Week notes #206

This week I did:

Writing makes neat boxes

I produced an interesting (only to me) comparison chart of the ways one-to-one, one-to-few and one-to-many communication can take place in Microsoft Teams. The reason I find writing documents like this so interesting isn’t because of the topic so much, but because it forces me to structure and clarify my thinking. It gives my understanding some neat boxes to exist in which I can connect with other neat boxes of knowledge and the messy overflowing boxes which I haven’t yet organised.

I also intend to use writing more to help others structure discussions and decisions about our products. This has started me thinking that quite often we don’t need a strategy, we just need a structure. We don’t need long-term plans, we just need agreed means for tracking the progress of work, communicating with each other, making decisions, etc.

Designing services that support the product to deliver a service

My questions about where the lines between product and service are, or whether there even are lines between them, continues. I’ve been working on designing services that support the product to deliver a service. We’re also thinking about what products we need to introduce to enable the services that support the product that delivers the service our users engage with. Ultimately, all of the products and services fit together into an ecosystem that creates the experience of engaging with our organisation. Doing this without falling foul of Conway’s Law is a interesting challenge to check-in with 

Yesterday, today, tomorrow

I tried another experiment in focusing work. Everyday (and I actually managed to stick with it every day this time) I answered three questions; what did I do yesterday, what am I doing today, what do I want to do tomorrow? I know the experiment was only for a few days, but I’m still not convinced it’s achieving any better focus than not writing what. I did learn one thing about choosing the size of the tasks; make it something you can get done in a day, not something vague that might take a number of days.

You can have a long term strategy or agile delivery but you can’t have both

I wrote about my ideas about why an organisation can’t have a long-term strategy and agile delivery. It seems obvious to me that the two are not compatible but on the same continuum of how organisations plan, manage risks, make decisions, and deliver value.

And I learned:

Focus of innovation

I watched a Wardley mapping video workshop where experienced mappers were working together to map the dependencies and evolution of the elements of a health insurance service to identify where in that service to focus their efforts for innovations. Watching them work through and discuss a real example helped my understanding so much more than watching a prepared video or reading a book. They were clear about however useful a map is or isn’t, it doesn’t have any answers. I took this to be what the phrase, ‘the map is not the terrain’ means. Answers only come by getting out in the real world and experimenting.

Exam time

I had the final exam for the first year of my MSc. I’ve really enjoyed all the thinking and learning I’ve done this year. It has expanded my thinking so much. 

And thought about:

Essay time

I want to write some essays (now that I have more time as I’m not studying). The first one is going to be called something like, ‘The weaponisation of digital technology to scale inequalities in society, and why charities need to up their digital game to fight back’. It’ll be about the effects of digital technologies on the nature of social problems, so not ‘this tech causes that problem’, but how the internet enables problems at a speed and scale that charities are not yet able to cope with, and so to help in the future they’ll have to change their thinking about digital. It’ll be a very different piece of work to my blog posts, which are mostly just me ranting about ideas I have, and instead will be researched and (hopefully) better written and presented. I just need to try not to get distracted with all the smaller blog posts that I also want to write.

Service Vulnerability Testing for Charities

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how charities build services but probably don’t do vulnerability testing to find out if bad actors could use those services to target vulnerable people. I wonder how easy it is to ring a charity, pretend to be someone who accesses their services, and get information about that person (“I’ve changed my phone number, what number to do have on record? Oh yeah, that’s the right one”). 

Charities are getting better at cyber-security, and many (I’d hope all but I don’t know) have safeguarding processes in place, so they are often able to deal with the issues that come to their attention, but how can they be sure that they aren’t inadvertently contributing to issues outside of their attention because they haven’t secured their services.

Related to this, I found a few websites about social engineering in the not-for-profit space Social Engineer has information about how social engineering is used in attacks on organisations, and the Innocent Lives Foundation is a not-for-profit that promotes safety online and uses social engineering skills to help people.

How to manage and build upon ideas

As part of my ongoing experiments in how to better organise my ideas to make it easier to build on them and connect them, I tried adding lots of my writing to a single document (ideas for essays, notes, blog posts, lecture notes) and tried hyperlinking keywords to headings of other sections. My hypothesis was that if all of my notes were in one place where they could be linked, that it might help create some coherence but I haven’t seen that yet.

I also tried using a Miro board to create an ideas map with four layers of depth (practices, principles, philosophies, paradigm)  and a timeline from now to the future, and then placing postit notes on the map to try to indicate which level the idea is on, and whether its something realisable in the near or distant future. My thought was that being able to see certain relationships between ideas might help create some coherence but I haven’t seen that yet either.

Everyone has a newsletter in 2020

I had an idea for a newsletter. It would be focused around ideas affecting the charity, tech, for-good, innovation space, and might be called something like ‘Past, present and future’. Each episode I would take a current issue or event, look at it’s past, so what thinking has led to it, it’s present, what the current thinking is about it, and what its future might look like. The problem is, I always have more ideas than time. And then I had another idea. Maybe I should do a future.charity newsletter and use it to explore thinking around all the things that make up a charity like governance, HR & marketing, and how they could be made fit for the future.

And read these tweets:

Competing priorities 

Beth Crackles tweeted about the biggest barriers to fundraising priorities with a survey that showed that the main reason is ‘competing priorities’. I find how organisations deal with priorities really interesting. It’s so easy to assume that ‘it’s leadership’s job to set and communicate the priorities, so if we have competing priorities it must be because they aren’t doing it very well’. This ‘us and them’ mindset affects our thinking in so many unhelpful ways. I bet the people in leadership feel just as pulled in many different directions when there are so many things to focus on. 

I think there are much deeper reasons for competing priorities than we realise, and the clue is in the phrase, ‘competing priorities’. When we use a competitive mindset, whether because we recognise some kind of ‘us and them’ power struggle, or because we frame our priorities as ‘either/or’, we limit how we can act within the mental space we’ve created. Competition is a market force. If you assume there is a competition, then you have to accept how the market forces are going to affect the things that go on in that space. Supply and demand, scarcity of resources, advantage over other players in the space, vying for power and influence, etc., are all concepts from competitive markets. Replacing the competitive mindset with something more collaborative isn’t at the top of anyone’s priorities at the moment, but if we don’t do something about the worldviews we hold that affect our thinking so completely, it’s not surprising we’ll continue to be competing.

The future of online education

Kay Sidebottom tweeted, “Unis are focusing a lot on content and delivery models regarding move to online. I’m thinking about that too, but also exploring how to establish meaningful relationships with large numbers of students… which can be even harder in digital spaces.” Lots of people are talking about a revolution in online education (Jason Jacobs and Tiago Forte among others). To be successful, the development of online education needs to avoid trying to deliver offline education online. It needs a complete redesign including pricing, content, delivery, engagement, etc., that is built on understanding how the internet-era changes so much about what is possible.

The weight of a website

Ross tweeted a link to this A List Apart article about how wasteful websites are, especially when they have lots of images. The reason this is interesting is that we conceive of websites as virtually things with no physical existence of impact on the world we also inhabit. Appreciating how our physical and virtual worlds are closely interwoven seems like an important thing as our digital world grows in the future and because our physical world can’t grow.

Blame is easy

Matthew Sherrington, tweeted about his blog post ‘Are managers gaslighting staff over wellbeing? (Spoiler: yes)’. He talks about how “people’s wellbeing has routinely been damaged through work overload, unrealistic expectations, and poor decisions and direction from leadership”. I think blaming managers for the workload and wellbeing problems is too-easy ‘eighties’ thinking and doesn’t consider the structural and systemic context. I’ve no doubt that there are lots of bad managers who don’t have the skills to match their responsibilities, but they are just as affected by the same workload and wellbeing issues. I want to write more about this, not to criticise Matthew’s perspective, but try to unpick it on some deeper levels and offer some thoughts on ways to make it better.