Week notes #190

This week I’ve been doing:

Trajectories over alignment 

For obvious reasons, it’s been a week involving lots of things changing at a fast pace. We are all adapting to new ways of working, different pressures, and an uncertain future. In the short term, we still need to find ways to support young people and, for the medium and longer term, we need to think about how to be a more digital charity, to deliver services that young people need in ways that fit the world and times we live in. Getting alignment between individuals, teams, objectives at a time of such flux is futile. Instead we should try to have trajectories that mean we are all aiming at the same goal but expect that we will take different routes to get there, and that if things change for a team they don’t become ‘unaligned’ but just change trajectory. My team has been talking about how we do this so that one part of what we’re doing can change without affecting the other parts.

In control

I’ve had a few discussions this week broadly around the same topic of feeling like you don’t own your own schedule and not letting others to set your priorities and focus. It’s a tough cycle to break out of but it’s important for us to feel in control of the things that we can control. I’d say it’s even more important in times like these. 

Digital nomad

I’ve taken the opportunity of remote working to become nomadic. As I can work anywhere, that anywhere might as well be somewhere nice and be different each day. Luckily for me I have no intention of going where people are so I’m also self-isolating whilst getting lots of fresh air, and getting more focus in my work, study, and writing. 


This week I’ve been thinking about:

Redesign over resilience

The coronavirus seems to have greater second, third and so on order effects every day. Organisations of all types and sizes are either shutting down or trying how to continue to offer their services at-a-distance or online. Some organisations are undoubtedly trying to weather the storm and hope that everything returns to normal soon enough. I think that the organisations that manage to step out of crisis-mode and redesign their business model and reshape what they do to deliver value will be the ones that succeed in a post-coronavirus world. It’s day one for these organisations. If you were starting something completely new, how would you go about it to avoid reliance on past ways whilst not being over swayed by reacting against those ways?

Anti-social distancing

Uubs, restaurants, gyms, etc., are being told to close. The British Heart Foundation shut all it’s shops. Office workers are working from home. ‘Social distancing’ is surely going to be added to the dictionary by the end of  2020. Some people have tried to make the point that the term is inaccurate and we should be using ‘physical distancing’ instead to indicate that we need to physically stay away from each other but socially and emotionally become closer. I’m completely behind the idea of ‘social distancing’ (as a way of life, not just a response to a virus), as a means to flatten the curve of infections. It makes me think of Pirsig’s static quality patterns and how social patterns and behaviours have a moral right to overcome a biological pattern (such as a virus). 


This week, people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

Digital support for charities in times of crisis

Lots of people have been working on how to help charities that are being affected by the coronavirus. It’s really good to see people willing to help and the diversity of things they are developing. I think decentralised, distributed help is a better approach than one organisation trying to own it and organise everyone else.

Kylie Havelock tweeted, “Digital, design, and tech folks @cmmonknowledge needs your skills to help support local COVID-19 Mutual Aid community groups across the U.K.

Ross McCulloch tweeted about his zoom call to “help charities think about how they can deliver information, support and other services online using livechat, video and other tech.

Bobi Robson tweeted asking for anyone “interested in helping to share techniques and skills to help organisations pivot at this time” to sign up 

I wonder what problems they are seeing. And what range of solutions they are coming up with. Kylie also wrote about how crisis massively increases cognitive load and even looking in from the sidelines I can see some of the impact having to deal with a drop in funding, not being able to support service users, having to make people redundant, and all the other difficult things charities are dealing with, and affecting the people having to make those difficult decisions. Whilst I absolutely believe that digital can offer some new ways of doing things, I would if us digital people might be guilty of trying to apply known solutions to unknown problems.

The end of capitalism

A few people on Twitter seem to think that coronavirus spells the end for capitalism. Clearly this isn’t going to be the case. Whether you go by the crisis model or cycles model of capitalism, globalisation was a spatial fix to reduce costs. But globalization has issues, such as aiding the spread of viruses, and Digitization seems like the likely next big fix capitalism will apply to counter these issues. If digitization causes a shift from a ‘move the people to the work’ approach to a ‘move the work to the people’, and along with this organisations shift to measuring people by value delivered rather than hours worked, then perhaps we are moving further away from the wage labour basis of capitalism, but probably not the end of it


Quote of the week

It’s digital’s time to shine

“It’s digital’s time to shine; to help people (who are literally stuck) needing help, entertainment and life-saving information… Our digital delivery has arguably never been so important.” 

Joe Freeman

Week notes #189

Things I’ve been doing this week:

Service mapping 

I’ve started creating a service blueprint to help explain how things will work in our new enquiry process, and to give stakeholders some confidence around what will and won’t change. It’s been really interesting to document my knowledge in this way. The next step is to validate my understanding with others.

Show and tell

We did a show and tell of the site so far to demonstrate how the pages will look on mobile devices and how the enquiry form will work for young people. As is often the case, it caused lots of questions from stakeholders some interesting points about how agile ways of working fit in with other ways and expectations. I think there is lots of education and socialisation work to do, which I think is going to be a very cool thing to do.

Remote

I’ve been preparing for shifting to even more remote working and becoming a digital nomad. I bought a bigger inverter to power both of my laptops and have been thinking about the kinds of places I want to work from. It’s completely coincidental that everyone is having to work from home.


Things I’ve been studying this week:

It’s all about the average 

No lectures this week, and no more until next term.

Finished and submitted my latest assignment.

Got a grade of 73 for my last assignment, taking my average to 71.33.


Things I’ve been thinking about:

The fine line

Dispatches aired a documentary about celebrities accepting large sums of money from charities for endorsements. Note that it wasn’t phrased the other way round, as charities paying large sums of money to celebrities for endorsements, that’s because it doesn’t happen. Dispatches even had to make up a fake charity for the programme because no real charity would take part in their dodgy excuse for a documentary. 

Of course, the charity sector was up in arms on Twitter, but the whole thing made me think about how Charities walk a fine line in the modern age. It’s getting harder and harder to be good at doing good.

On one hand they are held to the highest standards, looked to as the moral compass of society, and expected to always make the right choices. And on the other they are expected to achieve positive impact in a complex world where nothing is ever clear, doing good when all the odds are stacked in the favour of forces that increase hate, inequality and harm in the world.

I wonder what would happen if a charity decided to play dirty, and openly said that they’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission regardless of what people think about how they do it?

Marriage problems

I’ve been thinking about how to think about a piece of work we’ll be doing soon. We want to match young people to programmes or mentors or job opportunities, so I’ve been looking into computer science problems that deal with matching data sets.

The stable marriage problem is described as, “Given n men and n women, where each person has ranked all members of the opposite sex in order of preference, marry the men and women together such that there are no two people of opposite sex who would both rather have each other than their current partners. When there are no such pairs of people, the set of marriages is deemed stable”. This is the kind approach I think we’d take with matching young people to programmes as there is a one to one match, on the part of the young person at least.

The stable marriage with indifference extends the stable marriage problem to be able to accept that “a person may prefer two or more persons as equally favorable partner. Such tied preference is termed as indifference.” Adding indifference allows us to match a young person to two or more mentors and two or more job opportunities. We’d then need a mechanism for choosing between them, but I think that could be handed to the young person to put them in control.

I also had a really interesting discussion with someone about what constitutes effective matching criteria. I realised I had a longstanding assumption that matching could be performed on intrinsic factors such as behaviours and personality traits, but actually wherever any matching goes on, such as in dating app and job applications, it’s always on extrinsic factors such as height and location. In practice both these examples also allow the user to decide which of the factors are important to them in making choices. It fascinates me.

Long form content

I’ve been thinking about writing some of my ideas and experiences in a longer form than I do with blog posts as a way of grouping some ideas together and making them more visually interesting like shorthand stories or Kioken Blocks. Some of the things I want to write about are:

  • My experience of applying entrepreneurial thinking to caring for someone with serious mental illness.
  • Flexible working for knowledge workers, not just more people working from home, but how flexibility changes the labour distribution across society, has intangible benefits for organisations such as creating more permeable boundaries between organisations and society, how becoming more flexible organisations need to shift from measuring people by hours worked and use value delivered.
  • Digital Charity, and how it’s not about getting a new website but about how can charities fight back against the weaponisation of digital in society, and making ethical choices about how dirty charities should play in order to achieve impact.

Things people have been tweeting about:

Some virus is a big deal

Twitter is pretty much full of Coronavirus and not much else (much like the rest of society).

Taylor Pearson wrote an article about it. The Exponent did a podcast about it. The UK government had a strategy based around the idea of achieving ‘herd immunity’, then 200 scientists said it wouldn’t work, then the immunologists and virologists on Twitter said that they’d never heard of those scientists and that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Then someone in Japan tested positive for a second time, which further undermines the herd immunity approach. At this stage the only thing that seems clear is that no one anything for sure. I bet my old Zombie Squad buddies are laughing themselves silly about all of this.


Quote of the week:

#Agile

“I tend to describe agile ways of working as “tendencies” that run counter to what might initially be intuitive (to perfectly rational/sane people). Not hard and fast rules. Not a glorified cure-all. Not something you transform to/be/do. Not something you “certify”.”

John Cutler

Week notes #188

Things I did his week:

Product togetherness

We had our first Product Managers get-together to share what we are working on, insights we’ve reached and where we want to take ‘product’ at the Prince’s Trust. 

We discussed product/market fit in the youth education, training and employment space. It’s a complex space with lots of players and very little coordination. Broadly, the providers seem to fall to two camps. Commercial organisations and government provide digital offerings around employability skills and job search but don’t focus on disadvantaged young people, and charities and community organisations that focus on helping disadvantaged young people but don’t have much of a digital offer. This suggests there is a gap in the market for digital provision for disadvantaged young people, but the next question is, is there a need in the gap?

Problem discovery session

I attended a discovery session for one of our major programmes to try to uncover whether there are any barriers to the success of the programme that a digital product could help to solve.There’s more detailed work to be done to really understand the problems that young people face but I think it’s a good way to work as it gives the Product Team a clear role in supporting the organisation. 


Things I studied this week:

Nothing to see here

I didn’t study very much at all this week. Lectures were cancelled again as the lecturers are still on strike, and I didn’t get very much of my assignment done.


Things I thought about this week:

Digital transformation in charities or of charity 

Lara Burns, Digital Transformation at Scouts, tweeted from the Be More Digital conference a slide from Zoe Amar with a list of barriers and blockers to digital transformation in charities. I wasn’t there so I don’t know the context of the slide, but the list seemed to be focused on micro-level things like needing more skills, more data, pushback from colleagues and a lack of strategy. I get that these are all these things are actually barriers to charities being more digital and I can see how they reflect a sense of settling with the status quo vs. facing the future, and I think that maybe charities have always been that way inclined, responsive rather than proactive, but non-digital-ness is frog boiling, with no immediate need to respond to it’s hard for charities to justify change.

The proposed changes in charities often seem to aim for micro-level change in order to have impact at the meso-level, but ignores impact at the macro-level. Maybe this is because charities traditionally have an inward way of thinking and so apply it to the digital transformation when really it requires new ways of thinking that look outwardly from the organisation at its place in the ecosystem.

Should digital transformation thinking be about solving organisational problems? Is that how you sell it within the organisation? Is that why change programmes focus on such small things, because at least it feels achievable? 

I think, in order to be transformational, the thinking needs to be about new ways of thinking and operating in a digital age, new business models that leverage the network and scale made possible by the internet. It needs to ask bigger, outward facing questions about how the charity sector will level-up against the weaponisation of digital to increase inequalities in society.

How deep should product management thinking go?

How much do Product Managers and Teams think about the concepts that underpin their product? So, if the product is about connecting people, how much do/should they talk about what being connected to other people means, types of connection, sense of belonging and community, social graphs, etc It seems there are so many layers of understanding, not just the practices and policies level, but down into principles and philosophies, the histories of ideas, state and market influences, etc. It could be endless, but it could lead to a deeper understanding of the problems our products attempt to solve. How deep should product management thinking go?

Virtuous circle business models 

I’ve been thinking more about Amazon’s flywheel and virtuous circle business models, and how the same concepts could be applied to the charity sector. Whereas the Amazon flywheel has growth in the middle as the thing that increases as the flywheel spins I think a charity would have ‘impact’ (that’s a concept that needs expanding on later). Amazon’s flywheel is explained as starting with customer experience, the thing that if they get right brings more customers, which brings more sellers to their platform, which increases the selection of items to buy, which improves the customer experience. There are a lot of other elements such as delivery times and pricing which affect customer experience, and which Amazon controls in order to ensure the customer experience is how they want it, but it’s those main elements that drive the flywheel. 

How can this be applied to a charity?

At the Prince’s Trust we have six ‘big parts’ to what would make up our flywheel: young people, volunteers, delivery partners, referral partners, hiring businesses, and funders and donors. Currently, in a non-flywheel business model, each of these parts spins independently rather than one driving the other. The more young people we get, the more volunteers and delivery partners we need, but one doesn’t drive the other in the way that Amazon’s flywheel works. So, how can flywheel thinking be applied to a charity? When I figure it out I’ll let you know, but I feel like charities upping their game is a big part of it.

How can it be applied to achieving good in society?

The problem is that in our society there are forces that benefit from increasing inequality, and those forces apply flywheel thinking to further their aims. When armies of Twitter bots promote anti-climate-change messages they affect the motivations of people going about their lives without them even knowing about it and contribute to maintaining a status quo of focusing on short-term economic thinking. Public opinion is one of the elements of the climate change flywheel, so the more it spins in the direction that undermines taking action, the less people take action. Charities aren’t yet digitally mature enough to a) even recognise the weaponisation of digital in society, and b) act in flywheel ways that would interrupt public opinion and cause it to spin in the other direction. So, how can flywheel thinking be applied to achieving good in society? When I figure it out I’ll let you know, but I feel like charities upping their game is a big part of it.


Things people I follow on Twitter were saying week:

Remote working, save us

The increasing spread of the Coronavirus has resulted in lots of charities hurriedly putting their business continuity plans into action, which essentially means figuring out how more of their people can work remotely. The NCVO tweeted their guide, and lots of people are tweeted their tips on how to work from home better, starting with Nissa Ramsay saying things like “Find a good online ex video, buy a WiFi extender plug, and plan video call space where people can’t see your bed/washing hanging up”, and continuing with Ross suggesting “sorting out your ergonomics: make your chair comfy, get a decent mouse & external keyboard if that helps and finding a community on Twitter or Slack team to chat”.

This is interesting to me on a personal level as I increase my remote-working/digital-nomad-ness, and from a ‘complex systems affecting things in unexpected ways’ point of view. Steve Johnson talks about how English coffee houses played an important role in sparking The Enlightenment, and I wonder if the Coronavirus will be instrumental in changing how we work in more digital ways. 

What do 200 charity professionals think the biggest issue facing the sector is?”

Wayne Murray, strategy director at the fundraising agency Audience, tweeted about the results of a survey with two hundred charity professionals. It revealed that the three biggest issues facing the charity sector are relevance, short-termism, and lack of collaboration. It was also interesting to note that many senior leaders submitted their responses to the survey privately, perhaps indicating that they don’t want to be seen to criticise the state of the sector whilst perhaps also being aware that they contribute to the problem. The survey results raise all kinds of questions about how charities can become more relevant to people, government, businesses and to society; whether charities are able to shift from the responsive nature of traditional charity to a proactive future-facing approach that resolves the short term focus issue; and how charities might work towards an ecosystem model that supports collaborative efforts to tackle issues. It also calls into question how we might go about making a change in a complex system like the charity sector and whether these issues can be affected directly or should be approached obliquely to allow for change to emerge. 

Never finish anything

Ben Holliday tweeted a link to his blog post Some thoughts on how to read for work, and the 80:20 principle. I completely agree with the principle of doing just enough to get the most value out of something and not having to finish it. I hardly ever finish anything.

Do you feel lucky?

Jason Yip, senior agile coach at Spotify, tweeted a quote from James Clear, “The way to attract good luck is to be reliable in a valuable area. The more you repeatedly deliver value, the more people seek you out for that value. Your reputation is a magnet. Once you become known for something, relevant opportunities come to you.” It expresses a pattern I’ve seen and used (and intend to keep using) in my role within organisations.

Thinkers and doers

A catalogue of things that are stopping change” by James Reeve and Rose Mortada talks about some of the conflict in government between policy and delivery. “These are very human problems which will be present in any large organisation.”, they say, and it’s easy to see how the problems of individual incentives over team incentives, making decisions with incomplete information, and friction between groups of people with different ideas and values can be found occurring in any sector. I think these conflicts, and so so many more, are a sign of the times. Our society is going through a massive change as we come out of industrial revolution thinking and we’re going to see more clashes between the old and the new.


This week’s quote 

International Women’s Day

“A diverse system is more stable and less vulnerable to external shock than a uniform system with little diversity”

Donella H. Meadows

Week notes #187

This week I’ve been doing:

How things fit together

I had another fantastic week at work. I’m still in ‘discovery’ phase and spent time at the Job Centre to understand how the referral process works, spoke to our CEO about the potential for digital products to  spoke to an Operations Manager to find out more about how programmes are delivered, and listened to the story of a young person who set up her own business with the help of the Prince’s Trust. This, plus all the research reports I’ve read and market analysis I’ve worked on to understand other players in the space of youth training and employment are making progress towards understanding our product/market fit. 

I’m beginning to conceptualise how the Prince’s Trust acts as a ‘connector’ between young people, referral organisations, volunteers, and delivery partner organisations, and how we might think about a product that performs this same role digitally, essentially a ‘marketplace of opportunities’ where young people can be matched to a mentor, volunteers can be matched to schools, and programmes can be matched to delivery partners. The key to this matching is in understanding and meeting the needs of each party to allow them to get the most out of the opportunities. If we think of it as a one-way value exchange with just the young person benefiting we’ll misunderstand the mechanics necessary to make the product achieve scalable, sustainable and impactful results.


This week I’ve been studying:

McKinsey’s disruptive technologies 

No lectures as the lecturers are on strike, but I’ve been progressing my assignment and learning lots about Amazon’s innovation strategy. 

A gallery of disruptive technologies from McKinsey

I’ve looked at how Amazon is involved in eight of McKinsey’s disruptive technologies, from the obvious of AWS in cloud to Bezos’ investments in nuclear fusion and next-generation genomics. Apart from the ‘you really can do pretty much whatever you want when you have that much money’ realisation this brings, I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that by contrast, pretty much every other organisation in the world has no idea how to innovate like Amazon. I wonder what we could achieve if we applied a similar approach to innovation in the charity sector?

Some stuff I read this week

  • Changing the NEET mindset – This report from 2014 is about achieving more effective transitions between education and work for young people, especially those that don’t have a clear path. It’s interesting that more than five years later there still isn’t an agreed definition of this segment of young people and that even the classification of NEET starts with what they are ‘not’ rather than what they are.
  • The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication – Basecamp is one of companies people either love or hate, but regardless they are good at walking their talk, and their guide to how they communicate includes things asynchronous communication methods as a first choice, writing rather than chatting (I’m really interested in this one as I think how organisations manage information and convert tacit knowledge into codified information is increasingly important), and considering how communication interrupts, leads to misunderstanding and needs to be in right place at the right time.
  • Opportunity Mapping Project – The Othering & Belonging Institute’s article on Opportunity Mapping seems to have some interesting overlaps with place-based strategies and thinking about how people are affected by the systems they interact with. 

This week I’ve been thinking about:

Personas

I’ve been looking into personas and how to use them to guide some product development decisions. Some personas for the young people that we work with were produced as part of the research for a programme we’re delivering, but I’m having trouble turning the information in the personas into useful actionable goal-orientated insights. Sophie Dennis from NHS Digital helped loads by explaining more about personas and that I should look into reinterpreting the research. One of the interesting things I picked out was that personas differentiate actual user behaviour, which I take to mean in the case of young people that if persona A is unemployed and persona B is under-employed, but for the purposes of our product they both behave in the same way (which could be looking for a job) then they are really the same persona. I want to learn much more about personas as they are clearly far more complicated than I thought.

I didn’t choose the inequality-systems life, the inequality-systems life chose me.

The Mayday Trust wrote about the current state of homelessness services and how they really aren’t person-led. I think the same challenge exists wherever people interact with systems in society, including charities and health services. The article talks about changing the narratives from systems like these so that people have the freedom to write their own stories. For me, this means moving away from the history that thinks of people that our society consider as non-contributors (mentally ill, homeless, unemployed, etc.) should be subject to control through these systems, and the structural behaviours of those systems that try to ensure people are ‘maintained’ in their state of need and control to ensure the status quo of the system. Removing the control mechanisms, thinking of and treating people as adults with the right to freedom and self-determination, allowing people to develop the self-belief, confidence, resilience, aspirations, etc., that mean they can imagine and create a different future for themselves, all this and more, has to be part of a future society that supports people without controlling them.

Faster Feedback Learning Loops

I watched a video about Strategic Doing which mentioned the 30/30 technique, a way of looking back over the last thirty days to review what you’ve learned and using it to plan what you are going to do for the next thirty days. I’ve been thinking about how to create faster feedback loops for learning (faster than every thirty days) so this seems interesting. Although I like to fluid discovery-type learning that I do, and enjoy the reflective practice of writing week notes, I want to get more disciplined about learning specific things so that I can apply. I’m not sure about the prompts but maybe something like: “What did I learn today/this week? How am I going to apply this learning tomorrow/next week/in the future? What do I need to learn next/tomorrow/next week?” I also feel like I need a system for managing this and making it enforceable, but I haven’t got that far in my thinking yet so I might just try it out in a less formal way for a while.


Things people I follow on Twitter have been saying:

A different way of recruiting

Janet Thorne, CEO of Reach Volunteering, tweeted about experimenting with a different way of recruiting, a way that didn’t ask candidates for a CV or to complete an application, but instead answer three questions. Not having information about where a candidate went to school or which companies they had previously worked for prevented all kinds of unconscious bias on the part of the recruiters and resulted in selecting people better suited to the role and organisation. She didn’t say what three questions she asked, but it left me thinking about what three questions I’d ask.

The future of education

David Perell tweeted about his visions of the future of education, including how course production will have huge budgets and teachers will command huge income, but that education will be cheap and available to any self-motivated learner with an internet connection. I agree that education needs a massive shake-up. Having been a student for a few months I’ve experienced the frustratingly old and un-user-focused way knowledge is protected within inward-looking traditional institutions and education is delivered in achingly non-twenty-first-century ways. The current education could never disrupt itself in ways anywhere near close to what David is talking about. They could take their old mindsets onto the internet but it will take a new mindset to really provide something that meets the needs of users, offers fast feedback loops so users can iterate on their learning rather than being graded on an assignment they wrote months before, co-creating the course content as interesting topics emerge rather than following a curriculum chosen by a single lecturer based solely on what they know, and encouraging variability of points-of-view and ways of learning rather than standardisation and comparison between learners.

Tying product success to user success

Tim Herbig tweeted about measuring changes in user behaviour to understand the success of a product. Measuring the success of changes to a product by whether it changes user behaviour rather than by company KPI’s tells us whether our product is helping user to succeed in what they are trying to do. Tying measurement closely to user behavior in this way, rather than through proxies, helps product managers get a much better understanding of whether the changes they are making to the product are impactful.

Needs and capabilities

In response to the tweet ““Requirements” is my least favorite word in product development. What’s a better one for that clarity around what matters to users?”, Ryan P. McGarvey tweeted about thinking of requirements as “as two sides of the coin as “needs” and “capabilities”.” He explains it as “The user needs to be able to do X. The system is capable of providing Y and Z which satisfy X.” I like this. It seems to parallel on a different level my opinion that product management is about balancing risks and opportunities.

Week notes #186

This week I’ve been doing:

Product/market fit for non-profits

I’ve been working on an analysis of the organisations that have products and services in the young people’s employment space. The offers seem to fall into two distinct groups; commercial organisations with a strong online presence that don’t work with disadvantaged young people, and charity/not-for-profit organisations that work with disadvantaged young people but don’t have a digital offer. I think this gap is where we can provide a well blended experience-focused offer with digital products and services that meet the needs of disadvantaged young people. Of course the high quality face-to-face work will always be where young people get the most value but we can offer always-on, easy-to-access, and most importantly useful ways for young people to make their lives better.

Balancing user experience with data compliance

We’ve been working through wireframes and doing lots of thinking about how to ensure we’re giving young people control and choices about their data and meeting our compliance obligations whilst also giving young people a good user experience that helps them make contact and take the next step in opening up opportunities for themselves.

Design thinking in product development 

I went to a ProductTank Oxford meetup about Design Thinking. It was an interesting talk but I left wondering if I could have learned just as much by watching a few YouTube videos. Going to meetups was part of my personal OKRs to participate in the digital charities community but I’m not sure I’m getting much value out of them. I have a few more meetups over the next few weeks so I’ll see how they go and then decide whether to adjust my key results.

CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections

I signed up for CAST Techforgood’s Coffee Connections. Every two months we’ll be matched with someone else from the charity sector and we’ll arrange to meet up and chat about things. Maybe this will be a better way for me to participate in the digital charities community.

Product teams

Completed John Cutler’s survey. Interesting that my answers suggested different levels of maturity/advancement for different things. I guess I had assumed that a high performing team was high scoring in all aspects of their practice but John’s questions suggest to me that teams can be good at some things and not so good at others. 

User manual for me

I finished writing my user manual for me and added to my website. Next I need to find time to add it to RogBot.


This week I’ve been studying:

Profiting from innovation in the knowledge economy

Strategies to profit from innovation:

  • Choosing the appropriate supply chain structure
  • Choosing the appropriate intellectual property protection strategy

In the most complex situations, the innovators that profit the most are those who are able to organize their supply chain most effectively.

Intellectual property rights includes legal instruments that protect innovation from imitation.

Innovation at Amazon 

I’ve also been working on my assignment about how Amazon approaches innovation which I think can be broadly summed up in three parts:

  • Large investments and acquisitions in software and hardware across multiple sectors and industries, spreading their bets and putting Amazon in control of the value chain.
  • Use the new technology that is produced to develop products and services in a wide and diverse range of sectors, ensuring competitive advantage  in almost every sector they enter.
  • Commercialise those products and services, allowing other companies to leverage them, generating revenue and creating network effects.


This week I’ve been thinking about:

Strategic questions about charities

“If a charity could significantly reduce the number of people suffering from an issue by doing something different, but risk no longer having any reason to exist because not many people have that issue anymore, would they do it?” One side of the argument says that charities should always be working to make themselves obsolete by removing the issue they were set up to tackle, but I’m not sure that recognises the additional value charities bring to society other than by tackling issues, things like offering volunteering opportunities. But for me, the point is that if a charity has been so effective as to remove an issue that people facing then they’re likely to have built up a lot of skills, knowledge, influence, etc., and it would be wasteful to disband such a high-performing organisation. It would be better if they changed mission and worked on another issue.

“Can charity’s create truly scalable ‘business’ (for want of a better term) models?” Amazon talks about building ‘flywheels’ within its business that once spinning generate more momentum for other parts of the organisation and are scalable. Uber’s now-infamous virtuous circle napkin diagram of how to make a geographically dense, hyperlocal marketplace work for travel shows how they get each part of the business to drive other parts. Many charities already have these various ‘engines’; volunteers and supporters, customers and stock donors for charity shops, increasingly digital platforms that enable their work (such as the recently launched Dementia Connect) but these are often thought of and managed in very separate ways. Even when people in charities talk about ‘scaling’ services they usually actually mean replicating the service, growing it by adding more of the same so that it increases at a linear rate of 1,2,3,4,5. When a service is truly scaled (by a factor of 2 in this example) it increases non-linearly as 1,2,4,8,16. I think, if a charity ever figures out how to apply this mindset and connect all of the things it does so that they all support the growth of all the other aspects, it will signal an exciting shift for how charities work in the 21st century.

“Do charities look outwardly enough when thinking about strategy?” Most of the strategy work I’ve ever seen from charities has been internally focused. It’s usually about what they’ll do to be the best organisation they can and how they’ll go about doing the work they exist to do. Looking internally is an important part of thinking strategically as strategy is essentially an action plan to achieve long term goals, but if they don’t understand what is going on not only in their sector or area of expertise but also in the lives of the people they are trying to help, then they risk becoming ineffectual and irrelevant. Whilst I’m on the topic, my opinion of the ‘five year strategy’ is, don’t do it. Things will change so much within five years (that’s why charities need to get better at looking outwards at what’s going on around them) that trying to stick to a plan that was written years ago makes very little sense. The argument I’ve heard that having a long term strategy gives stakeholders (staff, beneficiaries, funders, etc.) a sense of stability might have made sense in the past but in the future it’s just putting blinkers on and pretending that you can be the one stable thing in a world of constant change. Better, I think, to say that we recognise that things are going to change, that they are going to keep changing, and that we are going to get good at keeping pace with change.


This week people I follow on Twitter have been talking about:

Prioritisation

Andrea Saez tweeted about prioritising backlogs by what objectives are to be met, what problems are to be solved, what information sits outside, such as market, qualitative feedback & product vision.

Remote retros

Gitte Klitgaard asked what tools people use for remote retrospectives and there were lots of suggestions. I’ve added lots of them into the Compendium of Ideas I’m working on.

Hinton’s Law

Andrew Hinton came up with Hinton’s Law: Any multi-user system that makes it easier to create new information than it is to consume that information will eventually overwhelm its users. He was referring to Slack, but it applies to all communication tools and channels. It’s definitely a challenge for turning the intangible asset of tacit knowledge into codief knowledge that can be used for competitive advantage.

Week notes #185

This week I was doing:

What does a target space look like?

I spent a day in Manchester to discuss the new product we’re building to support a new programme. It was interesting to see another Prince’s Trust office and I learned more about the business model and operations that provide a lot of the context around the problems we’re trying to tackle.

I spent some time collating research from Nesta, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Impetus, and various other sources to build my understanding of the ‘target space’ we’re working in. There are a lot of big concepts that need a lot of thinking about; place and social mobility, poverty and pay, education and employment, disadvantage and opportunity. Above (for want of a better term) all that there are also lots of complex ethical issues to wrangle with. And then below the research is the more ‘real’ space of competitor services, systemic inequalities, and the strategic and operational contexts. All of this forms the target space and important to understand in order to set my sights on a target.

I’ve learned so much in the three weeks I’ve been at the Prince’s Trust and I feel privileged and proud to be part of providing opportunities for young people who have various disadvantages that create barriers for them. 

An experiment with the Dvorak keyboard

The Dvorak keyboard is frequently mentioned as an innovation that didn’t take hold and see any success. The Qwerty keyboard we’re all familiar with is laid out the way it is in order to prevent the character-printing arms of typewriters from clashing. Even though that technical reason no longer exists the Qwerty keyboard persists because of its familiarity.

So in an attempt to see if the Dvorak keyboard, which is laid out to make typing as effective as possible, really was better I installed it on my phone. My typing was excruciatingly slow and error prone, and after trying to type a few tweets I went to using voice for writing tweets. This wasn’t accurate enough either so I went back to my usual keyboard. However, what I learned wasn’t just that familiarity is an important part of usability, but that the feature that really speeds up my typing is the predictive words that are shown above the keyboard. 

It’s not an experiment if it can’t fail.

Bitcoin Wallet 

I set up a bitcoin wallet. Just to find out a bit more about how it works because the decentralised web is a big deal. If anyone wants to send me Bitcoins the ID is: 193Aey5K2bdSKCQpDQ9mXAyxfpCGPvU3jK


This week I was studying:

Intangibles, networks and “winner takes all” markets

We only started to understand the nature of the knowledge economy and intangible assets in the nineties. Intangible asset require upfront investment and deliver value over a longer period of time, in contrast to physical, tangible assets that deliver value as soon as they are in place, but depreciate over time. 

That means that the majority of managers in senior roles spent most of their career with a physical assets mindset so it isn’t surprising that most longstanding organisations struggle to turn their thinking around realise the case for investment in something that they don’t understand. It requires positive feedback economy thinking rather than diminishing returns economy. Understanding the “four S” of how intangible assets differ from tangible (Haskell & Westlake, 2017) is useful:

  • Scalability – Once produced, they can be reproduced many times at almost zero cost
  • Sunkenness – Difficult to resell
  • Spillovers – Difficult to protect from imitation (non-excludability)
  • Synergies – More beneficial when used together with other intangible and tangible assets

“Winner takes all markets” are markets in which a few companies end up dominating globally and these are increasingly prevalent in the knowledge economy. There are various theories explaining why. Haskell & Westlake (2017) make a “supply side” argument, that intangible assets are scalable (they can reproduced many times at zero cost) so if you have a successful business model, organizational system, or digital product, you can replicate it over and over very cheaply, and others cannot compete. David (1985), Arthur (1989): make a “demand side” argument  saying that due to network externalities, many products are more valuable the more other users there are so if you reach a critical mass of users you dominate the market.

This is interesting to me because I think organisations (and the ones I’m most interested in are charities) still fail to understand the connection between innovation and investment in intangible assets, and that market dominance and a “winner takes all” approach to solving social problems is a hugely complex, probably difficult for most people to swallow, but so important for tackling the issues (I should say here that I’m not advocating for a single charity to dominate the market of a single issue but instead for all charities, working together in an open innovation ecosystem model, to dominate the market of all social issues to prevent the systemic causes of those issues from dominating).


This week I was thinking about:

Decoupling innovation from newness

Is it possible to decouple ‘innovation’ from ‘newness’?

The dictionary definition of innovation is ‘a new method, idea, product, etc.’, so the concept of newness is baked into our ideas of innovation, but it has history and it isn’t simple.

When Schumpeter talked about newness being part of innovation in the 30s he was on about introducing new economic value at the time of the Great Depression and World Wars. But since then, and even though we now live in a very different world, innovation has been all about newness.

But how new is new? If I try a new flavour drink am I being innovative? If I’m first am I more innovative than the hundredth person to try it even if it’s their first time? Does newness and innovation have to be so tightly coupled? Can innovation exist without newness?

The idea of first-mover advantage has been debunked as necessary for the success of new business. There have been lots of examples of newness failing to deliver value and close-followers stepping in to build successful businesses.

Newness also drives the ‘building products for the sake of building them’ behaviour rather than being led by providing value to customers, which isn’t a sustainable approach.

Could our definition of ‘innovation’ be more about keeping pace with change? More innovative organisations get ahead of the pace of change in their industry, less innovative lag behind the pace of change.

The pace of change might be led by customer expectations, and would be different for each industry, sector, country, etc., which helps embrace the complexities of the 21st century.

Inventing the future of FMCG

The future of supermarkets is multi-level exchange and refills. So rather than going to the supermarket to buy a bottle of ketchup you’ll return your empty bottle to the supermarket and pick up a refilled bottle that the supermarket received from another customer, cleaned and refiled. This exchange and refill model would work on a larger scale between the supermarkets and suppliers who do the same thing with tanker lorries of ketchup. This also fits better with a consumer subscription model, with is the future of paying for things.


This week people I follow on Twitter were saying:

It’s surprising anything ever gets done

Tom Loosemore tweeted “Candidates for a top 10 of systemic blockers to Internet-era ways of working in your org, please!

I’ll start:

1 Your business case process demands false certainty

2 Your budget funds projects, not teams

3 Your people can’t move teams easily”

And lots of people joined in…

Charities working together 

There have been a few tweets about charities working together, especially in the digital space, this and in previous weeks. I think it’s the only chance charities have of fighting back against the weaponisation of digital by other parts of society and a good step towards a future for the charity sector where organisations work together in ecosystems to tackle the complex problems in society rather than tackling single issues in isolation. 

Charity digital training 

Bobi Robson asked for some feedback on a digital skills questionnaire, and as participating in the digital charities community is in my OKRs for this year, and as I believe that charities need all the help they can get to level up their digital knowledge, I offered to help. I’m not sure my observations were useful.

ProductCon

I didn’t go, but Becca Peter’s did and wrote up some interesting notes.

Week notes #184

This week I was doing:

Nonboarding

It was my second week at the Prince’s Trust and I still haven’t been onboarded. I don’t have an ID badge or a laptop. I have no idea how to book leave or if I can claim expenses. And it has been fantastic! I’ve been able to look at things as an outsider, explore the target space that the Prince’s Trust operates in, look at what other organisations are doing, and think like a competitor, ‘if I wanted to beat the Prince’s Trust, what would I do?’, and then bring that thinking into my work.

The experience has completely changed my thinking about how to onboard new hires into an organisation. Giving new people the time to explore and see what they find out might actually be a good way to get a fresh perspective on things.

Exploring the target space

I’ve been using a Miro board to map out all of the things I’ve found and learned about in the target space of young people facing barriers to opportunities, organisations, policies and systems affecting them. I’m not sure it’s advanced enough to communicate the nature of the relationships between the parts but it feels like a good start.

I went a little off track thinking about how the digital teams working of government services approach things. They are very service orientated. Understandable as users of government websites don’t want to establish a connection with the government, they just want to accomplish a task. But at the Prince’s Trust we have the assumption (to be validated) that young people, mentors and business delivery partners want to form a connection and relationship with the Prince’s Trust because they get some value out of it. This took me back to the ‘designing and building experiences rather than products and services’ thinking, and whether the IRL experience and the online experience should feel seamlessly connected or whether people want different things from different channels. Face-to-face fosters connection, digital provides always-on access, they meet different needs.

Strategically, we’re moving away from a programme-based approach to a place-based approach. In thinking about place, and how digital products and multi-channel experiences might be affected by place, I’ve been thinking about place not in the geographic sense but as being about which systems affect a young person and their opportunities. These systems might include education and benefits systems, cultural and heritage systems, etc. For me, this helps us understand why different people in the same geographic place can have very different experiences of that place, because they are interacting with different systems.

Some other things I did

  • Joined the Tech For Good Live Slack group and chatted about a ‘taxonomy of problems in the world’. 
  • Went to the Bucks Mind Finance and Risk committee meeting to discuss budgets for the next year.
  • Listened to podcasts with Dr Max McKeown about how to move from original insight to new ideas to valuable real-world innovation, and Seth Godin about the Overton Window and how there is a continuum from policy to popular to sensible to acceptable to radical to unthinkable as we only develop new things.
  • Went to our team away day and played the Prince’s Trust enterprise game that teaches young people how to run a business. 

This week I was studying:

Innovation and industry evolution

How does technology evolve, and what are the implications for industry structure and performance? Well..

  • Technological change is ‘punctuated equilibrium’ with sporadic major innovations are followed by a long stream of minor, incremental innovations that build upon it, gradually enhancing productivity, until the next radical breakthrough either replaces the previous technology or coexists with it. 
  • Productivity increase takes a long time (decades) after the tech breakthrough.
  • In the early stage of development, radical innovations often have many competing technological variants which, according to sociologists of technology, solve different problems which are relevant to different groups of users. Over time, one variant will emerge as the dominant design and it will be the one which addresses the needs of most users, or of particularly important groups of users.
  • Once a dominant design has been established, it can constrain the process of technological change for a long time. Firms develop competences in line with the dominant design and develop a general consensus which gets established in the technical community about what are the important design dimensions that need to be improved. The design can become a cognitive paradigm; the accepted way.
  • Coming to the end of a technological trajectory (when no further improvements are possible) creates the conditions for a new trajectory to emerge (as in Perez: a new paradigm emerges when the possibilities of the old paradigm have been exhausted)
  • The industry life cycle stage is an interesting way to consider how organisations introduce new products, and when the profitability of the product declines the organisation looks to process improvements to maintain profitability, and when that approach provides no more returns, they introduce services to support the aging product. This model is underpinned by the trends of how technological change occurs, so if the organisation is able continue to use the technology their product is based on then the servicisation approach works, but if the technology is replaced by new technology, and so customers no longer want the old technology then the product must be abandoned. Organisations that don’t see this change coming or can’t respond to it quickly enough will get forced out of the market by organisations that can.
  • Radical innovations can be competence-destroying:
    • Required new skills and competences with respect to current dominant technology
    • Usually introduced by new firms or by incumbents in other industries that possess relevant competences
    • Lead to major industry shakeups with exit of incumbents and entry of new competitors
    • Examples: compact disc, integrated circuit, float glass
  • Radical innovations can be competence-enhancing:
    • Although radically new, build upon the same competences needed to produce the current dominant technology
    • Usually introduced by established firms
    • Does not lead to large industry shakeups or large firm sales variability Example: Nintendo Wii (Mu, 2008, case study)
  • Incumbents who do not respond to the creation of a new demand because they are successful within their existing markets and customers can’t make the most of the demand window of opportunity.

So now you know.


This week I was thinking about:

My personal OKRs

I’ve started reviewing and updating my personal OKRs on a weekly basis to focus my efforts. This week my scores are: 

  • Have an impactful career in charity & not-for-profit digital product and innovation: 0.15
  • Be well educated in business, innovation, product, and digital: 0.10
  • Lead an intentional & healthy life: 0.09.

I’m really interested in setting goals and monitoring progress in ways that contribute to greater things and don’t drive negative behaviours. I’m not sure OKRs are the right way to achieve this but they definitely help me achieve things.

A dashboard for publicly available data

If I had the skills, know-how and time I’d do some discovery work on a product that pulls together publicly available datasets and creates custom dashboards. So, for example it could take data on homelessness over the past ten years, overlay government spending on housing, and fundraising for homelessness charities to see if there is any correlation. 

But what I’m most interested in is how we develop a picture of the complexity and interconnectedness of problems facing people in our society and world. My thinking about a ‘taxonomy of problems’ with the TfGL Slack group is about providing a foundational standard of problems which can be used to map how many people face multiple problems so that we can begin thinking about how charities of the future can help people from a problem-centred approach rather than an isolated issue point of view. If only I had the data science skills to do this in a useful way.


This week people I follow on Twitter were saying:

How to future

Scott Smith tweeted about his new book, ‘How to future – Leading and sense-making in an age of hyper change’ and that it is available for pre-order (the link is to Amazon Smile because you should be getting Amazon to donate to charity). It looks really interesting with it’s ‘sense, map, model and communicate’ approach to futuring, and I’m looking forward to reading it in the summer.

Towards a future vision of how charities might work together digitally

Emma Bazalgette tweeted, “It’s not enough to design new services, we need to design new collaborative organisations to operate and iterate them too”, to which James Plunkett retweeted, “Almost every sentence in here applies to charities too. We need new collaborative ways of building shared digital capabilities. We are mulling how we can help.”, to which I retweeted “Absolutely essential for charities to be effective in society in the 21st century. We need an open innovation ecosystem model that enables charities to collaborate and cooperate around digital, design and data.”

Roadmaps

Simon Wilson was talking about the difference between problem roadmaps and solution roadmaps, solving problems in a fluid order rather than on a fixed date, outcomes to be delivered rather than features, anticipating future problems, adding certainty by having the research to back-up the decisions, and how roadmaps might express a Theory of Change. This is interesting for me as I write our roadmap, think about what kind of tool it is (communication, alignment, to-do list, etc.).

Week note #183

This week I was doing:

Started at The Prince’s Trust

It was my first week at The Prince’s Trust. The thing that struck me most is that the atmosphere in the office is full of energy. Everyone seems really passionate about what they do, there is lots of positive conversation and people have smiles on their faces. I think that says a lot about the culture of an organisation. The culture is also very much in favour of flexible working. There is no pressure to be seen to be in the office at any particular time, and I feel that there is lots of flexibility in how I apply myself and what value I bring. Part of the reason for the flexibility in how my role shapes out is that the product space is in flux with priorities still being set. This has meant that rather than having to hit the ground running I’ve had time to begin to understand the landscape more.

Writing about the robot invasion

I finished my first essay for the current Innovation and the Knowledge Economy module. It was about whether automation technologies will threaten the employability of graduates. Personally, I think on a long enough time line automation will replace every job, but the research shows that routine jobs will be the ones most affected and that highly skilled creative roles that face novel situations will be least affected. Graduates hold the majority of those roles but interestingly the majority of graduates aren’t working in the same field as they studied which could suggest that being a graduate is more important than what was studied.

Strategic storytelling

I reviewed and provided feedback on the 2020-23 strategy document for Buckinghamshire Mind. It’s been an interesting process to be involved in again. The last time we worked on strategy it was very much about steadying the ship and getting the right foundational things in place. In contrast this strategy feels much more positive and aspirational. The tone of the document is quite conversational and has a narrative feel about it as it tells the story of what we want to achieve over the next three years.

Lean Tea, please

I went to the first of what I hope to be many Agile Lean Coffee meetups. Lean Coffee is a really interesting way to run discussion groups where everyone has equal say in proposing topics and deciding what is talked about. As this group is about Agile, and was attended by engineers and coaches, it was interesting that the majority of the discussions were about the clash between Agile teams and ways of working with the rest of the organisation (or more precisely upper management). It shows that lots of organisations are still struggling to effectively manage the change around Agile and that you can’t really have Agile teams without having an Agile organisation. And a got a sticker.


This week I was studying:

Predicting future leading technologies

The first part of this week’s lecture was a discussion on General Purpose Technologies, how they are defined, and why it’s important for governments and industry to be able to forecast the next big GPT and understand what socioeconomic impacts it might have. There was some discussion on whether things like 5G really are a new General Purpose Technology or just a continuation of the ICT GPT, and that although it’s impossible to predict the next GPT might be Advanced Materials, Regenerative Medicine or Synthetic Biology.

The second part was a guest talk by Dr Brian MacAulay, Lead Economist atDigital Catapult on “Innovation and Complexity – challenges for modelling change”. He talked about how he is using complexity in building models for understanding the diffusion of innovation in the UK. It gave me a better understanding of complexity and how it might offer some idea about why product direction is so difficult and how to approach it differently. Perhaps picking a direction needs an agent-based model where individuals follow simple behaviours within clear constraints which lead to patterns emerging. So, micro behaviours lead to macro changes, and meso level behaviours between the two. Then, we can see direction as an emergent behaviour and accept that there is no one true trajectory but instead a constantly changing response to change.


This week I was thinking:

We’re in the experience business

How do we to create a cohesive experience of digital products and real world services that deliver the outcomes users need? Given that our users are young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and getting to the outcome makes the difference between surviving and thriving for them, it seems like an important thing to think about. People talk about ‘creating a seamless experience’ without being clear on what that means or what it will take to achieve it. I think the obvious assumption is that it would require a lot of coordinated upfront work, but I think it could be achieved through user validation on a case by case basis. So, for example, should clicking on a Facebook ad take you to a branded website to offer you multiple channels to make contact, or should it go straight to WhatsApp? We might have to challenge ourselves about how unseamless a thing might seem in order for it to be effective for the young people using it.

Reinventing charity

I did a bit of thinking on Reinventing Charity. It’s really hard to get away from the ‘setup to tackle a specific problem’ thinking for a charity. My thoughts on how problems require a better coordinated approach than they currently get has shifted slightly because of the things I’ve learned about complexity and how outcomes are emergent and so impossible to predict or control. I also did a bit of thinking about the business models for charities, how some are funding conduits, others service delivery, etc. There is a lot to understand.


This week people on Twitter were saying:

What designers and developers want from product managers

John Cutler tweeted some results of a poll: “design and developers weigh in on the “best” product manager they’ve worked with…“, or to put it another way, “what the people who work with Product Managers want from those Product Managers”. The themes that seem to come out aren’t surprising, things about listening, negotiating, decision-making, but it’s fascinating to see it expressed in this way.

Experiences and solutions

Nate, principal designer for membership, community and ventures at COOP, tweeted about the boundaries between digital products and services.

Tweet from Nate about products and services

It seems like lots of people have thought about this same question and some of the replies included some interesting links: “New models for service ownership and leadership” by Ben Holliday and “From squads to swarms” by Chris Collingridge. It’s interesting to me because I’m thinking about how we create experiences that work for young people regardless of whether they are accessed digitally or IRL, and regardless of whether we think of them as a product or service, it should just be a solution.

Joe’s week notes

I read Joe’s week notes every week, he has lots interesting things to share, and this week he mentions the NHS Service Design Manual, which was a big deal on Twitter this week and might be useful for me to know more about in the near future.

He always had a really useful bit on Facebook’s use of data from other sites. Clearly it’s a privacy issue thing, which is important to me given my rants about the weaponisation of digital technology and what the charity sector needs to do about it, but Seth Godin’s podcast about privacy on the internet talks about it really being about expectations and surprise. If you are surprised by how much an organisation knows about you and how they use that information then that is obviously an issue for you. If you expect an organisation to have information about you and they use it in ways you expect then it might not be an issue. It makes me think about ways of reframing the discussion away from dramatic scary words like ‘privacy’ and ‘security’ to words like ‘expectations’ and what’s ‘acceptable’. I don’t think scaring people engages them, it causes a freeze reaction in most people where they decide to do nothing, and as I also ranted about, that confusion-leads-to-paralysis is a tool used to control people widely across our society.

Week note #182

This week I’ve been doing:

RogBot

I haven’t done much on RogBot this week because I’ve been focused on the assignment for my masters course, but I have started writing a user manual for me and collating some info about being an INTJ. I need to get some bitesize chunks from my Insights personality test and then put all of these together in the ‘about’ section on my Miro board so I can figure out the connections between them all.

Will automation threaten the employability of graduates?

I’ve been writing my first assignment for the ‘Innovation in the knowledge economy’ module. As with my other assignments, I’ve enjoyed writing it and reading lots on the subject. Automation replacing humans is something I’m interested in anyway so getting some theoretical background to it has been fascinating.


This week I’ve been studying:

Lecture 2: Skill biased technological change: Automation and the future of jobs

The second lecture of the ‘Innovation in the knowledge economy’ module was essentially about the trend of technology changing work and how it might change it in the future, or to put it another way, are robots going to take our jobs. The dominant thinking seems to be that automation will affect the routine work that is easy to codify first and the creative work last or possibly not at at. I think it depends on the timeline you are considering. I have no doubt that on a long enough timeline all jobs will be performed by robots, and this raises interesting questions about what society looks like when individuals no longer generate their own wealth and our current concepts of contribution and consumption no longer stand up.

Reading list

  • The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? 
  • The case for a robot revolution, in “Our work here is done. Visions of a robot economy”, NESTA.
  • Talk by Eric Brynjolfsson on “The key to growth? Race with the machines” TED talk.
  • Reasons for skill-biased technological change
  • The CORE curriculum (2015) Unit 2, Technology population and growth
  • Effects of skill-biased technological change on jobs.
  • Talk by Anthony Goldbloom on “The jobs we’ll lose – and the ones we won’t” TED talk.
  • Creativity vs robots: The creative economy and the future of employment, NESTA
  • Classifying occupations according to their skill requirements in job advertisements, ESCoE Discussion Paper.
  • Which digital skills do you really need? Exploring employer demand for digital skills and occupation growth prospects, NESTA report.
  • The Rise of Skills: Human Capital, the Creative Class and Regional Development, CESIS Working Paper.
  • The shrinking middle: how new technologies are polarising the labour market, LSE CentrePiece.
  • Effects of skill-biased technological change on inequality
  • Skills and social insurance: evidence from the relative persistence of innovation during the financial crisis in Europe, Science and Public Policy.
  • Technological change, bargaining power and wages, in “Our work here is done. Visions of a robot economy”, NESTA.
  • The truth about the minimum wage: neither job killer nor cure-all, Foreign Affairs, January-February.
  • Digital Dividends, World Development Report, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

This week I’ve been thinking about:

How capital investment delivers increasingly marginal returns

Neoclassical economics with its focus on investing in capital vs New Growth theory with its focus on investment in knowledge. Seeing how the neoclassical thinking filters into things such as consumer culture’s drive to buy more things and the project management idea of more people equals increased productivity, it seems like an interesting thing to understand. I also think organisations don’t focus enough on knowledge management and intellectual assets so its interesting to find an economic theory that provides some validity to the capital vs. knowledge argument.
Also I heard the term ‘Return On Asset’ on a podcast in contrast to ‘Return On Investment’ so I might try to find it again and see if it has any connection for me.

Workplace collaboration startups

Merci Victoria Grace‘s article about the current market space for workplace collaboration startups.

Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups

I think the real prize is in the Documentation space with anyone who figures out how to help companies turn people’s knowledge into intellectual assets and then leverage these for a competitive advantage standing to make a lot of money. It looks to me like that is what Microsoft is trying to do with Teams, and any direction big players are taking their product strategy is always worth paying attention to.

Theory of change

I’ve been thinking about ‘Theory of change’ and how it could be used for providing context for team and individual OKR’s and/or goals. Rather than setting goals that might be impossible to achieve because no one truly understands the barriers, constraints, and influences on all the complex things that affect even one goal, a team (or even better the entire organisation) should start with a well-documented system map and theory of the changes required in order to achieve the mission. Then, it should be easier to see if achieve the goals is getting the organisation closer to it’s mission.


This week on my Twitter:

Reinventing charity

Ben Holt, charity innovator previously of CRUK and currently of British Red Cross, posted this request to find people to work with on what a new charity might look like if you designed it from scratch.

Ben Holt's tweet about reinventing charity

I think the hardest thing when starting a charity from scratch would be deciding what its purpose should be, what issues is it going to tackle. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I foresee for the third sector over the next few decades is going to be how to coordinate services and organisations to solve people’s problems in a connected way rather than the disparate way we do at the moment where we know that the problems people face are often connected but we make them go to one organisation for help with one problem and another organisation for help with a different problem, even though it’s the same person. Perhaps this conceptual charity should start from the point of view that choosing just one problem isn’t really user-centred enough.

It started me thinking about how to approach this as a thought experiment, starting with doing some target space discovery to understand the various ways in which an organisation can exist, whether it is a legal entity like a charity or social movement which doesn’t, what some of the underpinning assumptions are. So if/when I get time I’m going to try to do some work on it.

OKR’s: to cascade or not to cascade

I’ve often struggled to get my head around the different ways people think of and use OKR’s. One of the prevailing ideas seems to be that they should be set up to cascade down through the company. I think this risks complicating what should be a simple (and that’s what makes it difficult) idea about how to align everyone behind an objective. One of the problems with cascading in this way is it often takes months for the uppers and betters to write and agree their OKR’s so that by those in the lower levels of the organisation can set their’s. By the time everyone has done their OKR’s the year is almost over.

I think a clearer approach is ‘This is our mission’ (the Objective), ‘What are you going to do to help achieve that mission?’ (the Key Result). Clearly the answer to that question is going to be different depending on who answers it, but the benefits are that if anything changes, from company strategy to a new recruit joining the team, it’s easy to change the things one person or one team is going to do to help achieve the mission without having to coordinate a change anywhere else as no one else is affected. It also gives more breadth to include learning key results rather than just delivery key results, which isn’t the case with the cascading approach.

Week notes #180

This week I’ve been doing:

Rogbot, what do you know about Roger?

I wanted a new project so I started developing a chatbot for my website that will surface information about me from my CV, personality test results, and my user manual (thanks to Becky for the inspiration). I wanted to try to find a way to make the conversational interface more than just ‘here’s stuff from my CV’ and ‘here’s stuff from my personality test’, so that it isn’t about presenting individual documents but has some sense of a cohesive picture of what I’ve done, what I’m doing, what I’m like, etc. So it needs to surface the info in the documents rather than the documents themselves, and in the context of questions that someone might ask.

I started with Postit notes on a wall to help me see each item I wanted to include in the bot. This helped me figure out how to connect it all, and the answer was to allow the user to create a unique(ish) journey by connecting each answer the bot provides to three other pieces of information that will allow the user to jump between work history, projects, ideas, etc., without me having to preempt the journey.

My first iteration is a short quiz about me, which was really just about getting the chatbot on my website with something vaguely interesting to interact with. The next thing on my roadmap is to use the Trello API to pull in my life roadmap and the Google Calendar API to enable the bot to show what I’m doing at any point in time.

Jab, cross. Track, review

I started Krav Maga. It’s been in the Next column on my roadmap for a while so I decided to start classes and move it to the Now column. I also added it my ‘Lead an intentional life’ OKR for 2020 so I can track how many classes I go to. I currently have 130 key results to track against my three objectives, and my current score is 0.12 (but hey, we’re only two weeks into the year). I think I’d like to add reading books to my KRs but I’m not sure I’ll have time so will probably review this in a couple of months.


This week I’ve been studying:

Balancing academic with ideas

Term starts next week so this is my last week without lectures for a while. I am only studying one module this term, ‘Innovation in the knowledge economy’, so I can spend less time studying course material and hopefully have some time to progress some of my thinking about how anarchism and systems thinking can change how we thinking about innovation.

I started reading Ten faces of innovation and The Free-Market Innovation Machine.


This week I’ve been thinking about:

Running discovery on a new role

How can we start in a new role in a way that gives you the best chance of success? Approaching it as a fire control problem I could develop an understanding of the target and target space, move early in the direction of the target, get regular feedback to course correct so that I have the best chance of hitting the target. I need to give this a lot more thought and formalise it to make it useful.

In How to start, Lauren Currie talks about the conventional wisdom and the reality of starting a new role, things like fixing problems, making a good impressions, and learning the sweet spot between the company way of doing things and how you work.

What does county council innovation look like?

I read Tom Harrison’s weeknote about the new Buckinghamshire County Council website. Seeing a bit of how he and the team there are approaching this work is interesting in itself, but it’s especially interesting for me because I live in Buckinghamshire and it is becoming a unitary authority, which makes me wonder if the new website is a result of that and how an organisation going through such a complicated process affects the process of building the website.

It also made me think about what an innovation team could do for a county council. Having seen the experience someone went through in applying for a blue parking badge it looks like there would be lots of opportunities for rethinking the processes that citizens go through and making them easier and more efficient for everyone.


This week, people I follow on Twitter were saying:

Making decisions

There seemed to be a bit of a theme of talking about the different ways of approach decision-making. Kent Beck showed his cycle for observing effort/output to outcome/impact, and how difficult it is to connect the two. Simon Wardley talked about how maps don’t tell you what to do, they help to create a shared understanding of the landscape and challenges to make more informed choices, and that Cynefin is an excellent decision-making framework. Allen Holub was talking about how T-shaped teams have all the skills they need to make decisions and don’t have to delay waiting for an expert from outside the team.

Blaming the product

There were tweets about Microsoft Teams. Lots of people don’t like it and I wonder about why that is. Could it be that blaming a product (which is faceless and immediately in front of you) feels easier than blaming the people behind the product (which we probably don’t even think about that much)? Products are the way they are because of decisions people have made. MS Teams has an extra layer of that as the people at Microsoft who built it made decisions, and then there are people at the implementing organisation (usually the IT team) who also make decisions about how to configure it. Making those decisions is always going to be complicated and dependent on lots of constraints, and I guess it should be for a Product Manager to take on the responsibility for them. Of course, in many organisations implementing Teams there won’t be a Product Manager who can speak to users to understand their needs to inform those decisions.