Weeknotes #221

This week I did:

Higher fidelity supersedes lower fidelity

It has been a week of prototyping, user testing, and getting into the details of how processes will work, what API’s need to do, what content do we need, and how we use messaging to communicate expectations and responsibilities. Understanding young people’s expectations as they use our products is really important for how we communicate (in the holistic sense) there and our responsibilities to create a safe community.

Free School Meals

I had an idea about using tax relief claims from working at home as donations to charities tackling child poverty so I set up a page on my website and sent some tweets. I’m not a fundraiser or digital communications expert, and don’t have much of a following on Twitter, but it felt really uncomfortable putting myself out there with something like this. I usually get to hid behind websites. I don’t know how charity fundraisers do it every day.

Buddy Chat

I had a buddy chat with Bobi from Be More Digital. It’s the first time I’ve done anything like it but it was good fun. I think of it as part of the stigmergy for achieving the digital transformation of the charity sector, which is clearly such a big and complex thing that it can’t be achieved using a strategy, which would require centralised coordination.

What Nokia got wrong

I’ve been working on my assignment for the Innovation Management and Policy module of my Masters. It’s an analysis of how Nokia went from the market leader in the mobile phone industry to losing it all to Apple, Google, Samsung, etc. It’s not part of my assignment but I think the game Snake had a lot to do with the adoption and dominance of Nokia phones.

200 Digital Tools

I added the 200th digital tool to my list this week. There are still lots more I want to add, and I’ve been thinking about what to do with the list as it grows. One of my ideas is about joining up different products into different business model workflows. I have no idea what this would look like yet other than a curate shortcut to picking the right tools and products for setting up side-projects and small business ventures.

Visualize Value

I joined the Visualize Value community “of 1,300 builders and makers focused on increasing their value by creating valuable things.” as part of exploring business models. I’m not interested in building a business, I am interested in building business models.


And I read:

Conditions for Collaboration

Conditions for Collaboration - Part 2: the role of shared infrastructure by Nick Stanhope is a call for shared infrastructure and collaborative working. But there is tension between a strategy for such working which says that a single coordinated approach that says 50 digital maturity tools is too many lets pick one, and stigmergy, an approach that doesn’t require a centralised coordinated approach but transmits signals for others to follow and says 50 digital maturity tools allows far greater usage and application. Does what tool you use matter if they all get to where you want to go?

Our Digital Future

Over recent months many of us have been talking a lot about the impact the COVID pandemic has had on the adoption of digital ways of doing things in healthcare. I say adoption rather than transformation because I have a view that we have not, by and large, transformed the way we deliver services or pathways. What we have done at a large scale is adopt ‘digital’ tools to replace physical interventions with virtual ones.” I wholeheartedly agree with Toby’s point of view, and his thoughts around building digital as a core competency in organisations to redesign what those organisations do and how they do it for the modern age.

Edtech’s Answer to Remote Learning Burnout

This in-depth analysis and prediction for the EdTech space from A16Z is really interesting for anyone with anything to do with online education, or ‘education’, as it’s called in the 21st Century.

The Great Reset

I began reading some of the articles from Time’s The Great Reset, a website about “the kind of future we want. TIME partnered with the World Economic Forum to ask leading thinkers to share ideas for how to transform the way we live and work.” There are some really interesting things to think about, including how Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, want to discuss the State of the Digital World and use their fame and influence to encourage people to listen to experts. I think we’ve learned over the past few months with Coronavirus and decades with Climate Change that people don’t listen to experts so it seems there is a need for intermediaries to facilitate the communication.


And thought about:

The Block Web

I wondered a while ago why websites are conceived or and set up to work like old paper documents and how this limits what we can do with the contents of those pages. And now we see products like Notion which are built around the idea of blocks, each of which have their own ID and which are used to build up pages. The future I imagine for these blocks is where they become the default for embedding and referencing content on web pages. An example might be where one website mentions the price of a product on another website, and if that price changes on the original website it is automatically changed on the mentioning website because it linked to the block with the price.

What to do with all the digital litter

How much of the internet digital storage is taken up by google site pages I started and never used, Evernote pages I’ll never look at again, records in databases for websites I forgot I created an account for. What do we do about this increasing digital litter?


And got recorded by Twitter as an impression for:

Newsletter Operating System

Janal tweeted, ” Launching pre-orders for my first info product. This one’s for newsletter writers. Problem: Managing a newsletter is time-consuming. Solution: I’ve created a dashboard that helps save you hours in the curation, writing & growth process” It’s great to see more people launching digital products like this, and it’s interesting to me to think about the business models that are being used. The most difficult part of the models seems to be the marketing and promotion. Producing is easy by comparison. But in the attention economy, getting people to take notice and take action is more of a challenge.

How I attracted 20,000+ visitors on a Notion page in 5 months

Felix Wong tweeted, “I thought VirtualMojito.com is just another silly idea. Now, this has become a project I like to work on every minute.“, which is another curation-as-a-service product using nocode. I find these kinds of side-project business models hugely fascinating.

Ethics of Algorithms

Mariarosaria Taddeo tweeted, “Check out ‘The Ethics of Algorithms: Key Problems and Solutions’ our paper on the ethics of algorithms“, which is on my reading list and, given the impact unethical algorithms are having/will have on our lives, should probably be on everyone’s reading list…

Week notes #214

I did:

The future is asynchronous

I presented some discovery work I’ve been doing for the next phase of our online learning environment. It has been centred around user needs of accessing the platform, booking on sessions, and asynchronous session delivery. Thinking about asynchronous delivery, all the different ways we can support young people to achieve outcomes, is really interesting. It opens up so many more opportunities not only anytime/anywhere, but more importantly about how young people develop a sense of agency around their professional development.

Some thoughts on the Charity Digital Code of Practice

What might a digital charity look like in fifty years? What kinds of thinking models might be needed between now and then to make digital every part of a charity? “Becoming a digital charity offers new modes of operating. It isn’t just digitising existing ways of working, but completely transforming the business model and how they achieve their purpose. But its all about steps in the right direction. The Charity Digital Code of Practice can help charities think about what those steps might look like.”

Launched The Fire Control Problem

I launched my SMS course after the team at Arist helped me with a technical issue of their system not accepting UK phone numbers. Its one of those virtual world meets the physical world problems.

Its interesting to me to be using the process that the course describes in figuring out what to do with the course.

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • SMS learning is for individuals. It seems obvious but I hadn’t really thought about it. There is no sense of other people learning the same stuff like you might get from a more open platform like Twitter.
  • SMS is very one way. It doesn’t allow users to question or debate the contents, they have to take it at face value.
  • The concept of achieving uncertain goals rather than the usual approach of defining them first is a bit of a hurdle to get over, and if the user doesn’t grasp the proposition from the start the rest of the lessons might be a bit confusing.
  • The concept might lend itself to an exploratory approach of ideas rather than purely as a means to achieve goals.

Year 2: The revenge

I picked the modules I’ll be studying for the second year of my MSc:

  • Innovation policy and management.
  • Digital creativity and new media management.
  • Blockchain technology and its impact on innovation, management and policy.
  • Research methods in management.
  • Dissertation.

It’s going to be a busy year.


I thought about:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Catchy statement, sounds like it might be true, but how might you test it? It seems to me that if you were to describe what makes ‘culture’ and ‘strategy’ opposite to each other you might describe culture as more subtle, amorphous, vague, driven by story-telling, and strategy as objective, defined, perhaps more scientific or numbers-based. So, based on this, if an organisation is driven by its narrative rather than by insights, then it could be true to say that it is led by its culture and not its strategy. Another question is whether that’s a good thing or not. (And just to add another thought; “Systems swallow culture and strategy whole”.)

Testing vs learning

When launching a product, testing is about confirming what you know, learning is about being open to finding out things you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Both are important but learning is the most difficult because it can only happen with real people using the product.

The fear of digital

What is the fear of digital about? Is it the fear of being replaced, the fear of the new, of the unknown?

Stigmergy

“Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, seemingly intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even direct communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even individual awareness of each other.” Maybe this is the opposite of strategy that I’ve been looking for.


And I read:

Remote work and the future of the high street

The high street is dying. Remote/home working as a result of COVID 19 is exacerbating this. But I think there’s an opportunity to do everything better.

Ross describes a town where, “Air quality is high. The local economy is booming. Social mobility is high and unemployment is low”, and essentially asks the question is it possible to have all of these things in the same place at the same time.

So, if I understand what he’s saying correctly, rather than office buildings being full of people from a single company there will be offices with people from lots of different organisations. These co-working spaces will bring people into town centres via environmentally sustainable transport and thus making town centres being convenient places for the kinds of tasks that you have to do in person, things like getting a haircut, banking, and frequenting a cafe or coffee shop.

But we have to ask, why do those things require lots of people to all travel to a location that is convenient for the hairdressers, banks and cafe owners, rather than the business travelling to convenient locations for their customers? The answer used to be obvious, because its more economically viable for the business and because consumer behaviour supported it. When people had no choice but to go to workplaces then businesses would open to provide for the needs of all those people in one place. Giving people a choice changes consumer behaviour. If everyone has a choice (and of course not everyone will) about whether to go to a town centre to work, will there be enough people to sustain that local economy? There will undoubtedly be fewer people, so what defines economic sustainability might be different to pre-COVID times, but will is be enough to drive cause low unemployment and high social mobility?

I think the nature of the problem, as with so many of the post-COVID-rebuild efforts, is one of tight or loose-coupling. In pre-COVID times town centres, and lots of other parts of the economy/society were tightly-couple. Tight-coupling is fragile and risky, it relies on stability throughout the system, it can’t accept too much drastic change. Tightly-coupled systems are like a house of cards, if one card shakes, those connected to it and connected to those that are connected to it feel the effects of that shaking. To create another tightly-coupled system of town centres, one where each part is reliant on all the others for its stability and success, would be to fail to learn from the shock our economy is going through. So perhaps Ross’ vision of town centres as nice places to work could be a reality, but depending on how it is built effects how long it lasts.

An example of the loose-coupling of town centres? Amazon is buying town centre warehousing space far more cheaply than it could of when high street property values were at pre-pandemic levels so that they can deliver across the surrounding town far more quickly than they could from warehouses farther away. Amazon know how to be loosely-coupled. Their warehouses don’t have any great reliance on the surrounding infrastructure and systems that make up a town. As long as Amazon can get vans in and out of the warehouse and have a steady supplier of workers (and if not they’ll bus them in from other towns), they are happy. Whatever happens in the local economy, Amazon can continue unaffected. That is loose-coupling.

The Hacker Ethic of Work

“In the hacker ethic of work, work has to be interesting and fun and, above all, must create value for the worker, the organization and for society as a whole. Workers also must have freedom to organize their work in a way that is more functional to reach their own goals and in the manner that best fits their needs and insights”.

Simone Cicero, who has written more recently about platforms and complex systems, wrote about the hacker ethic of work in 2015, describing it as in the quote above, as an approach to work that involves creativity and freedom. In our complex world, an organisation that is able to adopt the hacker ways of making things that are open and reusable, collaborative and co-created, agile and flow-based, and understand user’s needs can become market leaders.

For me, this article from 2015 and Ross’ article are connected by a thread that approaches work more from the side of the worker than the side of the organisation. Both seem to me to be asking for a change. They recognise a move away from the industrial concept of the worker as a tool to be used by the machines of business and towards the worker as a nodes in the complex systems that make up our economy, society, and environment.

Simone says, “as individuals living today we have a duty to face the future with the eagerness not just to see it happen but, rather, to choose to be part of it and give it a different shape”.

Industrialisation

Industry and its discontents“, a podcast by Seth Godin in which he talks about the system of industrialisation. He says industry craves productivity because cheaper wins but cheaper products require cheaper labour, which requires of people that they do morally questionable things to meet their short-term needs. This feels like one of the most important podcasts I’ve ever listened to and mentions many of the justification for moving away from the industrial mindset.

I see in all three of these the theme of society moving away from industrialisation and towards digitisation. The digitisation of society won’t provide some perfect utopia, it will be full of challenges, problems, inequalities, and unintended side-effects

It’s about legacy

“A “programme in which they repair stuff” shouldn’t be compelling viewing. It’s only made so because we hear people’s stories, and what the objects mean to them. And within each episode, we have the “will they be able to restore it? What will it look like?” arc of the chosen objects. We need to be clear that fundraising works best when we talk about individual stories, and what changes as a result of a donor’s support and our organisation’s intervention. This is how we make a connection.”

I’m fascinated by fundraising, as a discipline, a sector and a practice. I think, because it seems so unique. It only exists in the third sector. Things like HR and Marketing, as interesting as they are also, exist in every sector. So, Richards newsletter, and his post about The Repair Shop are like little peaks into the world of fundraising and the mind of a fundraiser.

Because of the way my brain works, I struggle to understand the things Richard talks about, things like love, legacy, restoration, and I guess the connections that storytelling creates. I can conceive of fundraising in a transactional way as a value exchange between three parties; the donor, the charity, and the beneficiary, and how is differs in nature from a commercial value exchange between two parties and adds to fundraising’s uniqueness, but how it actually works in practice is a mystery to me. Is it just marketing by another name? Is it sales, or should it be? Perhaps what I’d like to understand is more about the approaches fundraising uses to fit it into my mental models for the shift from industrial to digital.

Oh, and he mentioned my tweet about what a strategy needs to express in his email newsletter, which was a complete but nice surprise.


Some people tweeted:

Salaries in charity job adverts

There is a claim (I see it mostly on Twitter, from which you can draw you’re own conclusion) that putting the salary in job adverts helps to tackle the gender pay gap. I was interested in where the idea comes from, how robust it is in theory, and whether there is any research or evidence, so with a bit googling I tried to track it down.

There is a press release from the Young Women’s Trust that states, “Employers should stop asking job applicants how much they earn and include salary details in adverts to help close the gender pay gap”. The press release goes on to mention the salary history/wage equity laws that have been introduced in the United States that make asking a candidate about their current/previous salary illegal but doesn’t mention salaries in job adverts again.

I couldn’t find any research that concludes that including salary details in a job advert has any affect on the gender pay gap (I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t exist, just that I didn’t spend very long looking for it). There is some research that says following salary history bans employees received “increased pay for job changers by about 5%, with larger increases for women (8%) and African-Americans (13%). Salary histories appear to account for much of the persistence of residual wage gaps“. And I there is some research that shows that “when there is no explicit statement that wages are negotiable, men are more likely to negotiate for a higher wage, whereas women are more likely to signal their willingness to work for a lower wage. However, when we explicitly mention the possibility that wages are negotiable, these differences disappear completely.

Looking it at from a complexity point of view of course its impossible to know what action will have which result so we can’t say that having salaries in job ads won’t contribute to tackling the gender pay gap, but based solely on what I’ve seen, we can’t say that it will either. Perhaps it is better instead to focus on a wider commit to better hiring practices across the the charity sector.

Also, I’ve seen concerns expressed about how we go about making change happen. If naming and shaming charities on Twitter (and actually, organisations don’t tweet, real people probably with the words ‘social’, ‘media’ and ‘executive’ in their job title do) is the default means to get them to change their practices, then what does that say about the charity sector?

But, here’s the interesting question: in a world of misinformation and easily swayed opinions, if something feels like the morally right thing to do but is based on growing public opinion and not on firmly established research and viable hypothesis, is it still the right thing to do?

Architecting organizations by designing constraints

Simone Cicero tweeted “A new approach to organizing is slowly establishing itself. This new approach is essentially small-scale, emergent and outside in, and doesn’t aim at simplifying complexity but at rhyming with it. This approach is based on architecting organizations by designing constraints.”

This is intriguing to me because of my interest in modes of organising within the three spheres of society. If Simone is seeing a new mode in the market sphere, one that conforms to more modern, perhaps non-newtonian, concepts from complexity science, then I’d like to understand more about it.

Is the market unsympathetic?

Justin Jackson tweeted “The market is unsympathetic to your passion. You can build whatever you want, but ultimately you’re beholden to the market and what it wants. Without customer demand, you don’t have a business.”

Yes, in the most obvious way, as we understand markets as unthinking mechanisms of capitalism, they have no sympathy for what any individual puts their time and energy into. But the reverse doesn’t seem to be true. Markets do need people who are passionate and invested in what they build and how they build it because without that passion nothings gets built and the market has nothing to be unsympathetic about.

Fake Grimlock replied: “LEARN PASSION FOR THINGS PEOPLE WANT. IT THAT SIMPLE.”

Changing the rules of the game for charities

Reuben‘s call to change how charities approach fundraising to think more about engagement over efficiency and flourishing over formulas must strike a chord with so many people who work in charities and feel torn between wanting to do good work and wanting to do good for the cause. We might like to think that these two are one and the same but more often than not they feel like very different things.

Reuben talks about how fundraising is approached in a mechanistic way with a focus on maximising efficiency and the outputting of fundraising collateral, and suggests a better approach:

My view is that engagement, for want of a better word, isn’t just a more palatable word for acquisition, but an opportunity to prize human flourishing. It’s an opportunity for us, as agents of change, to bring more of our selves to work. To think beyond the optimised formulas of fundraising and access our empathy, our ingenuity, our humanity.

Reuben Turner

I’ve seen a similar situation in Product Management. The product-isation of production of product. What John Cutler calls the feature factory. Developing new features knowing that they will not make any difference to the success of the product, not increase the value the customer gets out of the product, and not increase the revenue the organisation gets from the product, all continued and repeated because that’s the way its always been done.

It is that way because every organisation, whether a commercial business or a charity, is built on the same paradigm. If Taylor is the grandfather of maximising efficient production, Friedman is the father of maximising profit.

Friedman said “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Friedman’s opinion has been a guiding principle for almost every organisation, whether for-profit or not-for-profit since he expressed it more than fifty years ago. The leaders of the organisation believe that their purpose is to maximum profit for shareholders in the case of a business and for the cause in the case of charities.

It’s hard to argue with that. If you’re a charity, why wouldn’t you want to increase profits for the cause?

The answer is, that you would and should, but of course there is a bigger picture. That question does not exist in isolation. There are lots of other things to consider, lines not to be crossed, decisions to be made about how, moral choices about the right and wrong way to increase profits. These are the ‘rules of game’, as Friedman put it. And those rules affect our thinking without us even being aware of them. Standard business logic says that profit is maximised by increasing revenue and reducing costs, often through efficiency measures (back to Reuben’s point about approaching fundraising as though it was manufacturing).

The profit a charity makes; how much money is left over for the cause after costs, should be a measure of success for a charity. But following Goodhart’s law, “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” we realise where we went wrong. Profit has become the target. Targets drive behaviours, and often those behaviours have unintended consequences. The Taylor & Friedman -inspired mechanistic mindset drives organisational behaviours that cause people to feel like feel like “a cog in a fundraising machine designed for optimisation”, to quote Reuben again, rather than human beings doing good work that makes them feel like they are bringing value to those who engage with the charity.

Perhaps more ‘charitable’ targets are human-centred things like ‘how many lives touched’, and ‘how deeply affected’ over financial targets like ‘cost-to-serve’ and ‘revenue-per-visitor’. Of course charities will have to have uncomfortable discussions with themselves about the value of their impact on a human life, and how many human lives affected is sufficient for them to justify their size, funding and even existence. Such is nature of changing the rules of the game.