels, who make donations out of their humanity. Moreover, it is for humanity that all of this effort is undertaken. To call it by another name is at best to miss the point, and at worst to betray it.”
Clearly the reason no one can agree on what to call the sector is that no one can agree on what axis to analyse organisations in the sector.
Last Year in the Creator Economy
“Collectively, Gumroad creators earned $142 million in 2020, up 94% from 2019. This post discusses the forces that shaped Gumroad’s role in the creator economy in 2020 and will direct it going forward, as well as what you can do, today, to become a bigger part of it yourself.” This is so much more useful than obscure tweets that attempt to present themselves as insight.
Digital economy report 2019
“The digital revolution has transformed our lives and societies with unprecedented speed and scale, delivering immense opportunities as well as daunting challenges. New technologies can make significant contributions to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, but we cannot take positive outcomes for granted. We must urgently improve international cooperation if we are to achieve the full social and economic potential of digital technology, while avoiding unintended consequences.”
And thought about:
Leaning into difficulty
There are always lots of problems to solve, lots of difficulties to face. Picking which ones to focus on isn’t easy, but once we know which difficulties we want to tackle leaning into them, getting serious about them is the only way to affect them. Heads in sand doesn’t help.
Communication over coordination
Work needs coordination too, but it needs more and better communication more.
Right or wrong
Everyone is doing what they think is right, it’s just that we all think different things are right. It’s easy to think that some people are right and some are wrong, and usually that those who agree with us that are the ones who are right.
People like me
Ethan Mollick tweeted “Homophily is the principle that we like people who are like ourselves, and it is a powerful force in explaining how society is structured. This paper shows it goes deeper than skin: You are more likely to be friends with people who literally think like you”. If, as the paper suggests, we are more likely to be friends with people who perceive and respond to the world in ways similar to us (which makes intuitive sense) then how do we get diversity and the benefits that come with it? Maybe work is the answer.
Jon Yates tweeted, “After 40 years, I’ve begged and borrowed a few “rules to live by”. Often mess them up! but here they are … What are yours?” The latest rule I’ve been thinking about is ‘Don’t shop hungry’, by which I mean don’t make decisions based the immediate situation you are in. Always try to step back, think about what you are trying to achieve and whether this will help you do it.
Empower ‘s five charity digital trends, inspired me to think about where I see the focus going for charities increasing and improving their digital skills and services in 2021.
More considered product suite
Charities will give greater consideration to which products and digital services they adopt.
There will always be the tension between going where the people are, which means using products like Zoom and Whatsapp where user security and privacy might not be top priority, and ensuring that the people a charity interact with online are safe and well-protected. As digital knowledge around security and privacy grows, charities will give greater consideration to choosing which way to resolve that tension. Sometimes that will mean adopting products that are new to those people the charity supports and accepting the short term pain of encouraging adoption in return for the long term gain of helping people understand the importance of cyber security.
Building communities will win out over growing supporters
Small online communities popped up in lots of places in 2020. From neighbourhood Whatsapp groups, to support groups on Facebook, and Zoom yoga classes, everyone was joining and building online communities. As charities reconsider that it means to engage and interact with people online we’ll see a shift away from mass communication on big social media platforms towards small well-focused, and in many cases private, online communities.
Back to the basics of digital
User-first thinking means recognising that sometimes digital isn’t the right solution
Digital thinking is user focused. And if the best thing for the user is to receive a hand written letter on a piece of actual paper, then that is the solution digital thinking should provide. Charities will increasingly adopt a digital mindset over digital technologies to focus on solving the problems people face.
Exploring connected services
More charities will focus on partnership working to tackle more complex problems
In our increasingly interconnected society we’re becoming more and more aware of how complex the problems people face are, and that one organisation working alone cannot solve them. Charities will turn to partnership working as the first thought in tackling problems. We’ll see more joint bids for funding to provide more cohesive and effective services, and people will get better help as charities turn outwards to work more with other organisations.
Looking after each other
More people in the charity sector will take more time to look after themselves and each other
If we haven’t yet realised how important well-being is for the health of our minds and bodies, our families, society and our organisations, then 2021 will encourage more charities to figure out how to enable it’s people to work from anywhere, work flexible times around other commitments, and achieve good things in healthy ways. The idea of people as replaceable resources, as cogs in the machine that just need to do what they’re told to do, is dead. Charities that encourage, or even expect, their people to be creative individuals using all their capabilities will be more successful in 2021, which in case anyone is in any doubt, is going to be a year full of challenges that need kind, intelligent, adaptable people to make a difference.
This week has been one of my most most fun weeks at work for a long time. The team was set the challenge of rethinking the product we’ve been working on and coming up with a minimal viable version that can be launched more quickly. We worked asynchronously in a single shared document and Miro board and it feels like we’ve made more progress in the last three days than the last three weeks. Of course we wouldn’t have been able to work so quickly without all that background work, but it’s good to experience what we can do as a team when we focus.
For me personally, it’s been interesting to move so quickly between what we need to do strategically to achieve objectives and what we need to do technically to build a solution that works now and gives us a foundation for the future. This what I mean when I talk about how good product management ‘integrates’. It connects the heights of strategy to the low details of how the software works, the past to the present to the future, and the different teams across the organisation to all work together. When I hear product managers say that they’re operating a strategic level like it’s some ego-trip or status-signalling I immediately see how ineffective they are being. Getting better at that ‘integration’ work is one of my professional development goals.
Met the neighbours
As a digital nomad I never thought I’d have neighbours. One of the places I’ve been parking seems to be a well-known spot for those living in vans so I did the neighbourly thing and said, ‘Hi’. One of my neighbours is living in a camper while he waits to be able to return to China to teach English. We talked about American politics, the nomadic lifestyle and other good places to park in the area.
And I thought about:
With numerous X-As-A-Service business models, and the blurring of work and life from more people working at home, the natural evolution seems to be selling X-As-A-Lifestyle. Are you a ‘successful’ work-from-home parent? Write a newsletter about it, build an online following and monetize your experience. Did you suffer from stress and then learn how to cope? Create an online community and sell your wellbeing coaching services. In times of uncertainty people look to others even more for guidance, not just in how to do one thing but in how to live a new life.
Do charities need product management?
I’ve been thinking about product management in charities and what benefits that type of thinking brings to a charity. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal written about product management in charities but given that it’s a function that serves other organisations in other sectors well, and that charities are becoming more reliant on digital technology (not that product management is exclusively about tech) it seems something worth exploring. I’ll get around to turning my thoughts into a blog post one day.
Skill development models
You should specialise. No, you should be a generalist. No, you should be a T shaped person, or I or X shaped. No, you should be star-shaped. The diversity of sectors, careers and careers paths surely makes it impossible to say that a single model fits all situations, perhaps to the point of uselessness. Identifying what skills you should develop, especially given the world we live in today, seems like it should be a bottom-up exercise that is capable of changing quickly rather than one that fits a particular model or system.
No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees
Sahil Lavingia writes about how work is organised at Gumroad. It is a glimpse at how one company has evolved to be completely remote, asynchronous, low overhead cost, and transparent about things like wages. Obviously the model fits a very particular type of organisation, and has reached this place through crisis rather than intelligent design from the outset. And the post has none of the, ‘This is how we succeeded and you should copy us’ tone that some organisations have when they write about their working culture and comes from a humble place of sharing how it worked for them. For those organisations trying to get back to the normal working of everyone in the same office at the same time it offers an interesting contrast.
Ideas That Changed My Life
Morgan Housel wrote about the ideas that changed his life. I was particularly interested in the parts on sustainable sources of competitive advantage and the quote by Historian Niall Ferguson who dais that “The dead outnumber the living 14 to 1, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.”. One of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about and feel has changed my life is around the balance of benefit and cost, and how I think everything has more cost than benefit, which is right in that what is a cost to me is probably a benefit to someone else, and that’s how a complex society works, but also how continually incurred costs seems like another way to talk about entropy and the eventually consumption of all finite resources.
Remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree
Charles Burdett wrote, “When it feels like you’re not making progress, remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree.”, where the growth of bamboo is used as a metaphor for continuing to work towards success even when there is no visible growth at beginning. For me it illustrates that we all have mental models that don’t match the reality of how systems perform. We expect growth and success to be linear, but in fact it almost never is. Getting our understanding of the world closer to the realities of the world seems like a essential, albeit probably impossible, challenge.
And some people tweeted:
2 ways to teach.
Craig Burgess tweeted about two different relationship models for teaching, one where the teacher is seen as an authority passing on best practice from an existing body of knowledge and one where the teacher is exploring and learning at the same time as sharing their new knowledge. We had a short discussion on Twitter about whether one way is better than the other or could be used for different situations. Perhaps the first way of teaching works better for established bodies of knowledge where students need stability in what information will be transferred, and the second works better where the knowledge hasn’t been codified for transmission and is still emerging.
Building an online audience online is developing social capital
I tweeted a short essay about how the things people write nowadays about building an online audience are based upon thinking around developing social capital that is almost a hundred years old. In a way it relates to my chat with Craig about how established and emerging knowledge affect each other. How much do those who are creating emerging knowledge in a particular field, such as building an audience for an online business, build upon, knowingly or unknowingly, the body of existing knowledge? If there are no new ideas then is everyone wasting their time discovering their own emerging knowledge? I think not, because existing knowledge is codified as information and can only be turned into knowledge by someone else if they go through a learning process.
Personal blogs and RSS feeds
Terence Eden tweeted about reading blogs via his RSS feed setup and Luca Hammer tweeted his very cool tool for identifying the feeds of websites that people link to in the Twitter bios. I’ve been trying different ways of building a horizon-scanner using RSS for ages, and with tools like IFFTT and Tentacle having limits to the number of feeds I hadn’t got very far. Then I found out that Slack has an RSS app so I set up a channel to receive notifications from different websites across the charity sector. Now I get a notification when a new article is posted on any of those websites. I’ve never been a big fan of Slack, probably because of my leaning towards asynchronous communication and having never worked in an organisation where it had been allowed, but it actually has more uses for an individual than I previously thought. I’m starting to think of it as less of a communication tool and more of a stream of stuff going on that I’m interested in.
The first rule of internet success is ‘build an audience’. Want to be known for something, have greater influence, sell a product? Build an audience of like-minded people, those who are interested in the same things you are.
The second rule of internet success is ‘give away your knowledge freely’. Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, share your journey, be open about your wins and losses. This builds trust with your audience.
The third rule of internet success is ‘participate and reciprocate regularly’. Be part of the online community in your area of interest, engage with people, chat to them. And do it often to maintain the relationships.
Why? Because they all develop social capital, which is “the links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.” https://oecd.org/insights/37966934.pdf
Bridging social capital is most interesting as it applies to building an audience on the internet. “Bridging describes social relationships of exchange, often of associations between people with shared interests or goals but contrasting social identity” http://oro.open.ac.uk/74/
That’s why Social Capital works. And this is how it works… the power of network connections. Bridging social capital can only work if we have a means of creating those bridges. Fortunately, the internet is the perfect tool for building social capital in this way.
Or to put it another way, as an audience grows, its potential growth grows at an exponential rate. If your audience of 44 people each brings 44 more, in six steps you’ve reached 7.26 billion people. https://youtube.com/watch?v=TcxZSmzPw8k
But just having the mechanisms to reach that many people isn’t enough, which is why developing social capital is so important for achieving whatever success you are looking for on the internet. Build an audience by sharing your value freely and regularly.