Weeknotes #209

This week I did:

Operational readiness 

We spent a couple of days doing operational readiness testing ahead of going live next week with our ‘Online Learning Hub’ (don’t get me started about naming virtual properties like it’s the year 2000). We had four test teams and learned a lot about the experience young people will have when they are on our programmes. It also helped me think more about how we can focus more on mobile without some of the constraints we’re finding at the moment.

Next phase

We are about to start the discovery phase for the next level of learning experience we provide young people. I’ve been thinking about how closely tied the technology is to the mode of delivery, and that I’d like to explore within three concentric circles; what more can we do with the tech we’re already using, what can we do with tech we already have but aren’t using to support different modes of delivery, and what tech would we need to support modes of delivery that we aren’t doing. Layered under that is the notion that different young people have different needs so we need to provide different means for them to achieve their outcomes.

Stile-ish

I’ve been adding more stiles to stiles.style, and I got a couple more followers. But the best thing has been the chats I’ve had with people whilst taking photos. They usually start off suspicious, thinking I’m doing something wrong, but when I tell them about my instagram account they relax and we talk about how stiles are an important feature of the British countryside, how each one is unique and that they are gradually being replaced by gates.


Thought about:

Weaponisation of digital

I’ve been gradually starting to put more time into my essay about how digital technologies will be weaponised to increase inequality in society and what charities need to do about it. I think of essays as very different pieces of work to blog posts. They are longer and include research and presenting other people’s opinions, whereas blog posts are just what I think. I’ve settled on a timeframe for looking at this future. It’s within the lifetime of someone born today, so roughly a hundred years. And it follows a three-part structure of what the technology will be like, what inequalities we can expect and what charities need to do to get ready for this future. There is a section about AI, so I’ve been reading about Turing, Kurzweil and Bostrom. They all recognise how seismic the creation of AI will be for our species and how inevitable it is.

Agile education 

I found AgileInEducation. They talk about how the “world is no longer predictable and learning needs to be more adaptive, connected, and interdependent” and about shifting education from Prescriptive to Iterative, Content to Culture, Evaluation to Visible Feedback & Reflection, Control to Trust and Competition to Collaboration. The website doesn’t have any more information about how this might be done, what situations and contexts it applies, etc., but it sounds interesting.

Is agility in education solving the same problem as agility in software development? Do we use the same words but mean different things? Does the shift in ways of thinking and doing education need the Agile brand or is it just ‘education’ evolving with the times.

I also read a paper called ‘Agile Methodologies in Education: A Review: Bringing Methodologies from Industry to the Classroom’, which is more explicit about the problems teachers are trying to solve by using agile ways of working, that is to ‘attract and retain the attention and the commitment by students, and ensure they achieve the required learning outcomes.’

How I spend my time

I’ve been thinking about how I spend my time and whether to break it up more so that I have blocks of time for writing, studying, walking (Stile-ing), etc. Is it better to spend more time on one big thing (like my weaponisation of digital essay) to get that done before moving on to other things, or is it better to have more things in progressing a little bit at the same time. Kanban thinking might say that I need to define my Work In Progress limits. I also did some roadmapping to help me check that what I want to work on is going to help me achieve my objectives.


People tweeted:

Platform for collaborative working

Adam Groves tweeted about some thinking he’s been doing around the dynamics that underpin effective collaboration in organisations. It shows some really interesting platform thinking for collaborative working.

Creative explorative learning space

Shreyas Doshi tweeted 

“Five concepts with incredibly high ROI: 

  1. Talent Stacking, 
  2. High Agency, 
  3. Clear Thinking, 
  4. Deep Work, 
  5. Transactional Analysis”. 

I like this framing. It isn’t “Here are THE five keys to success”, it’s “Here are some interesting ideas to dig into”, which I think helps with learning and thinking as it creates a more explorative space.

Internet-businesses

Jordan O’Connor tweeted 

“Obsessed with this idea: 

  1. Pick a niche I’m interested in. 
  2. Write/study daily about the topic. 
  3. Write 100 articles in a year. 
  4. Get SEO traffic. 
  5. Build email list.
  6. Ask them what they want and build it. 
  7. Sell products (physical or digital).
  8.  Start fresh with a new niche next year.” 

The thread of tweets goes deeper into parts of the plan such as using Reddit to identify niches, and why picking a new niche every year is important because it keeps up with trends and grows the passive income over time. It shows how the idea of an internet-business is different from a business on the internet.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Jason Yip tweeted

“I spent last week assessing every interaction I was a part of and identified 8 reflections:

  1. Advance preparation makes most interactions better;
  2. Some kind of supporting artifact to capture discussions makes most interactions better;
  3. Keeping track of time allows interactions to end better;
  4. Structured problem solving makes problem-solving interactions better;
  5. Clearer concepts and patterns for effectiveness helps progress improvement interactions faster;
  6. It’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of recurring meetings over time;
  7. It’s easy to miss that only a few people spoke in a meeting;
  8. Mumbling makes interactions worse”

I think this is excellent learning. It takes the high level manifesto item of ‘Individuals and interactions over processes and tools’ and breaks it down into actionable experiments anyone can try to learn from what Jason learned.

Week Notes #208

This week I did;

The internet is open 24/7

Every website on the internet is available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. One of the measures of success for a website is its up time. But what do you do when you want your website to have opening hours and not be available at certain times. It’s not an easy thing to achieve, especially with limited time and no budget. But we did it. Our tech guys came up with a single sign-on solution that only authenticates users between certain hours using API calls and cron jobs. I was impressed. Being able to control access at certains is part of our journey in understanding how to ensure the safety, security and privacy of young people in online environments. I guess most people think we’re just building another bit of tech to solve a particular problem but I spend a lot of time thinking about how it all fits together and what we can learn to achieve our vision.

Charity Service Model Canvas

I started experimenting with ideas for a Charity Service Model Canvas. Canvases are useful tools for seeing the big chunks of things all in one place, and done well they help ensure that balance decisions about whatever is being designed are made. So, for the Charity Service Model Canvas, the Needs connect to the Outcomes (are the outcomes of the service going to meet the needs), the Activities connect to the Resources (what resources are you going to need to provide those activities), in fact all of the boxes connect to each other. I thought about creating a Miro template for it so that people could use it when designing a service. Why haven’t I? Because I don’t know how.

The role of charities in the Democratic Society system

I wrote about some of my ideas about how the three domains of a democratic society system interplay and how the charity sector can choose to fit in to have an impact on society. I see our democratic society system as being made up of the three domains of state, market and civic, and look from a systems-thinking point-of-view at how they have mechanisms that are constantly interplaying with each other as checks and balances in the system. Each domain has particular organising modes which are used to empower and disempower members of society, and charities are one particular type in the civic domain that is useful where people want to organise around a particular issue or cause but need a means of centralising certain processes. 

How the cause-agnostic charities of the future will be innovators for the state and the vanguards of social change for good

I also wrote about an idea of a vision of charities in the future where they play a very different role in society to now. Rather than being focused around a particular issue or cause charities in this future would act as innovators-for-the-state and utilise their civic domain skills of organising people, fundraising, understanding social problems and developing solutions to solve social problems before handing over those validated solutions to the state to run, driving forward social improvements over time. 

Digital Trustees

I joined the Tech For Good Live event about Digital Trustees. I couldn’t stay for all of it but what I did hear was really interesting. I particularly liked the description of a digital trustee as someone who thinks in user-centred, data-driven ways, rather than being knowledgeable about technology. It’s almost like ‘digital’ is shorthand for modern ways of thinking, which I absolutely think it should be (that’s why I don’t always agree with the ‘don’t use the D word’ school of thought).

Got style

I started stiles.style. It’s either an ode to the nostalgia of the British countryside, a critique of the inaccessibility of the British countryside for less able people, or just something to amuse me on my walks. I can’t quite decide.


Some stuff I thought about this week:

Power in the civic domain

I think it’s right to challenge the established way of doing things. But the more established something is the harder it is to challenge without falling into the same traps as the thing you’re challenging.

In the civic domain power should flow to the people. That’s a value some hold dear, and an assumption that is hard to validate. Why should power flow to the people? Which people, all people, even those that disagree that power should flow to the people and have advantage over those suffering inequalities? Do we assume that if the people have the power society will be more equal? If so, what makes us assume that, is it based on any evidence or is it an ideal? 

The criticism that charities hoard power when they should be distributing it to the people is another opinion held by some. And the obvious conclusion that follows is that to solve this kind of problem the opposite situation should be created.

Charities are the way they are as a byproduct of the system they are in. They have whatever power others perceive them to have (because of course power is in the hands of the beholder and/or non-beholder) because of the structures of civic society. It’s not as if lots of charity CEOs got together one morning and said “let’s take the power from the people”. Charities are the way they are because that’s how the funding system works, and that’s how government regulations work, and that’s how the economy works. We can’t change charity and expect it to still work in those systems.

If we want to change how power flows in the civic space then telling communities that they should have the power because we jumped to the solution without really understanding the problem, just replicates the same power imbalance. It’s Pirsig’s rationality factory. So how deep do you go to understand power structures, and then how on earth do you approach building something different?

Products and services

What’s the difference between a product and a service? A product exists whether you use it or not. A service only exists when you are using it. A washing machine is a product, it still exists whether you are washing your clothes or not. AA breakdown cover is a service, when you aren’t using it it’s just a lot of men driving around in yellow vans. Let’s see how long that distinction lasts in my long running (actually, not that long) saga of trying to figure out the difference between products and services.


And some people tweeted this week:

Creating social change

Natasha Adams tweeted about creating a radical vision for the social change sector that is actually accountable to the communities it claims to serve. This is the tweet that started me thinking about some of the things above about power. When I see things like this I always have two thoughts; that action towards solution without understanding the problem can cause more problems than solutions, and aren’t we lucky that there are people in the world who are ‘do-something-now-ers’ to contrast those of us who are ‘think-about-it-and-probably-never-do-anything-ers’.

Acceleration

Lesley Pinder tweeted about charities who have set up accelerators outside of their normal structures. This is really interesting to me (I’m thinking it might be the topic of my dissertation) because more and more I think the best way to build new organisations (which is what most organisations really need when they talk about digital transformation) is to create a small splinter organisation that works to solve the same problems as the old organisation but in new ways and then transition people so that the new organisation grows as the old one shrinks and is replaced.

Charity sector facing financial catastrophe

Emily Burt tweeted about the financial catastrophe facing the charity sector. Seeing what was going on for charities at the time in a thread like that makes for shocking reading, but often, even seeing the writing on the wall doesn’t instigate action, especially if you’re not used to reacting quickly. Yes, the current financial situation almost every charity faces is going to result in a massive shock to the sector and society, but if charities don’t get better at acting faster, or can’t because of the system they are in, then that is a much greater and more far reaching catastrophe.

Strategy for change

Jason Yip tweeted “Strategy is non-iterative only if you assume a static environment and/or non-thinking adversaries”. Yes.

Weeknotes #207

Some things I did this week:

Platform thinking for safeguarding 

I wrote a discussion paper on how to approach achieving a high degree of safeguarding on a digital platform. As a platform (rather than a pipeline) it requires some different thinking (and maths) so, if two people have one connection, then 825 people 339,900 possible connections at any one moment (n * n-1 / 2 just so you know). When planning how to approach monitoring and moderating the platform it’s important to think about the right thing (the number of connections, not the number of people).

Variety pack

I had some user research discussions about how teachers might work with our educational content in a variety of circumstances, from selecting a re-arranged package that they use repeatedly to being able to build up a number of custom packages. Achieving the right amount of variety without providing an overwhelming number of choices (there are thousands of variations) is an interesting problem.

Becoming a cyborg

I watched Maggie Appleton’s talk about “How to Become a Neo-Cartesian Cyborg” and thoughts about the ‘Building a second brain’. It helped me clarify some of my thinking about what an idea ‘is’. I think it is a distinct piece of information; codified knowledge expressed in a transmittable way. Ideas, in this framing rather than ideas as aha moments, are the building blocks of creating other things. 


And some things I learned:

Simplifying the complex

When communicating, and by that I mean providing information with the purpose of convincing someone of something (communication isn’t neutral), simplifying that communication makes it more likely they’ll agree with you. Now, we could call that simplification ‘withholding all the facts’, but it’s a question of degrees. Knowing the boundaries of acceptable presentation gets the job done and keeps you out of trouble.

Fewest moving parts

Efficiency in machines comes from having the fewest moving parts. Where one moving part touches another moving part there is always friction and so energy lost through heat. A perfectly friction-free system would achieve maximum efficiency. So, when we talk about efficiency in working processes or reducing friction in a website sign-up process, we should look at the number of moving parts in the system first rather than thinking we can achieve those things with some surface-level changes.

Learning about learning

We we’re talking about behaviour change and pedagogical models at work, which are fascinating in their own right, but even more so when applying the thinking to creating a blended online education offer that allows people to self-serve some of their learning, receive specialised support, etc., and using those models to think coherently about how the subject is taught, what from the subject is taught, and how is the learning measured.

6G is coming

I didn’t even know 6G existed but apparently we’re expecting it to be rolled out in 2028. In fact doesn’t exist yet and is still in the research phases but the experts are predicting that it will provide internet connection speeds of 1 terabyte per second (the equivalent of 142 hours of movies in one second). 6G will also have a decentralised approach meaning devices can connect to each other without going through a central provider, which opens up lots of possibilities in real time sensor processing for augmented humans and artificial intelligence.


Some things I thought about:

All the problems

I look around and see so many problems, problems facing people right now, and I sometimes feel bad that I’m not doing enough to help solve those problems. I was thinking about this on one of my late night walks and it occurred to me that if everyone was working on solving the problems of today then no one would be imagining and investigating the solutions of the future. The work I do, and want to do more of, is around contributing to an understanding of what the solutions of the future might look like. The things I think and write about like cause-agnostic charities, the digital charity, platform business models for charities, and what the charity of the future might look like, is worthwhile work to be doing. It doesn’t contribute to solving the problems we face today, but I hope it contributes to solving the problems we’ll face in the future. 

Changing charity boards 

NonprofitAF wrote an article about boards of trustees being “archaic and toxic”. Apart from being a really interesting topic, one of the things I like about the article is that it presents a balanced view of the problem; that not all boards are bad, and that there are some ways in which organisations are trying out new governance models. I like this. I’m not keen on the spate of articles that seem to be written to attack particular aspects of the charity sector without offering any solutions to the problems they raise. I think reasoned critique that generates discussion and thinking is helpful, whereas ranting about a problem isn’t.  

Anyway, models of governance is something I want to explore with future.charity but my initial thoughts are that there needs to be some clarifying as to what charities need, governance, stewardship, or something else, not assuming that one type of governance fits all types of charities, and designing governance into the business model of the charity rather than as external to it.

Process models for knowledge management

I was looking at process models and how they have certain characteristics in common. So, for example: 

  • Design sprint: map, sketch, decide, prototype, test. 
  • Design thinking: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test.
  • Double Diamond: discover, define, develop, deliver. 

They all have two characteristics in common; they are linear, and they are conceptual islands. The linear nature of them makes sense if a) you view the world and the work you do as non-complex, production-oriented work that can follow a simple step-by-step process, or b) you want to sell your model and you need to make it easily digestible by people who don’t have time to learn in-depth about how lots of process models should be used. These models are also always fixed (you can’t add another step, for example), unable to respond to change, and isolated, so not connected to other models. The more we recognise work as creative knowledge work that cannot follow the fixed process steps that these models suggest, the less useful these tools and models become. In fact, I think they become contraining of good work.

We need smart networked process models. Models that are capable of sensing and responding to change, that are interoperable, connected and able to communicate with other models, and are continuously improving. These models, built on the principles of the internet-era, need to reflect and utilise the complexity of the world and knowledge work, and be part of an ecosystem of models that support good knowledge work.

And perhaps organisations need Knowledge Managers whose job is about teaching people how to use tools and models effectively. Just as organisations have project managers who are responsible for the ‘when’, the flow of the work, knowledge managers would be responsible for ‘how’, the ways the work is done. They would be part of the shift organisations need to take away from the industrial production-oriented mindset of work and towards the modern creation-oriented knowledge work. 

I’ve seen organisations use the term ‘knowledge manager’ before when they mean ‘information manager’, and usually put that person in the IT department. Instead, I wonder if knowledge management, or to put it another way, intellectual asset management, sits better with HR/Learning and Development as it implies a different approach, that helping people know how to use the right conceptual tools is an important part of their work.


Some tweets I liked:

#CharityDigiReport

Zoe Amar tweeted about the Charity Digital Skills Report. Apart from the slight irony of the report being a pdf and accessed from a non-responsive website, the report has some really interesting but not surprising information about the state of digital in the charity sector. It says that “80% [of charities] are fair to poor at developing digital products”. That’s definitely a challenge with lots of causes, including the assumption that charity services should be delivered by people because this is essential to qualities of the service. I also found and started listening to the Starting At The Top podcast by Zoe and Paul Thomas.

Streaming apps

Paul Downey tweeted: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a PDF downloading on a mobile phone — forever.” I’m not sure what he meant but lots of people seemed to take it as a bad thing. ‘Dystopian nightmare’ was mentioned. I’m not sure that it is a negative vision of the future for mobile. It’s a bit too centralised for my liking, but it’s conceivable that the mobile phones of the future don’t download an app and then connect to a web service in order to make the app do stuff and instead effectively stream apps and services to the phone in the same way we watch movies.

Who to follow?

Sonja Blignaut tweeted a quote saying “We follow those that reflect our most cherished ideals, not those who reflect the most accurate picture of reality.” Does the inverse work? Can we know our most cherished ideals by looking at those we follow? Or is it more complex than that?

Those who do not blog

Stephen Gill tweeted: “Those who do not blog about their mistakes doom other people in the organisation to repeat them” Well, yes. Not much more to be said about that, is there.

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.

Week notes #205

This week I did:

Crystal clear

I tried Wayne Murray’s crystal clear strategy for delivery instead of the scrum-style standup questions that I haven’t been having much success with.

What non-essential things am I stripping out?

  • Not going to meetings that don’t require my input because I know I can rely on the people in the meetings. – Varied success with this. The problem with meetings is that you only know if you being there was of value after the meeting. 
  • Not spending more time on a piece of work just to make it look ‘finished’ if it’s creating the understanding it needs to. – Still think this is a good approach. I think it also helps to communicate the idea that everything changes and nothing is ever truly finished. 

What have I learned from yesterday?

  • Clear definitions of the ideas and words we use matter. – It matters and doesn’t matter. The understanding matters but what we call things doesn’t matter. 
  • Not learning from existing problems means they’ll repeat again and again. – Not sure about this. It remains true but I’m not sure how to make sure I’ve actually learned it.
  • Reaching understanding requires time and effort. – It definitely does, and feels like it will be an ongoing challenge. 

What will I achieve today?

  • Get my thinking into a form that clearly expresses direction-setting questions, so that we can have focused discussions. – Feel like this failed. We don’t ask enough questions; we don’t have enough time. 

What do I hope to achieve this week?

  • A shared understanding about the proposition, assumptions, and tech choices for a new product. – I made some progress on this but don’t think I achieved it. I had the idea that the shared understanding is the balance between what the tech is capable of, how the Ops team deliver digitally, and the safeguarding of young people in an online space. 

How did it go? Well, I was hoping to take time each morning to think about each question again but always jumped straight into work without taking that time, which shows that I need more discipline. I also wonder how to approach answering the questions. Am I being too philosophical in my answers, or not specific enough, do they need to be more measurable? 

Why data will be so valuable in the future

I collected together some of my thoughts on data including how data is and isn’t the new oil, how all data is conceptually connected, and how Data Trusts can level the playing field for businesses and consumers.

Transitional on/offboarding for knowledge transfer

After reading Alex Danco’s email newsletter about how Silicon Valley was able to become so innovative in software development because the of the laws in California don’t prevent an employee from taking knowledge from one employer to another (an example of systems thinking about creating the conditions for emergence), I decided to write about my ideas about knowledge transfer between charities as employees on and off-board, and how it could be a mechanism for sharing practices and so drive improvement across the sector.

Honeycode 

I signed up for Honeycode, Amazon’s app builder, but haven’t had time to do anything with it yet. The three use cases they mention on the website (team task tracker, budget approval and event planner) are all internal business apps, which seems to communicate Honeycode’s proposition, but until I play with it I won’t know 

Do you think they wanted to call it Honeycomb but then someone said, Google already used that, so they went with Honeycode?

Existence is self-evident. Until it isn’t.

Beth Crackles podcast with Wayne Murray was really good. They talked about organisational strategy, how charities are institutional and inward looking, and how they have to keep asking ‘why’ to get to understand their relevance. The question of the relevance of charities (rather than an individual charity), of what is the purpose of charities in society, is really interesting to me. I see the concept of a charity as a type of organisation that achieves social good as facing pressures on two sides; from decentralised social movements on one side and businesses adopting purpose on the other side. Charities will find themselves more and more in a squeezed middle of social impact as more people realise that there are far more ways to do something good.


And I learned:

Shared understanding and collaborative working is hard

Especially when deadlines are approaching. Especially when short term goals matter. Especially when it feels easier not to. 

Does it do what it shouldn’t do?

When you build a product from scratch you know if it does what it should do, that’s why we have Show & Tells and usually the discussion ends there as there isn’t any need to ask if it does something it shouldn’t do. But when working with an off-the-shelf product and then configuring it to work in ways it isn’t designed to, that question becomes very important. 

Most popular

My most popular blog post of all time is ‘Microsoft Planner Vs. Trello’ with 10.85% of page views, with ‘Learning a framework for playing Go Fish’ coming in second with 10.01%. I don’t have any more analytics than that but my assumption is that the MS Planner post gets shown in searches on Bing, but I have no idea why people come to the Go Fish post.


And thought about:

Note taking and expanding on ideas

I’ve become a bit obsessed with Andy Matuschak’s thoughts on note taking. I make lots of notes, but they are mostly functional such as things we talk about in a meeting or things I don’t want to forget. I don’t yet have a means of making notes that makes them easier to join up. I’ve got lots of ideas about digital, innovation and the future of charities but I can’t quite get them all together in any kind of coherent way to be able to build on them. The idea below about ‘the charity sector as innovator for the state’, which came back to me after reading a tweet, actually started months ago when I was reading Stephen Bubb’s history of charities, but I lost it because I didn’t have a system of note taking that makes it easy to connect and expand on ideas. 

I’ve looked at a few other approaches to organising knowledge including lightweight ontologies and Gherkin documentation but I haven’t made any progress and iIt’s frustrating me and my efforts to improve my writing workflow and get on with some of the essays I want to write.

What questions are we asking?

Words like ‘requirements’ and ‘functional specification’ mean different things to different people. So we can either carry on using them to look clever and be confused, or we can use real language. Business requirements = what do we want to do? Functional specifications = how are we going to do it? Apart from the humanness of saying what we mean, using questions opens up space for exploration whereas using terms that require definition closes down discussion. Asking the right questions helps us reach shared understanding. 


And saw on Twitter:

Third sector and public sector

Mike Chitty tweeted about the relationship between the third sector and the public sector, which gave me an opportunity to reply about how the third sector could operate almost as an innovation lab, uncovering problems, figuring out solutions and then handing over the solutions to the public sector to scale and improve society. I see precedent in how lots of charity hospices were taken over by the state when the NHS was created, and the benefits of charities and voluntary organisations. One of the more obvious ways these types of organisations play the role of innovator for the state is in advocating for changes to laws but it could also apply to service delivery. It could be that as more commercial businesses adopt for-good purposes that blur the boundaries between business and charity organisations that the third sector shifts even more towards experimenting with innovative solutions for society.

Accessible LMS

Nicolas Steenhout tweeted, “The field of accessible LMS is thin. That is, there are nearly no learning management systems that I can find that are WCAG 2.1 AA conformant.” Why would you build a Learning Management System that isn’t accessible?

Let’s talk about High Agency

Shreyas Doshi tweeted about how high agency is a prerequisite for making a profound impact in one’s life & work. He defines agency as ‘finding a way to get what you want, without waiting for conditions to be perfect or otherwise blaming the circumstances’. I don’t disagree. High agency, and the internal locus of control that it comes from, probably is an important prerequisite for making an impact but it seems very simplistic. It doesn’t recognise any other factors that affect making a profound impact or that they might be ways of making an impact for people with low agency. Simplistic models of complex things do more harm than good.

The future of education looks like Y Combinator

David Perell tweeted a thread about the future of education, and what I find most interesting about it is not whether the future of education does or doesn’t look like Y Combinator, but that in developing the future of education, the past of education isn’t the place to look for inspiration and that there are other ways of doing things in other sectors that offer some interesting alternatives to just trying to take the old ways of educating and trying to make them work online.

Week notes #204

Some things I did this week:

Digital Safeguarding

I’ve been working on digital safeguarding, which like so many digital things, is a little about the technology and a lot about the attitudes, assumptions, behaviours and expectations of people. A big part of the shift in mindset is to understand that people behave differently online than they do in real life due to the online disinhibition effect and moving from ‘assumed safety’ which comes naturally to us when we’re in groups in real-life, to ‘assumed risk’ which helps put us on our guard when in digital spaces. Digital safeguarding needs technology, training, policy and practice as part of the solution but the mindset stuff underpins all of that, and can’t be successful without it. Wider than safeguarding, the digital mindset seems like the big gap in the digital transformation. Living in an online world but using the thinking we learned in the real world causes such a lack of awareness and understanding about how that online world operates.

And then The Catalyst launched DigiSafe, which has some really helpful guidance (and is cool because it’s in Gitbook). I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing it because I think it’s a really good resource for charities but I feel like it falls into the ‘digital is just another channel’ trap and implies that safeguarding on the web can be approached in the same way as safeguarding in real life without taking account of the behaviour change that happens online and the scale and complexity of it. I worry it would be easy for charities to become complacent because they have a policy in place and have had some training.  

Teams support

I’ve been doing some work to support teams and users new to Teams. It’s been really useful to see the challenges people have with using a new product so I hope I get to do more of it, and it was interesting to see where other organisations are in rolling out Teams. I think I’m starting to understand how Teams and all the infrastructure behind it is such a different product to the likes of Word and Excel, and is on a whole other level of complexity.

Defining product experience 

I’ve been working on a way to quickly and iteratively develop and capture the understanding of people from different teams with different skills and perspectives as we define new products. One of the problems I see is that people produce good work which if we could all absorb would help us understand the product better, but that work is scattered across different documents and folders and formats, which means we’re likely to look at it once and not fully absorb it.

Five levels of understanding of product experience

So, this process, and the single shared document that we work in, structures and records our understanding. It uses five layers with progressively finer fidelity of understanding. The first layer helps to paint the big picture about ‘why’ we should be building this new product. The second layer is ‘who’ we are building it for. That breaks down into ‘what’ those users want. The even more detailed level describes ‘how’ we are going to do it. And ‘when’ introduces an element of time and knits all the parts together to create the entire product experience.

We’ve had people from different teams working together in a single shared document, using calls to discuss things quickly, chat to discuss things together, and comments in the document to raise questions that we should answer later. People join in when they are available and drop out when they have other things to do but the work flows on. 

It’s an interesting way of working synchronously and asynchronously, and it provides an undercurrent of shifting the focus away from hierarchical decision-making structures towards collaborative decision-evolving. Where there is uncertainty we have lots of activity as people work through questions, and as certainty emerges the activity reduces to the point where no more changes are being made because everyone feels settled on their understanding and how it is expressed. This is what I mean by decision-evolving, rather than someone working in isolation to create a document that is reviewed and approved by a single decision-maker.

I’m going to blog about it at some point.

Joined YourStack

I’m on the waitlist for YourStack, where people post about what products they use. I’m not quite sure why it exists yet but I’m keen to see if it can be part of my thinking about opening my workflows so I guess I’ll see once the 17,193 people who are ahead of me on the waitlist have been given access.

This week I studied:

Revising previous lectures

No lecture this week, exams in a couple of weeks, and then I’ll have finished the first year of my masters. I’ve really enjoyed learning so much but I’m also looking forward to not having the added pressure of lectures, reading, assignments, etc. for a few months.


I thought about this week:

A platform business model for a charity

I realised where I’ve been going wrong in my thinking about platform business models for charities for the past couple of years. I’ve been trying to see it at the level of how products and services, or various functions like fundraising and volunteering, interact, but that is too close to the reality of an operating model in order to really understand how a platform business model would change how all those things work. The platform business model needed a deeper layer of abstraction.

The model describes how data, information and knowledge flow through an organisation so that value is added by turning data into information and information into knowledge, and how if any part of the system experiences an increase it drives an increase in the entire system. It utilises internet-era thinking including the law of increasing returns, network effects, and positive feedback loops. The opposite model of a pipeline drives value in one direction which makes it really difficult for a change in a later part of the pipeline to affect anything earlier (in fact there is maths to prove it).

Platform business model for charities

I started a blog post about it but I couldn’t figure how to structure the post in a way that would make sense. But I do intend to finish it some time soon and explain what I’m talking about in much more detail.

My workflow

I tried to hold daily standups with myself in order to be clear with myself what I’m focusing on but it didn’t go very well. I only remembered to do it once and even then I didn’t do the things I told myself I was going to.

I haven’t used my workflow Trello board very much this week because I haven’t had time to do very much of this kind of work.

My workflow trello board for 16th June 2020

I’m keen to keep trying to improve how I do this kind of work to achieve the right balance between inputs (reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.), processing (thinking and making notes about the inputs to improve my learning and understanding), and outputs (writing blog posts, improving my digital practice. And eventually to think more about a model for platform-ising my workflow.

Cybersecurity charity 

When bad stuff happens in the real world, things like bereavement, debt or mental health crisis there are charities to turn to for help. What about when bad stuff happens online? Stuff like identity theft, online reputation damage, fraud and financial theft, and inaccurate personal data affecting life opportunities like getting a mortgage. I wonder when we’ll see a digital–first charity that supports people affected by things that happen online?

How employers see digital skills

Perhaps now as never before it’s actually conceivable that a child could go through their entire education digitally; that is, never having sat in a classroom with other children, never having attended a lecture in person, and never having had any work experience outside of their home. But they could have still learned lots of very useful skills. I wonder how potential employers would look upon this person. Would they consider them as employable as someone who did go to school, go to university, and get experience in an actual workplace? 

Think global, act individually

I wondered what, as an individual, I could do to contribute to the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals? With things like ‘No poverty’ and ‘Clean water and sanitation’ the goals seem like such big things, which of course they need to be, but what if individuals could contribute to them? The GoodLifeGoals website and Pack of Actions include some suggestions around educating ourselves about the cause of poverty and buying from ethical companies, for example, which is a really useful start. I want to spend some time figuring out how I might align my life and the choices I make with the goals and perhaps how they can provide some kind of ‘framework’ (for want of a better word) for what a good life looks like in practice.


Some people tweeted:

The Good Service Scale

A few people tweeted about Lou Downe’s Good Service Scale, which looks like a really interesting way to assess services. I wonder if there is a way to rephrase and reframe the questions to be able to ask the service users what they think and compare to what the people from within the organisation 

Impactful books

Brianne Kimmel asked “What has been the most impactful book, blog post or podcast episode for your personal growth?” and received hundreds of answers, which one day I’ll add to my reading list.

Change is an air war and a ground war

Jason Yip tweeted about his preferred models and strategies for facilitating large-scale change. It contains a lot to think about.

Week notes #203

This week I did:

Changing the rules of the game for charities

Reuben Turner from Good Innovation wrote an article about the need for a change in how charities approach fundraising to think more about engagement over efficiency and flourishing over formulas, and I wrote a response about how Friedman’s ‘rules of game’ for an organisation (including a charity) being to maximise profit is a narrow view that doesn’t take into account of human behaviour, and that profit, whilst a good measure, might not be the best target.

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix – but for charities

Schmenner’s Service Process Matrix classifies services by the amount of in-person support is required from employees to enable the service to function, and by the amount of customer contact and/or customisation the service requires. I looked at a way to apply the model to identifying the type of service a charity might develop based on its available resources and the needs of its users.

Charities need better digital technology for communicating with their service users

I wrote about the things I’ve learned recently about digital communication technologies used by charities based on The Catalyst’s article ‘The top ten digital challenges facing the charity sector‘ which showed how a number of charities were struggling with identifying and using the right platforms for communicating and providing digital services with their service users (number 2). I think charities are facing this struggle because the products on the market are not designed to meet their needs. They need a different kind of digital communication technology, one that is built with privacy and security in mind that allows people from within the organisation to talk to people outside.

How the COVID-19 crisis is changing the debate on digital transformation strategies

I watched the online seminar from Birkbeck about the effects of a crisis on the digital transformation of businesses. It concluded with the obvious, that there will be winner and loser businesses and industries, and that the crisis will accelerate the transformation (not just digital transformation) of businesses that do survive.

The steps of a service

I applied some of the thinking I learned from Good Services to helping us articulate the steps we were putting into a service and the language we used to describe and refer to those parts of the service. I put the ten steps that we settled on into a single document and all of the people involved inputted their knowledge about each of the steps so that we could be clear about what happens for each. It was a really good example of collaborative working that progressed us towards the next step in designing the service. I would what we’d see if we had a separate service design team investigating how we go about developing services?


This week I studied:

Digital enterprise

“How digital technologies have changed the way organisations collaborate and network. It explains how digital social platforms have enabled new ways of organising and building relational networks. Based in industry research, the lecture shows how different corporate departments are benefiting from the advance in digital technologies for collaboration and communication, becoming networked enterprises. It also discusses how to engage the workforce and customers in these transformations, and how to explore new forms of organising (such as open innovation and crowdsourcing).”

The most interesting idea we discussed was that these social platform technologies have enabled the creation of organic networks and social ties in contrast and in addition to the hierarchies of an organisation. The weak ties between people in different teams become channels of information and innovation in ways that fixed structural information flows never can.


This week I thoughts about:

Working in the open

Following on from Oikos Digital’s building in the open approach, I’ve been thinking about my workflow for learning and writing, and making it more open. My public Trello board includes a column for what I intend to do this week, which gets filled with things from the other columns such as books to read, lectures to listen to, blog posts to write, etc., and then are moved to the Done column. It occurred to me that my three objectives map quite nicely to a pipeline of inputting, processing, and outputting. ‘Getting an effective education’ brings information into me, ‘Live an intentional life’ fits what I do with the information, how I learn from it, being focused, etc., and ‘Have an impactful career in digital charity’ fits the outputting of the knowledge I develop. Next I want to think about how I turn my workflow from a pipeline into a platform, and why I would/should do that.

Good Service

I’ve been reading Lou Downe’s Good Services – How to design services that work. It’s a fantastic book and I’ve learned things that I’ve been able to apply successfully at work the next day. To me, that’s a sign of a good book. It has so many good ideas, even if your job isn’t building services (good or otherwise) like mine. The idea that I’ve been thinking most recently is about how a team is only as strong as the weakest link, and it seems to me that specialists create more risk of weak links and generalists reduce the weaknesses. So maybe delivering something that relies on a chain of specialists probably has less chance of being successful than generalists who can overlap their skills and abilities.

How products and services work together

I’m still thinking a lot about how products and services fit together. My latest idea is that they should fit together like a zip, with the customer journey coming together and running through the middle. This means that we can still define differences between what a product is and what a service is, that they can be separate things, but that they rely on each other in order for the customer to be successful. I think maybe that the parts in the customer journey where the user has to stop and do something they use the product, and that when the user has to move onto the next step, to know where to go and how to get there, then they are using the service. This means that product and service need each other to succeed. Still struggling to explain the difference between them though.


This week people tweeted about:

Working in public

Nadia tweeted about her book ‘Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software’. The open source movement is interesting to me, a little bit because I’ve studied it (and feel a little frustrated with the irony of a university teaching about open source with copyrighted lecture materials that I would get in trouble if I made publicly available) but also because I think of it as a model for more than just developing software. So, this book is on my list.

New to digital ways of working

What would you recommend someone reads if they are new to digital ways of working? Steve recommended the Product Management learning list for government and The UX Coach suggested Books Vs People and What does being digital actually mean?

The cozy web

Maggie Appleton tweeted about the dark forest and the cozy web which makes so much sense. It explains many experiences of using the web, with the dark forest being the big public bits of the web like Twitter and ads on websites, and the cozy web emerging in response to that, which we see with the rise of enclaved communities of like-minded people writing email newsletters and communicating in WhatsApp groups.

Week Notes #202

This week I did:

Product configuration for online mentoring

We launched the MVP of the platform to enable online mentoring and deliver courses and workshops to young people so I defined the policy settings that control how four user types will behave, wrote six hundred test cases, wrote a user guide, and helped design the feedback loop for support and improvements. It was another fast-paced busy week with lots of individual pieces of the jigsaw being fitted into place and lots to hold in my head and make sure we understand the impact a change in one place affects all the connected parts. 

A non-service-designers guide to service design

I published my ‘work in progress’ collection of information, blogs, resources, books, podcasts, and people to follow about Service Design. My tweet about it received more attention than I was expecting, especially as it was late on Sunday evening, but I’m keen to add more to it and take it out of it’s ‘work in progress’ state to where it feels like a complete set of resources. Then I can leave it for a while to work on other sets of resources for things like user story mapping. Anyway, it’s number three on my list of writings to finish this weekend so I’ll see how far I get.

Charities need better technology

I’ve been working on a blog post about how a number of charities were struggling with identifying and using the right platforms for communicating and providing digital services with their service users from The Catalyst’s article ‘The top ten digital challenges facing the charity sector‘. I’m trying to make the point that the digital communication technologies that charities are using aren’t fit for purpose as they are designed either as enterprise tools for communicating between colleagues or consumer tools for communicating with friends and family, and that what charities need is a different type of product, one that is built privacy-first, has enterprise-level security, and enables people within an organisation to talk to people outside the organisation. Hopefully I’ll get it finished soon.


And I studied:

Digital collaborative platforms

This week’s lecture discussed the “crucial change brought by digital technologies in the way we collaborate in organisations and beyond. The topic discusses changes in the business environment, in which organisations become more collaborative. It explores some trends in digital collaborative platforms, using mainly the examples from social media, and building the arguments to expand the logic to proprietary tools such as Microsoft SharePoint and IBM Connections. Finally, the lecture discusses the economics and motivation of collaboration, drawing upon examples.”

It was a really interesting topic and one of the better lectures of the module, probably because I’m interested in collaborative platforms (Go MS Teams!) but especially for the parts about people’s motivations for using or not using these organisational knowledge management tools.


And thought about:

It hasn’t been a great week for thinking, too much stuff requiring immediate attention and not enough space to go deep, but…

Building in the open

Oikos Digital launched their new website, which is cool anyway, but is being built in the open, which is way cooler. I love the approach. I’d love to build a site entirely in the open that starts with a feedback tool and performance dashboard so that people can be involved in the entire build, from thoughts on the design and layout, co-creating content, testing on different devices and scenarios.

Solidarity and widening our ‘us’.

I’ve listened to a few podcasts on the multiple-order effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the structural racism in our society that is being highlighted and tackled by the Black Live Matter movement, utilitarianism and effective altruism’s approach to doing the most good. The theme I see running through all of them is ideas of solidarity (defined as: unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.). We humans tend to have solidarity with those we feel we have something in common. For some people, this commonality is narrowly defined (only men in a certain age group, of certain wealth, with certain education, etc., etc.) and for others it’s widely defined (the majority of people from a nation, a race, or even the entire species). The inequalities in our society come about from a clash of these solidarities. I think diversity of solidarities is probably a good thing, so the solution isn’t about saying everyone should have the same sense of solidarity, but instead if everyone widened the group of people they consider themselves to have commonalities with, widening the number and groups of people they consider to be ‘us’ rather than ‘them, then perhaps the exponential effects could tackle some of the inequalities and make for a fairer world.


And read tweets about:

Systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery

Tom Loose more tweeted “Hunting an accessible* intro to systems thinking in context of internet-era approaches to service design and delivery.”

That’s one of those fascinating intersecting-worlds moments. 

One reply included a link to Design 4 Services for thoughts on system thinking in services,

“This dynamic complexity requires a new way of thinking. It is no longer enough to simply examine and act upon each part of a system in isolation.  It is necessary to examine how each part interacts with each other; and work on the system as a whole.” and a reply from Tom, “a good primer… Just need to inject the notion that internet-era agility & analysis let’s you speed up and improve quality of feedback loop”

Another reply had a link to the Systems Innovation’s YouTube Playlist, some of which I’ve watched before (they’re really good and I should watch more).

But still the question, how to apply system thinking to internet-era ways of working? How to create useful crossover between two sets of ideas, take parts of one and apply to another?

Week notes #201

This week I did:

Another whirlwind week

I worked quickly to take high level business requirements for online mentoring into detailed implementation requirements and onto a defined scope for the MVP. One of the things I found interesting about defining the MVP was to stick to what we are certain about. If we had any questions or doubts about a feature it was taken out of scope. It’s a good principle for being able to meet the launch date. Next week we’ll be working through configuration and testing so we can launch the week after. It feels great to be working at pace and focused on delivering something useful so quickly.


And I studied:

Disrupted by digitisation

This week’s lecture was about Digital Marketing. 

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably. Digital marketing is the process of achieving marketing objectives through applying digital technologies.”

Chartered Institute of Marketing

We broadly discussed tools & techniques, benefits, models and growth. Mostly obvious stuff, but interesting to think about how marketing has been at the forefront of the digitisation of business. 


And thought about:

Waking up in beautiful places

I have a few essays that I’ve been thinking about for a while, some of which I’ve started, and none of which I’ve finished. I want them to be more interesting than just reading what I think and so they’ll include videos, links, quotes, etc. to create a fuller and richer picture of the topic than if it was purely written. The one I’ve been working on this week is about designing an intentional life, art, stoicism, minimalism, being a bit of a hermit and living in a car.

Service design for non-service-designers

In addition to essays, I’ve also been thinking about ‘collections’ as a different way to group content about a particular thing, kind of following on from my Compendium Of Ideas project that never went anywhere. The first collection is about Service Design, because it’s something I’m interested in and have been doing a bit of research on. My collections will be single pages of multimedia (is that still a term?) content around a particular topic, so that could include tweets, videos, podcasts, a list of links, quotes, books, etc. The hypothesis is that people who don’t know about a topic need somewhere to start, and I need a means of putting my research together in a considered and reflective way.

Approaches to validation

I was looking around on Product Hunt, a website where product creators list products they are working on to get feedback from visitors. It’s always interesting to see the wide diversity of how different people approach the same problems (again and again, there are only a certain number of problems to solve) and the product process they go through. Three of the products I looked at seemed to be at different stages of validating their hypothesis. Better Wiki – The ultimate people operations wiki on the internet – are using Notion as a public site, perhaps to validate their product/market fit without having to develop a site (wiki’s a tough thing to get right in my opinion). Mental Models by Edvo – Tools to navigate life better – is an iPhone app only, so the website just directs visitors to download the app, and Tools for better thinking – Collection of thinking tools and frameworks to help you solve problems, make decisions and understand systems – have the most most polished website. There are all working on similar problems; how to present information in ways the drive behaviour change through thinking change, 

Product management in a non-product organisation

I feel like most of the information and rhetoric around being a product manager is underpinned by the assumption that all product managers work at product-orientated organisations. There is a big difference in how to approach product management when the product is core to the business and when the product is a tool used by a small section of the business to achieve a particular outcome. The idea that product managers should be ‘leaders’ (whatever that means) only works if the entire organisation values product enough to consider that leadership as key to success for the organisation. I guess design, innovation, etc. all suffer from the same problem. More traditional functions like marketing and finance have earned their place in the leadership circle, but the newer functions are yet to establish their value. I feel like the ‘what kind of organisation are we?’ question is a big part of this. If the core business model is service orientated, then trying to product-ised the thinking and discussions can unintentionally disrupt the business and cause negative consequences. If the goal of a product manager is to deliver value for the organisation then sometimes the strategic thing to do would be to let Product take a back seat in the organisation.


And people tweeted about:

Tuning out ‘Digital’

John Cutler tweeted about tuning out the word ‘digital’, which spurred me on to write my ‘In defence of digital’ post about why we can’t dismiss digital in our lives, organisations and society.

The Charity Digital Code of Practice

The COVID-19 digital checklist for charity trustees and leaders from the Charity Digital Code looks really interesting. It was developed from research done by The Catalyst. It’s also great to see more charities contributing to The Catalyst Service Recipes. I wonder if anyone is using any of these resources?

Top 100 Nonprofit Blogs

I tweeted a link to the Top 100 Nonprofit Blogs. The most noticeable thing is the lack of charities on the list. Obviously, many of the organisations on the list are using their blog as part of their content marketing for lead generation so it makes sense that they post more often. Compared to the amount of open working and transparency in government digital teams expressed through blogs, the charity sector seems very quiet. 

Week notes #200

I did some stuff this week:

Deliverables and requirements: which leads to which?

Should requirements be identified first and then used to define deliverables, or should the deliverables be agreed first and then the requirements defined to meet them? In the case of the things I’ve been working on this week, the deliverables came from the needs of the organisation to be able to work digitally with young people and the requirements came out of the technical capabilities of the products we have available to meet those needs. With neither of those two things negotiable the exploring of options in between has become even more important.

Solutionising

I’ve been getting into the details of solution architecting Microsoft products to understand how we can use them to enable volunteers to work digitally with young people. As Microsoft products are designed for use behind the walls of an organisation, are all interconnected in some non-obvious ways and don’t handle external users very well, it’s been an interesting exploration. One of the things I figured out is how to use Outlook to schedule Teams meetings for external users that meet our safeguarding, security and privacy needs, which I’m actually quite proud of (small things). When I’ve been writing requirements I’ve always given anything to do with safeguarding, security and privacy the highest priority and said that if we can’t meet these requirements there is no point even going on to functional requirements.

Feedback loops

As we prepare to roll out products to enable young people to get more and better support, we’re always working on training for those products, and whilst on a call with some colleagues I heard the phrase ‘feedback loops’. A big grin sprung across my face. I was so happy to hear someone else talking about modern ideas for how to build things. There was recognition that we have to make use of feedback loops from pilot users and early adopters to tell us what to include in the training to other users. Asking the people who are going to be trained doesn’t work because they don’t know what they don’t know or will need to know. Asking the product experts doesn’t work because they don’t know how the products will be used, only what they can do. But getting a small group of people to experiment with using the products and feeding back their learnings for others, that works.


And I studied some stuff:

How much is it?

This week’s lecture was about pricing strategies. We discussed lots of different ways a business can approach pricing the products and services they are selling (freemium, versioning, two-tier, etc.) but interesting nothing about how to choose the right pricing strategy. Since pricing is really just a proxy for the value exchange mechanisms between an organisation and a customer, thinking about how that exchange happens is really important and probably not thought about enough. If your business has something someone wants and they value what that gives them (do they really want a spade) more than they value the money it costs, then market factors such as availability, competition, etc., aside, both parties make the simple exchange. 

For charities the value exchange mechanisms are far more complex. A charity offers something that certain people in certain situations value. Often, because of the situation they are in that causes them to value what the charity is offering they aren’t able to purchase that help, either directly from the charity or to find another solution, so the charity provides help at no cost to the person benefiting from it. But that service still has a cost. It has to be paid for somehow, and so the charity raises funds from donors, funding bodies, corporate partnerships, etc. Those that fund the charity don’t receive any direct benefit but they do get some secondary value from feeling good about their contribution. So here is a three way value exchange with more layers of value than a simple commercial transaction. Thinking of it in both those ways, the number of players in the value exchange and the levels of value those players receive would make an interesting mapping exercise.


And I thought about some things:

The Digital Charity

I started working on a long-form essay about what being a digital charity means and why it’s important. It covers how the internet and digital technologies have changed the way society thinks and are being weaponised to increase the inequalities in the world, so if charities are going to be capable of tackling these issues they will need to drastically change their approach to digital from thinking of it as a channel for marketing and being able to work from home to utilising concepts about how networks produce exponential change at a global scale, how people can no longer be thought of a simple biological individuals but are now complex socio-technical assemblages, and how unpredictable and often weird things arise out of the complex interactions in this new world.

Not enough whitelabeling

I see the current product landscape as falling into three main camps. They are enterprise products, for use within the walls of an organisation and generally don’t cross the boundary into the customer’s space, e.g. Microsoft. There are consumer products, such as Spotify, which are paid for and used by individuals. And then there are those products which are B2B products but are used by individual consumers, things like Magento and WordPress which are used to build websites that essentially become an interface between the organisation and their customers but are built by a third-party business. If an organisation wants to develop a product for their customers they pretty much have to build it. They might buy in services like identity management and payments but the functionality of the product will be developed, even though their product probably does the same thing as lots of other products. So, why it’s there more white label products available to businesses that they buy rather than build?

The no-code products like Bubble are edging this way but they are still more website-focused and aren’t at the enterprise-ready level yet. So, I predict a growing trend towards drag-and-drop product builders over the next few years that will enable businesses of all sizes to quickly buy in a product that enables them to build the product that meets their customers needs and is branded for them.

Looking at levels

I’m a big believer in loosely-coupled ecosystems of products that together meet the needs of the organisation to deliver support for young people, and give the organisation greater flexibility and adaptability because one part of the ecosystem can be replaced without disrupting the whole. But I’ve also been thinking about taking this approach to the capabilities level. So, for example we need a means of matching young people to mentors. On the product level we can buy in a mentoring platform that will meet that need. But on a capabilities level what we really need is a means of ‘matching’ different things. We want to match young people to mentors, young people to programmes, delivery partners to courses, etc., etc. I’ve thought a bit before about the logic behind how we match but the idea here of building a capability rather than buying a product (which clearly is different on two levels) is that it can serve a deeper need. With things the way they are at the moment, buying in products to meet specific needs is definitely the right approach, but I wonder where the threshold is for deciding the right problem to solve and right approach to solve it.

Updating my OKR’s

I’ve been updating my OKR’s to align with the shift in my life. So, out goes being a mental health carer and things that rely on me being in the same place regularly and in comes things about a more minimalist, digital, nomadic, hermit lifestyle. The three objectives of leading an intentional life, having an effective education, and having an impactful career in the charity sector persist but how I intend to achieve those objectives will change, which is kind of the point of OKRs.


And some people I follow tweeted:

Building a business on someone else’s land

Two of the people I follow, David Perell and Daniel Vassallo tweeted about building their business on Twitter. It’s interesting to me because it brings up the question of how much a business should control its supply chain. Paraphrasing Teece, the more of its supply chain a business controls the less risk it carries and generally the greater margins it can achieve. But in the modern internet world, is being on someone else’s land just part of the new business ecosystem, with the aim of getting email addresses so you can be in touch with your customers directly. In my weeknotes from last week I mentioned a renewed interest in email newsletters and some trends for email.

Prove it

Steve MacLaughlin tweeted, “The enemy of innovation is the mandate to ‘prove it.’ You cannot prove a new idea in advance by inductive or deductive reasoning.” A quote from Roger L. Martin. I can’t help but think that innovation’s association with failure hasn’t done it any favours. An entire business can be started speculatively without the need to prove future success, but as soon as it’s called an innovation its viewed with this ‘prove it’ mindset.