Weeknotes #247

This week I did:

Launch time

You know that scene in Apollo 13 where all the NASA people repeat, “Go Flight!” to confirm they are ready for launch? Yeah, product launches aren’t like that. Launch is more of a phase than a point in time, but this week we launched our new young person -facing product that will help young people sign-up to Prince’s Trust courses completely digitally. Our deputy CEO referred to it as “a step change in how we will support young people.”. It’s a complicated beast of a digital service that connects eight systems and we did it in two months. Now the hard work begins.

Vanlife Lockdown Survey

I started a new project (as if I’m not busy enough right now) to conduct research into how lockdowns have affected people who live in vans, campers and cars. I set up an online survey, and used Cloakist to mask the survey website URL with my website domain name (which is actually a world first) in order to make the survey easier to find and so I could put it on the flyers I got printed. So, as lockdown eases and I resume my roadtrip I can ask other vanlifers to complete the survey and build an understanding of this marginal part of society (I have a hypothesis that they were less affected than the general population but we’ll see that the results show).

Got jabbed

I had the first dose of Coronavirus vaccine, and didn’t have any side effects. No flu-like symptoms, no changes to my WiFi, and absolutely no super powers.

Bought some books

I haven’t bought any books for a long time, but this week I bought a few. Most of them were about innovation management for my dissertation and the others were by Colin Wilson and Alan Watts. One day I’d like to write a book, and what that book is about changes depending on what I’m interested in at the time. Right now it would build on Wilson and Watt’s work on ‘the outsider’ and figure out how they apply to the modern digital world.

And thought about:

Five years time

Sometimes I have conversations with myself. And sometimes I ask myself questions like the usual career progression questions, “Where do I want to be in five years?”, to see what answers I come up with. I had three thoughts:

  1. I want to work on hard problems. I thrive on the complexity and constraint of figuring out how to be clear about what problem we’re tackling and then how to build a solution that brings together people, systems and processes. Charities have the kinds of problems I want to be contributing towards, and usually where the solution involves digital thinking and technology.
  2. I want to maintain intrinsic motivation. I want to work because I enjoy what I do and why I do it. I don’t want to be motivated by money or status or anything that depends on others.
  3. I want to widen and deepen my knowledge rather than progressing upwards. There are enough middle-aged white men in management/leadership roles in charities so I don’t want to contribute to that problem. And if there is any truth to the idea that people rise to their level of incompetence then I’d rather stay at and improve upon my current level of competence.

Product lifecycle

I wondered a bit about how Product Managers fit across the entire lifecycle of a product. Should they have more focus on the initial product development phase or equal focus as a product becomes operationalised and eventually closed down. I guess what I’m wondering is how we maintain a position of validation and value delivery throughout the life of a product?

Digital upskilling

I spent some time thinking about how to approach increasing digital skills. The Government Essential Digital Skills framework is an interesting and useful place to start as it defines (quite loosely) what a basic level of skill looks like. From it, I think you could create an intermediate level (where the difference between basic and intermediate is ‘knowing how to use a tool’ and ‘knowing how a tool works’) across the five skills: Communicating, Handling information and content, Transacting, Problem solving, Being safe and legal online. So, an example might where the basic skill is ‘set up an email account’ and the intermediate skill is to ‘set up rules, know how to block a sender, etc.’.

Visual working

I’m a big fan of visual working, whether on a physical wipeboard or virtual canvas, but I’ve become increasingly aware how much easier it is to misunderstand and misinterpret drawings and diagrams. We have a much more developed sense of when writing makes sense or not (I mean, just consider all of these rambling and you’ll know what I mean), than we do for visually communicated work. Does left to right in a diagram always indicate the passage of time? Is something always more important if it’s at the top or in the middle? We just don’t have to critical understanding of diagrams and drawings to know. And this lack of robustness in interpretation makes it harder to ask those clarifying questions about the diagrams, which makes it harder to build up those thinking skills.

And read:

Digital Has Killed the Strategic Plan

This article from 2016 (shared by Ross in his newsletter) on how digital has killed the strategic plan, is five years old now, so it’s interesting to look back at it. I take it to essentially be a call for shorter planning cycles and better feedback loops (two aspects of digital work that have become more familiar in the last five years) to replace long term planning for businesses. It ends with how “strategy in the digital age has become an increasingly interactive process”, which seems to mean that strategy and tactics have become more intertwined (I’d suggest they always have been in the reality of achieving a strategy, just not on PowerPoint presentations and website articles). Perhaps not that much has changed in the last five years.

Believing in the Barnum Effect

I read The Barnum Effect: why we love astrology and personality tests by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, and immediately thought that everything it describes about how we interpret personality tests also applies to the obscure business/life advice tweets that so many ‘creators using Twitter to build an audience’ rely on. Those short, pitchy, out-of-context statements can apply to you personally if that’s how you interpret them. The trick to thinking about personality tests (I think) is the same as how we interpret what we read on Twitter. If it has resonance for us, then it’s a starting point for thinking about what we think of it. You aren’t meant to swallow it hook, line and sinker. If you do, then you are biased and suffering the Barnum Effect, but that isn’t the fault of what someone wrote on Twitter or the personality test. The opposite is equally true if you choose to interpret personality tests and tweets as not holding any meaning for you without some consideration. Personality tests both describe us specifically and are very generalised. And both of those things can be true. They’ve always both been true but we’ve been raised to believe in a single, rational, scientific truth, and it’s only now in a post-truth world that we’re beginning to understand a different perspective.