Week notes #196

This week, I’ve been doing:

Another busy week at work

With a new website going live next week, and another two high profile products also being developed as quickly as possible, it has been a week of ruthless prioritisation and fast-paced getting things done. Our team talked about how everyone is feeling the effects of the increased workload and increased demand and we talked about ways of dealing with this. My examples of less time in video calls and more time using asynchronous communication and decision-making didn’t feel like it offered much of a solution but i think it’s an essential aspect of a digitally-mature organisation.

I’ve been feeling a bit self-conscious about my effectiveness and whether I’m meeting expectations. I think there is an expectation for me to demonstrate ‘leadership’ (whatever that means at the time to the person saying it), which seems to be synonymous with demonstrating confidence, which seems to mean being more vocal. As an INTJ/introvert, being more vocal isn’t my natural approach. I’m more inclined to listen, take it away and think about it all before knowing what questions I need to ask or opinion/information I should provide. I hope that as I become more familiar with how all the different moving parts work I’ll have sufficient knowledge to reduce my thinking time enough to be able to ask useful intelligent questions during the discussion.

Next week I go to working three days a week. It means I’ve got more time to study and work on personal projects but it’s going to impact heavily on the amount of work I can deliver.

Too many ideas, not enough time

I have a tendency to start lots of things and keep all of them progressing at different paces depending on what I’m interested in at any one time. At the moment I’m working on:

  • Digital business module – This is the fourth module for my MSc and the last one of the first year. My grades have been in the distinction zone so I’m keen to do a good job of the assignment and essay to try to keep my average grade up.
  • Future.charity – a thought experiment about what the charity of the future might look like. I want to actually register Future Charity as a charitable organisation, set up a governance structure, and all the other things to create a real charity whilst also challenging the underlying assumptions and thinking behind each of those things to test how future-fit they are and experiment with alternative approaches. The problem is that it requires like-minded people, which requires a lot of time to find and work with.
  • Shop – I set up a shop on my website and had the idea of writing product user guides for things like Trello and Microsoft Planner. I don’t think anyone would actually want to buy them but I’d like to test the idea of selling my writing.
  • Pain to knowledge – I started a social change short course with Leeds Beckett University. The first lecture was on affirmative ethics and I wrote an essay in response to the question ‘What does Covid-19 reveal about ethical decision-making on a macro and micro level?
  • RogBot – My chatbot that surfaces information about me from multiple sources. Of all my projects this one is probably the most fun and the least useful.
  • Team of the Future – An essay about the Team of the future; the history of practices, politics, principles and philosophies that underpin knowledge work and management, and imagining how they might be different in the future.
  • Digital in charity – An essay about why digital is more important for charities than a new website or using Facebook Donate and is going to be an essential part of tackling the inequalities in society now and in the future because the forces that make society more unequal are already weaponising digital technology to affect political outcomes and sway public about policies that affect the under-represented and marginalised people in society.
  • The Fire Control Problem – Or, how to hit a moving target, is about how to approach achieving something when it changes and moves, and the environment it is in changes too. There’s some philosophical stuff about the nature of change and some technique stuff about fast feedback loops and course correction. It was going to be a book but I might turn it into an essay. 
  • 2288 Days – Another long-form essay piece of writing that charts my journey as a mental health carer and what I learned applying entrepreneurial and start-up thinking to help with managing mental illness.
  • And lots of other projects that never got past the idea stage.

I need to pick four or five to work on to maximise my new working pattern, and find a way to put the others out of sight so that I don’t keep going back to them every time I think of something to add.

This week, I’ve been studying:

Digital business

It’s the first week of the term and the first lecture delivered over online video. It was delivered using Blackboard (interesting to me because we’re looking at education platforms at work).

We talked about the digital economy, competition and protecting digital assets from piracy:

  • Lesson #1 – When something becomes digital, piracy always takes place
  • Lesson #2 – Neither technology nor law (alone) can prevent piracy
  • Lesson #3 – Piracy cannot be prevented, but it can be avoided with the right business model!

Digital business models fascinate me, and I recognise a clear difference between a ‘digital business model’ as a means for an organisation to drive value that has been built on a solid understanding of digital and internet principles and user behaviour, and a business model that uses digital to deliver value. Examples are Netflix, which has a digital business model where its revenue generation is not linked to assets (users pay a subscription no matter which films are available or how many they watch), and YouTube, which has a business model that uses digital as a delivery channel (users purchase each film individually and watch it streamed over the internet).

This week, I’ve been thinking about:

Advice on the internet

Advice, by its nature, is an individual request for guidance about something specific to the situation the person asking for the advice finds themselves in. Advice on the internet (especially in the form of an article on a website that is designed to be read by lots of people) has to be generic and broad because the writer would never know the particularities of the situation the readr is in. 

So this is the conundrum of advice on the internet. Providing information is different from advice as it either isn’t context specific or the context is narrow enough to be defined. It leaves me wondering if it is possible to provide advice on the internet.

Vaguely connected to this (at least in my mind) is the launch of Service Recipes from Catalyst, which provides examples of how other charities have set up things like using web chat to support clients. I think it’s a brilliant idea (probably better than my Charity Workbook project that didn’t get very far). My concern, when I read the recipes, was that all of them had a technology aspect to them but none of the mentioned cyber-security or privacy which should be really big concerns for charities using consumer-to-consumer (rather than enterprise-to-consumer) technologies like WhatsApp.

The other vague connection is to my User Guides project which came off the back of various discussions about using tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello and Zoom and led me to want to test the hypothesis of whether the knowledge I’ve developed about these tools is worth anything to anyone. And it amuses me that I’m adopting a business model that isn’t digital but uses digital to deliver in order to do this. And also my older project of Charity Workbooks which provide a way for charities to work through building something like a web messaging service to reach their own answers.

Platform charity models

I thought some more about what a platform charity might look like (rather than the pipeline that every charity I can think of uses) and I still struggle to see how any charity would ever be in the position to invest enough in developing a platform business model, and how it could even work.

Charity pipelines look like this: Get funding > deliver service > benefits to service user.

A pipeline might look a little like: Recruit volunteers > more volunteers can deliver more services > more services equals more impact > more impact is used to recruit more volunteers (assuming that is what motivates volunteers to get involved). And so it goes around getting bigger and bigger, and other loops come out such as some of the volunteers being fundraisers > raise more money > deliver more services (and on to recruitment again).

Platform thinking is usually tied very closely to the technology underpinning it, and I guess in the examples above which rely on measuring impact would need good tech to make it workable.

The difference between a website, a microsite, and a web portal

As with most things, the difference depends on how you choose to define the difference, but if the choice is between public/private and generic/specific then we can have a (probably completely useless) understanding.