Week notes #185

This week I was doing:

What does a target space look like?

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

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

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

An experiment with the Dvorak keyboard

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

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

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

Bitcoin Wallet 

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

This week I was studying:

Intangibles, networks and “winner takes all” markets

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

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

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

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

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

This week I was thinking about:

Decoupling innovation from newness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inventing the future of FMCG

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

This week people I follow on Twitter were saying:

It’s surprising anything ever gets done

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

I’ll start:

1 Your business case process demands false certainty

2 Your budget funds projects, not teams

3 Your people can’t move teams easily”

And lots of people joined in…

Charities working together 

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

Charity digital training 

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


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