Weeknotes 285

Photo of the week:

Looking west off the Pembrokeshire coast

This week I did:

Go time

This week has been super-focused on a single product that is launching next week. In four days we set up the product, configured all the options, tested it, learned how to use it, did training sessions for other users, got all the content in, and came up with the go live plan. I don’t mind admitting that I really enjoy this kind of time pressure, and I’m really looking forward to getting into figuring out how we should do continuous improvement for this and other product over the next few months.

Existential risk

Next week is the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Doomsday Clock so I made a little website to let people check whether the world has been taken over by AI. Other than perhaps a technology we haven’t invented yet, artificial intelligence is the technology most likely to pose an existential risk to humanity. As with most of the things I do, the website is meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek and it was a chance for me to learn a bit of javascript, but it’s going on my list of projects to iterate on over time so who knows what might happen with it.

In progress projects

I had an idea for a personal learning management system that holds all the online courses that you do and helps you complete them. I set myself a challenge of getting from idea to landing page that could help validate the idea in three hours and to tweet about it in a #BuildInPublic kinda way.

Sent the 12th edition of Irregular Ideas.

Added more wise sayings to my #MakeMeWise Twitter Bot.

Reached 1,600 products in ultimatedigital.tools.

I didn’t finish the future skills email I’ve been working on because of all that stuff above.

And read:

Sinking ship

This brilliant article uses the metaphor of a ship to discuss different definitions of improving the world. and how people in different camps disagree about it. The five activities of rowing, steering, anchoring, equity, and mutiny to suggest five different ways to approach making the world a better place, and calls out how difficult it is to know which is the right approach without knowing where the world is heading. What it doesn’t mention is, what if the ship is sinking. Let’s just hope it isn’t.

Effective People Think Simply

And thought about:

Skillz

The internet-era/agile/digital ways of working place a greater need of people to be more multi-skilled. The traditional/hierarchical ways of organising teams might have included a specific role of project manager who would have been responsible for coordination and communication, but in the shift from a project approach to a product approach for cross-functional teams those roles often get subsumed into being a part of everyone’s work. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in order for those teams to be successful everyone needs to develop those communication and coordination skills.

Being human is going great

When anything new comes along, doesn’t matter if it’s Tamagotchi, Agile, or NFTs, it creates four groups of people. The biggest group of people is those how don’t know or don’t care about the new thing. The smallest group of people is those that find the new thing intellectually or creatively curious and explore it. And in between there are groups of people who try to make money from the new thing and those that hate on the new thing. This kind of behaviour has nothing to do with NFT’s, it’s just what humans do.

Wicked problems in product

I’ve been doing some work this week using Theory of Change and thinking about the approach of causally linking activities to outcomes to impacts. I completely believe that no product ever achieves an outcome for anyone using it. If success, a product achieves a behaviour change and a person might achieve an outcome from that behaviour change. An inclusive society is a wicked problem. There is no step-by-step guide for achieving it, so from a product point-of-view the questions are ‘what outcomes might achieve the impact’, ‘what behaviours might achieve those outcomes’, ‘what products might cause those behaviour changes’, ‘what activities could we do to create those products’?

Weeknotes #284

This week I did:

Full swing

It’s been an interesting week at work. I’ve been working on understanding strategic programmes, figuring out my objectives, recruiting for a product manager and developer, and getting into the current projects. It feels good to be able to get involved in a project and focus on turning uncertainty into certainty, and thinking about how the team and our ways of working might evolve as we grow.

Big questions first

I spent some time reviewing tenders for learning management systems. They are obviously similar in many ways as they perform the same function, but in thinking through how to approach comparing them it occurred to me that a good way to approach decision making is to start big and work towards the small if the bigger questions don’t provide an answer. So, the first question isn’t, ‘how does the cost of this platform compare to that one?’, the questions is, ‘how does a build or buy technology strategy fit with the organisational strategy?’ If you can answer that, then you’ve made the next level of question twice as easy to answer because you aren’t trying to compare a build solution with a buy solution.

The practicalities of being a digital nomad

I wrote a bit about some of the practical things about how I live as a digital nomad. Thanks to James for the inspiration, as its the first time I’ve written about my lifestyle. Speaking of the practicalities of the nomad life, I had a visit from the heddlu after a call from someone who had seen me sitting in my car all day. We had a quick chat and all was fine but it made me think about how things outside the mainstream are often assumed to be somehow ‘wrong’.

I read this week:

Aniket’s Product Management Resources

Aniket’s Product Management Resources is handy guide of, yes you guessed it, product management resources. I’m sure there are lots of these kinds of guides, which makes me think that no one has yet solved the problem of collecting and displaying resources , but this has some good stuff on it.

Radarban roadmap

This is an interesting look at Radarban roadmaps by Eleanor Mollett, and how to solve the problem the problem of communicating product development with stakeholders in ways that don’t create the expectation of commitment to a specific date.

The Laboratory for Complex Problems

This piece by Packy McCormick presents an interesting take on the challenge of web3 for 2022 and how it acts as a laboratory for challenges in healthcare and climate of giving people the means to own as well as rent.

Thought about:

Charity product management

For a while now I’ve been pondering the question, ‘What makes product management in charities different to in other organisations?’ The answer: We tackle wicked problems. Product managers who work in charities aren’t optimising for button clicks or retention, they’re optimising for solving social issues and climate change. When we bring together systems thinking and product management, it’ll be a game changer.

Creative work

I’ve been thinking a bit about some of the concepts around modern creative work. I listened to the Akimbo podcast episode on creative practice and read Kevin Kelly’s piece on scenius. Although I don’t really have any fully formed thoughts yet, I feel like this stuff is connected to me trying to figure out what to focus my efforts on, and what my process looks like for making my side-projects happen.


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Weeknotes #282

This week’s photo:

This week I did:

Starting

It was my first week at RNID. The team is great, the ways of working are great, and the work we’re doing to make life more inclusive for deaf people, those with hearing loss and tinnitus is great. I’m already starting to see where I can add value and am really excited about the work we’ll be doing next year.

Sending

Sent the eighth Irregular Ideas email and got a new subscriber. This edition included my strongly held belief that Dirty Dancing is the greatest movie of all time. No disagreements.

Signing

Completed module 3 of the British Sign Language course. It’s starting to include grammar and sentences which are a bit more challenging than single words, and I need more practice to remember the signs, but I’m enjoying this kind of ‘either you know it or you don’t’ kind of learning.

UDTL

I finished the ultimatedigital.tools landing page and added a few more tools. I’ve got lots waiting to be added so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get through them next week. Still doing a rubbish job of marketing it though.

This week I read:

Charity Digital 2021

Dan Papworth-Smyth shares a few of his favourite charity digital things for 2021. These campaigns

How to Productize Yourself as a Writer

Sahil Lavingia, CEO of Gumroad and writer of the No Meetings, No Deadlines post talks about writing, building, and productizing yourself on the The Digital Writing Podcast.

Never less of an expert

Sam Higham’s thread about the 12 product management lessons he’s learnt so far.

And lots of other stuff on my reading list.

This week I thought about:

Big things vs small things

It’s much easier to do small things that feel like they don’t have many consequences if you didn’t do them than it is to do big things that feel uncertain. I get excited about doing big things but then I focus my time on doing little things, and I’m trying to figure out why. For example, I wanted to explore the idea of the charity of the future as a DAO. It’s a big idea, almost impossible to create anything so its really more of a thought experiment, and no one else is interested in it, but to me it’s exciting and leading edge. And yet I spend much more time writing the Irregular Ideas newsletter which just includes a few quirky little ideas. Why aren’t I focusing one the big uncertain stuff? Is it because its far less tangible, far harder to make it look like there is progress, almost impossible to imagine an end game? I think I need a drastic rethink.

The pace of alignment

For a while I’ve been tweeting about how difficult it is to maintain alignment when the things that are supposed to be aligned move at different speeds, and using videos to illustrate it. This week I learned that there is science behind it. Yeah science! It’s called ‘shearing layers’ and it’s based on the work of ecologists and systems theorists. The idea is that there are processes in nature, which operate in different timescales and as a result there is little or no exchange of information between them. Architects have applied this thinking to buildings and Gartner applied it to software applications in business and trademarked it. I think it can be applied to knowledge work, and product management work specifically as it often has alignment as one of its goals.

True opposites

Another interesting concept I learned about this week is ‘integrative complexity’, which is the technical term for being able to hold multiple perspectives and possibilities at the same time. Typically, when we’re trying to make a group decision we try to get everyone to have the same perspective on the assumption that it’s necessary for agreement. Integrative complexity suggests that not only can a group have different perspectives but individuals can too, and still make good decisions. Opposing perspectives don’t have to be a barrier to decision-making. Good decision-making (another essential aspect of product management) is usually assumed to rely on consensus and shared perspectives (hence all the stakeholder management), but integrative complexity offers a way of approaching decisions that embrace different perspectives.

Weeknotes #278

Photo of the week:

Season’s greetings, by Banksy, ironically displayed within a shop.

On this week’s Done list:

Connecting concepts in systems

I’ve been working a lot this week on how different systems ‘conceptualise’ things and how those concepts move between systems with very different data structures as the data moves between them. The same ‘concept’ is defined in different ways and needs translation and common language between the systems. What constitutes the identity of a user in one system isn’t the same as in another, but it’s easy to miss the impact of the differences if you don’t dig into them.

Irregular Ideas

Sent out the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth irregular ideas. I feel like my writing is getting a bit better with the constraints of talking about a specific idea, only having a few paragraphs to do so, and putting it in an email so I can’t change it later. It’s different to writing a blog post where I’m more likely to throw in lots of loosely connected things.

Future Skills

I worked on the first email for the Future Skills guided learning to try get the template right which will hopefully make writing the other nineteen emails quicker. I need to give it lots more time and get the emails written and set up so I can start marketing it. Of all my side-projects it feels like the one that has the most potential for actually meeting a need rather than just being of interest to me. I think it might still not be practical enough but until I get some people using it and get some feedback it’s all guesswork.

Systems-shifting product management

I set up a project page on my website and started to try to define systems-shifting product management, including the idea that product managers develop by learning how to increase their leverage rather than gaining influence and authority within the organisational hierarchy.

Stuff I read and listened to this week:

Public service product management

I listened to Tom Loosemore on ‘the product experience’ podcast talking about product management in the UK government. He talks about how part of product management is creating that space in organisations to do product management, that understanding user needs is do much harder then we think, especially in environments with messy and uncertain human behaviours and that joining up teams, channels, and solutions is essential for achieving the real outcomes for people.

Using maps

Simon Wilson, also on ‘the product experience’, talked about using mapping to know where we are and where we’re going. Mapping, and working in visual ways, are useful for bringing the users of a service forward into people’s thoughts. Maps help us understand the shape and scope of a problem, who it affects, how it affects the organisation. They show us a narrative and help us understand movement.

Decentralise decision-making

I read Jason Yip’s post about using doctrine to allow safe decentralised decision-making by establishing consistent decision logic. He writes/quotes, “Strategy doesn’t give employees enough guidance to know how to take action, and plans are too rigid to adapt to changing circumstances. In rapidly changing environments, you need doctrine to get closer to the ground. Doctrine creates the common framework of understanding inside of which individuals can make rapid decisions that are right for their circumstances… If strategy defines objectives, and plans prescribe behavior, then doctrine guides decisions.” Jason proposes an Agile doctrine:

  1. Reduce the distance between problems and problem-solvers
  2. Validate every step
  3. Take smaller steps
  4. Clean up as you go

There’s nothing much to disagree with, either the idea of a doctrine or the things Jason includes within the Agile doctrine. And I completely agree with the problem he’s trying to solve, how to bridge the gap between strategy and plans in a way that fits with modern good practice for cross-functional autonomous teams. The challenge, as always with these things, is the broad context they have to be conceived for and the narrowing of the context for them to be applied.

Three tech trends charities should know about

It’s great to see the emerging tech trends of metaverse and NFTs being talked about more within the charity sector. It’s always hard to start because the typical response is often cynicism and disdain (even from people who you’d expect to want to consider new technologies with an open mind) but given the increasing speed of change it’s even more important that charities do start to understand new tech. Broadly, I think there are three areas of impact new tech might have on a charity that bare some thinking about. The first is how it might affect the people that a charity is trying to help, e.g., gambling charities should definitely be keeping up with how metaverse games will affect gambling behaviour. The second is how new tech might affect the charities existing ways of doing things, e.g. social media fundraising, which to many fundraisers probably looks like just another channel. And then thirdly, how the new tech might disrupt charity business models, e.g., Decentralised Autonomous Organisations forming the basis for a new way of tackling a cause.

Thought about this week:

The discipline

Following on from product managers product managing product management, I’ve been thinking about the discipline of product management. I guess I use the term ‘discipline’ to mean a structure practice, almost like a martial art where the same moves are learned through repetition which means the practitioner can then put those moves together into sequences that work with each other and not against. This discipline and practice, if adopted, accepted, appreciated by an organisation, brings a balance of order and flexibility to how an organisation makes decisions about the products it develops and runs. It brings clarity to what’s important, and uses that to set focus. Perhaps one of the benefits of this discipline is making it easier to see when something breaks from the discipline and disrupts that clarity and focus.

Which way to work

My current side-projects include Systems-shifting Product Management, Irregular Ideas, Future Skills, and future.charity. Along with also doing online courses and writing blog posts (such as weeknotes), I feel like I’m not really making progress quickly enough on any of them so I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to work. I’ve scheduled time for each project one day a week to try to make progress on all of them at the same time, but I still continue to question whether it’s better to choose one project and set myself a bigger chunk of work to do over a few weeks before moving onto another. Before this scheduled approach I just picked whichever project I felt like working on that day, which gave me more flexibility to do easy work when my mind needed a rest and more complicated work when I was looking for more challenge, but lacked structure to get me to actually work on things I might not really want to.

My growth area for this week

Letting go

Definitely letting go. Still a challenge, probably always a challenge, but an important lesson to learn.

Weeknotes #277

This week I did:

Planning work for next year

I started doing some solution planning work for the next few months. It will hopefully bring together the strands of work that we’ve been building more recently. It’s like the plot reveals in a detective story where we can start to see why that decision was made back then and why we wanted to do this other thing that way.

More irregularites

Sent my third Irregular Ideas newsletter and got my fourth subscriber, but still have no clue about solving the feedback loop problem. The newsletter is supposed to be about sparking ideas together, but maybe my ideas don’t connect with other people’s, or maybe most people aren’t interested in ideas as a unit of value in the way I am. Maybe it needs a lot more subscribers and then a call-to-action to ascertain whether it’s solving that problem, but I think it’s probably just too amorphous a problem to measure in that way.

Human relationships

I caught a bit of the talk Andy Tabberer did called ‘Human side of delivery: forging relationships & building trust in a remote world’. It was good to learn a bit more about delivery management from the people side rather than practices. In a very simplistic and tactical way I’ve always seen delivery management as being about removing barriers for developers but I found the idea of ‘team health’ interesting and it made me think about what that might mean in different team contexts.

Future charity DAO

I’ve started doing a bit of research into how a DAO could be set up to run as a charity. There’s a lot to think about (that’s an understatement). There are barriers such as DAO’s aren’t a legal entity, and they rely on being able to codify the rules of the organisation, which is difficult when charity law is so messy. But there is also lots of interesting potential to explore for how each of the functions of charity might work in a tokenised system.

And I thought about:

Teams interfacing

I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is to conceive of and describe how different teams within the same organisation interface with each other. I think there’s a difference between teams interfacing with other teams and functions affecting teams, so for example the HR team manages the payroll function, but they aren’t interfacing with any other team as part of their work, payroll happens for all teams equally and so without any particular affect. Interfacing affects all those that interface. Some teams have clearly defined roles, responsibilities and practices, and I wonder if when they interface with teams that are less well defined, that their ‘harder’ boundary is more likely to push the more flexible team out of shape. How teams interface, and the shifting interplay of that interface, could be a systemic cause of friction or lubrication. How well teams understand their place in the organisational systems, however implicit that understanding (because it’s not as easy to depict as an org chart) must also be important for working effectively. It isn’t as simple as saying, ‘this team’s role is to do x’, because that speaks of the team in isolation and not in relation to other teams. Maybe value chain mapping could help to see where and why teams interact, even if not quite how.

Flywheel business models interacting with each other

The usual flywheel business models, as described by the uber napkin drawing, show how different aspects of a business drive others and that growth comes from increasing the throughput of the flywheel. But that are always shown as closed systems, in isolation from any other systems they might interact with. I’ve been wondering if multiple flywheel business models might interact with each other in an eco-system of business models. The difference between flywheel and linear business models is that flywheels feedback into themselves whereas linear takes an input, processes it and outputs something of value. I haven’t yet thought of an example of flywheels interact, either to drive to flywheel or slow it, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

Second-order personas

I’m still thinking quite a lot about what systems-shifting product management might look like. One of the ideas I’m playing with to shift the focus off user-centred design and to achieve outcomes by causing changes in systems is to affect the people who affect people, or, to put it another way, work on second order personas. For example, if you wanted to improve the experience someone with disabilities has when interviewing for a job, you can provide them means for overcoming barriers (first-order persona) or you could provide employers (second-order personas) with the means to remove barriers and so change a part of the system.

Spectrum of approaches to problems

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks now about the two opposite ways of approaching problems; engineering thinking, which solves known problems with upfront design and results in repeatable solutions, and design thinking, which solves less certain problems by uncovering the way forward step-by-step and results in more unique solutions. In thinking about critiques of these approaches it occurred to me that the design thinking approach could be seen as ‘throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks’. It then occurred to me that uncoordinated haphazard attempts to solve problems might actually be an entirely different approach, which then places all three on a spectrum from unplanned to planned with the design thinking approach somewhere in the middle.

And this week I read:

World Building

World Building is about story-telling. But it’s about more than that. It’s about how everything connects with a purpose in a coherent way to create the story that exists when it isn’t being told. This is an inspiring idea. In thinking about a portfolio of products all centred around similar problems and users, the world we build shows all who enter it how things are now, where we’re going, and why it’s the right place to go.

Trojan mice

On the theme of lots of small solutions being better for approaching complex problems than big single solutions, What’s the pont’s post about Trojan Mice as safe-to-fail probes into complex situations to gather data and make sense, is really interesting. I’m not sure I fully understand what the post is saying as it seems to be talking about replacing Trojan Horse projects with Trojan mice, but they serve very different purposes and so couldn’t be direct replacements, but it’s useful to think about how we might send . And to throw in another thought, clockwork mice behave in predictable ways but might collide in interesting and unexpected ways. Something to consider for multiple safe-to-fail probes.

The narrative on charity overhead

This is an interesting post about charities position on the narrative about the overhead costs charity’s have on many levels. I wonder where justifying low percentage of overhead as a good thing started. Was it in response to a genuine problem or hype and moral panic? As the post says, those charities that spend most of their money on what would be considered overhead, because of the type of work they do, become disadvantaged by that narrative pushed by the charities that don’t spend in that way. The specifics of overhead aside, it raises interesting questions about where charities draw the line in being competitive or collaborative. In what circumstances is it ok for a charity to do what’s best for itself rather than what might be good for the sector? And when should a single charity disregard it’s own best interests in favour of the sector benefiting more generally? If a charity makes a choice that results in it having less funding and so being less able to achieve its objectives, isn’t that bad for the sector as a whole? It’s a complex issue.

My growth area this week:

Recognising the ask

I’ve been thinking about ways in which we ask for help when we don’t know how to ask for help, or don’t realise that we want help. Maybe it relies on other people recognising changes in behaviour, but sometimes there just isn’t any way to help.

Weeknotes #273

Photo of the week:

Moon rise over Exmoor

This week I did:

Bringing together the solutions and the solvers

Two focuses at work this week; expanding the team and how young people can provide documentary evidence for things like address or right to work in the UK.

For the type of work we’re doing we use an in-sourcing approach. This gives us the flexibility to bring people into the team with the skill sets we need at the time we need them. For me, the interesting challenge is the knowledge transfer to all these people. What do they need to know, and what don’t they need to know? How much detail? What can they see that we’ve missed so far? How can I make a year’s worth of thinking feel like a coherent body of information and insight?

The logic of providing documentary evidence goes something like this: We need you to provide documents that prove your name, date of birth, address, right to work in the UK, etc. If you can provide a document that gives us three of those then we only need one more document for the fourth thing, but if the document only gives us two then we need to get the other two from one or two other documents. Codifying all the option for the different documents so that we’re only collecting what we need and giving the young person the most flexibility for how they provide that is what I’ve been working through with other teams to get to a solution that works for everyone.

Non-fungible stiles

I started a collection of NFT stiles on OpenSea and wrote a bit about how NFTs are conceptual art about the ownership of art and the concept of ownership, and how art is the best means for exploring such ambiguous questions. I have thirty NFT stiles so far but intend to build up the collection to the four hundred and one I have at the moment and for it to continue to grow as I find more stiles out there in the real world and connect them to the digital world.

And I thought about:

Ends vs means

There’s a line in The Team That Managed Itself that goes something like, “Service groups worship process, business teams worship results” It got me thinking about ends and means and whether that why the two groups of people, judging success in fundamentally and often deeply implicit ways, always seem difficult to align? One cares more about how the results are achieved, what process is followed, how faithfully followed it is. The other is more concerned about the outcomes that are reached. I wonder if there is a way to get the two points of view to align or whether they can only ever be mutually exclusive?

Autonomous teams are anarchists at heart

I don’t think we can understand how autonomous teams operate at their best unless we understand that they are fundamentally anarchistic. Teams that manage to remove top-down centralised governance of themselves and

Inbetweening

I go on about how our mental models and ability to communicate complicated things is limited by our ability to draw in two dimensions. Illustrating the change between two states is no different. We usually show the starting state, the expected end state, and a straight arrow joining the two. We don’t tend to communicate the messy, blurry in-between states.

And read this week:

The team that managed itself

I’ve been reading Christina Wodtke’s The team that managed itself. I think I’m enjoying reading a book from start to finish, something I haven’t done in quite a while, but I’m also not sure I quite ‘get it’ yet. Anyway, I know it’s fictional but the picture it paints about what product managers do in the game industry is really interesting to compare to what product managers do in the charity sector. I had some similar comparative thoughts about Trilly Chatterjee’s post about what product managers do in public health, which I’ll write up some time.

Claim Your Audience

The episode of the Forever employable podcast with Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, talks about building and owning your audience. I have ethics considerations around the whole building an audience thing and how pervasive it is in the modern creator economy. I’m not suggesting the corporate world is any more ethical but at least it’s more transparent in treating people like customers. Anyway, regardless of that, I thought it was an interesting interview, especially the part about developing domain expertise.

Buses

I found this tweet from Chelsea Troy quite interesting. Not because it’s about buses, I’m not that much of a nerd, but because of what it says about understanding problems and what the pattern of solutions look like. If the problem is about how to move people from one place to another, presumably within quite a limited geographic area, in eco-friendly way, then the solution always looks like grouping people together to move them. We can discount counter-solutions, i.e., not moving people, because they don’t fit our understanding and definition of the problem (which is why that part is so important). And we can discount the politics and economics of implementing the solution because that’s a different problem to solve and shouldn’t sway what the best solution to the original problem looks like.

My growth area this week:

Questioning communication

I’ve been questioning how I communicate quite a bit this week. There have been a few times where I’ve tried to be specific about my request without being prescriptive about the output, but then what I received back wasn’t what I needed or thought I had asked for.

Weeknotes #271

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Complicated solutions

It’s been a busy week at work preparing solution design documents ahead of development work starting soon. We have six documents in total, and three were approved by stakeholders this week. The solutions are pretty complicated so getting them to make sense and splitting them out into different documents for people that aren’t very familiar with the work was a bit of a challenge.

Outside of work I didn’t do very much this week as I’ve been ill.

And thought about:

Bring us problems, not solutions

My request to stakeholders; bring your teams problems and let them solve them, tell them what you want to achieve and let them achieve it. Bringing solutions, and even worse directions, results in incoherent products that lack focus on solving problems for a well-defined audience.

Ethics in systems design

My biggest lesson from system design is that you can’t blame people for doing the ‘wrong’ thing in a badly designed system that pushes them to that action. Which made me think about the ethics behind systems and ruled-based work processes. I think these have a deontological route which says ‘do the right actions even if it leads to the wrong results’. And, historically, that comes from western religious perspectives. Teleological ethics in the workplace would say ‘get the right result regardless of how’, which can be empowering with clear goals but can lead to toxic behaviours where goals conflict or are too individual (like sales people making unachievable promises to increase their bonus). Virtue-based ethics might say that if the workplace culture encourages the right character traits, then the right actions and right results will come from that. But it’s an uncertain and uncontrollable so is more often implicit than the other two types of ethics. Obviously, this isn’t about choosing one ethical system over another, but is about understanding that all of our ethics influence the systems we work in, and that when different people/teams use different ethical approaches conflict will arise. The ‘system’ is always bigger, wider and deeper that it ever seems, but you have to get into it if you want to design systems that work. And that includes the ethics that are implicit in the organisational culture and system design.

And read:

Is the great digital-nomad workforce actually coming?

The decoupling of opportunity from location continues. More people are finding more ways to live a ‘location-independent technology-enabled lifestyle‘. Of course, only a very small percentage of jobs can be done remotely, so the increase in digital nomads isn’t going to affect all industries and means that the question isn’t really about digital nomads but the change in the power relationship between firms and employers. It will be the greatest shift in the power relationship since the collective bargaining powers of Trade Unions and the labour law reforms of the eighties. Employers who realise that giving their workers more power over how, when and where the work gets done, that giving up control for engagement, will result in healthier people and better work.

Measure the Muttering…

I’m a big believer in paying attention to the quiet things and spotting patterns. The post about listening on social media for hints of ‘things being not quite right or early indicators of things going wrong’ is really interesting.

Weeknotes #270

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Going down

This week’s main focus was on getting a coordinated and cohesive view of the upcoming work from all the teams that will be working on it at a lower level of detail. We did it mostly asynchronously (obviously) and involved four teams; Design, Content, Web development an CRM development. It was great to see our understanding of things change and settle as we work through questions that people bring up. Writing stuff down and diagramming it out helps us think through our solutions and lets others help us see the gaps. It’s important for the next stage where the teams will work on certain aspects independently.

Humane technology

I started the Foundation for Humane Technology course and it’s given me so much to think about. I’m already considering the product decisions I’ve made at work in light of some of the things I’ve learned and it’s definitely given me a different perspective on the whole Twitter audience building thing.

September retro and October planning

As it’s the end of the moth I did my monthly retro to look back at how well I did in achieving the work I said I wanted to do at the start of the month. I also did some planning for October but feel like my lack of focus (see below) is preventing me from getting to a good plan about what I want to do in October, so I’ll come back to them soon.

I read/watched/listened this week to:

Uncertainty is closer to reality

In this video about why saying “I don’t know” is important for success, Annie Duke explains how false certainty leads to problems whereas embracing uncertainty is closer to reality as we don’t know what will happen in the future, and how we conflate false certainty and confidence in unhelpful ways.

A Problem Well-Stated Is Half-Solved

The podcast by the Center for Humane Technology talks about the meta-crisis of solving the problem with problem solving. That the way we solve short-term problems often leads to unintended externalities and this podcast does a great job of showing that we need a better way of understanding and solving problems.

Focusing on product outcomes will shift you to a product mindset

This post by Jeff Patton explains how technology development and product teams continue to have the majority of their focus on outcomes, and how difficult it is for teams to own the outcomes of the customer.

And thought about:

Out of focus

This week, and the last few weeks, I’ve been floundering a bit with my focus. I know it’s a reaction to finishing my masters, which I was very focused on over the last few months. I haven’t yet figured out what I want to spend my time and energy on so I’ve been bouncing around but trying to test out new projects and coming up with new ideas. I think this is because I struggle to connect those new ideas to my goals, so either I should use the goal as a means of deciding whether to pursue the idea or expand my goals.

The language of async

If badly run synchronous meetings are bad, then badly organised asynchronous communication will also be bad. Documents and diagrams need a standardised and agreed language to help everyone read them. Documents need information architecture. Diagrams need keys. The difference between diagrams and maps needs to be understood.

Next week I’m going to:

On the to do list

Get closer to finishing the solution design phase of a project I’ve been working. I don’t think it’ll be quite finished next week, but it should be very close.

Complete at least three modules from the Humane Technology course.

Figuring out which projects I should spend some time on.

Go for a run.

Weeknotes #269

Photo of the week:

What I did this week:

Safety by design

Digital safeguarding is an important part of my work. I’ve been working on creating an accessible identity verification system recently, will be doing more on the Age Appropriate Design Code soon, and am thinking about how we might turn the principles behind the Online Harms Bill into products and procedures that keep people safe online. As part of this work and interest I watched an online safety tech event that described the emerging SafetyTech sector and how gaming companies are leading the development of safety technology in virtual spaces because it’s clearly demonstrated that people don’t want to spend their time in virtual spaces where they feel threatened, so safety drives engagement, which is good for business. As is always the case for emerging trends, there is a lot of interplay between the technology, people (both creators and users), regulation and policy, and commercial and market mechanisms, which make it a fascinating part of my work.

My first NFT

I received my first Non-Fungible Token. Of all the dates from 1/1/1 AD to now, I own my date of birthday. It’s part of learning more about NFTs and figuring out whether I want to turn stiles.style into NFTs. To me, with my interest in how the physical and digital worlds meet, stiles (each of which is unique and handmade) would make great collectible digital assets But as collecting and owning NFTs depends so much on hype, I’m not sure anyone else will see why they would want a stile.

First dollar on the internet

There’s thing in the creator economy about how making your first dollar on the internet changes things for creators. This week, The Ultimate Digital Tools List had it’s first sale. It hasn’t revolutionized my life just yet but it’s an interest step into being a creator and making my projects more than just things that interest me.

Fractal task management

I’ve been using nested kanban boards in Notion for a while and found it to be a really good way to manage tasks at any level and be able to focus on work within a project (including for Fractal task manager). So, to see if anyone else might find it useful I set up a Notion template that anyone can duplicate and use. I don’t know if anyone has started using it but I’ve had some feedback that it’s an interesting idea.

Do I need a writing habit?

I decided I wanted to try to write more often. So I set myself a target of writing a blog post for each day of October, so 31 blog posts (I’ll just check the maths on that… yes that’s right). What I learned wasn’t how to build a writing habit but that writing random things in order to hit that target distracted me from working on other things. So, I’ve written and scheduled ten short and mostly pointless blog posts and I’m going to stop there.

What I thought about:

Lessons

I was thinking about how the ‘lessons’ we really should learn at school are the bigger ones that continue to apply throughout our life, so I did a little Twitter thread of my thoughts. Imagine if education was clearer about levels of lessons to be learned. Imagine if teachers said, ‘Today we’re learning about this poem, but really we’re learning about how to communicate ideas, and the poem is just the vehicle for that bigger lesson.’ And imagine if education attainment was measured against those bigger lessons.

Feedback loops

I’m a big believer in feedback loops. I think they are fundamental to a digital mindset. But I also worry that every diagram of a feedback loop shows it going back to where it started rather than moving on improved. And I wonder if this creates a lack of understanding about how feedback loops are supposed to work.

Evaluating things

There are two ways to compare a number of things. You can compare them against an external measure (absolute), or you can compare them against each other (relative). And then those comparisons can be approached in qualitative or quantitative ways. And that’s before you even get into designing the actual evaluation. So there is a lot of underpinning work to have in place for evaluating anything robustly. But one aspect that appeared this week was how any system that uses competition as a mechanism for choosing one thing over another will always include sub-systems that conflict with each other. I have an image of gears that don’t fit together being forced to mesh and resulting in some spinning faster than they should, others tearing apart, and some generating heat and other inefficient byproducts.

And what I read/listened to this week:

Foundations of Humane Technology

This Foundations of Humane Technology course looks really great. I haven’t started it yet but I’m signed-up and looking forward to it.

Project debt

Seth Godin’s podcast is always good, but the episode on project debt was particularly good. More work requires more coordination. Knowing this and reducing the linear growth of debt against the increase of work is important for . This comes from saying no.

Human Development Index

The Human Development Index is based on the idea that GDP isn’t the best way to assess and measure a country. Apart from the reports being really interesting themselves, the reason I read some of this is because I have an idea about how charities should measure their impact through a Theory of Change model that has globally agreed essentials for achieving quality of life (for all living things, not just humans) at the top which charities feed their work into. So, for example, if financial stability was one of those essentials, then a debt charity and a employment advice charity could both show how they contribute. I’ll write up the idea properly one day.

Growth area for this week:

Clearer communication

I’ve been trying to be more succinct in answers I give to questions whilst also providing relevant context and what the opportunities, consequences or actions might be. It’s kind of a past, present, future for every answer. I don’t really know if that does make my communication clearer, and there’s nothing to test it against but if it at least stops me from rambling then that will be a good thing.

Weeknotes #268

Photo of the week:

This week I did:

Age Appropriate Design Code

I spent some time this week learning and interpreting the ICO’s Age Appropriate Design Code, which is essentially GDPR for children. It’s raising lots of questions and making us think more rigorously about the solution design decisions we make, which of course is very much the point.

Backwards hypothesis

I’ve started some data analysis of one of the processes that makes up part of one of our services. I have a hypothesis that the process isn’t working very well for two reasons and the analysis should prove it. I realise that technically that hypothesis is backwards and I should be trying to disprove it, but it’s much harder to talk to other people about it that way round. It’s interesting how what is often the right way to do things isn’t the intuitive way to do things, and when working with others you have to do the translation work between the two.

Tweet100

I set-up ready for the Tweet100 Challenge. I want to use it to tweet specifically about innovation from a slightly more academic perspective than most innovation tweets, blog posts, podcasts, etc., are based upon. Each tweet will include a link to innovat100n so I can try testing whether there is any interest in innovation from this perspective before I write the one hundred email mini-lectures that I’ve been thinking about. I’ve written the one hundred tweets and scheduled them for the last one hundred days of the year, which means they start on the 23rd Sept.

And thought about:

A system for everything

I realised that I can’t just do something, anything in fact. I have to have a system for it before I start. Write a document? No, I’ll create a template and check with the intended audience that it has what they’ll need. Sign-up for a hundred tweet challenge? No, I’ll use it to test interest in a build and audience for innovat100n. Go to the shop to buy Diet Coke? No, I’ll buy four because I’ve already measured how many cans I drink a day and estimated when I’ll next be able to get to another shop.

Digital thinking

How to teach a digital mindset has been on my mind this week. There’s the Essential Digital Skills Framework, which might provide a basis for developing on but is very functional. I’m more interested in how you could teach a digital mindset that appreciates why each of those essential skills matters and understands some of the context around it. So, for example the framework says someone should be able to search for information but there’s nothing about how to critically evaluate the information and test it for bias or falsehood, because to be able to do that requires a deeper understand about the nature of information on the internet, the business model of search engines, and how we are affected by things like confirmation bias. How to even go about listing what should be part of a digital mindset feels disorganised and too amorphous to get a grip of.

Fractal tasks

I started using my notion roadmap more this week to organise the work I want to do on various projects, and it has made me think a bit about how we group tasks and what view of that work we want to see. My roadmap uses kanban boards within kanban boards. It means each piece of work operates to the same way, regardless of it’s level within the roadmap/project and that there is no overall big picture view of all the work that is in progress. I’m testing out this way of working for a few months to try to understand how useful that big picture actually is. How much coordination does there need to be between projects? Does the system need awareness of all the in-progress work? Or is being only able to see one project better for focus? But then, if you can’t compare one project to another, how do you prioritise one piece of work over another. Hopefully I can get to some answers as I try out this fractal task management approach.

I listened/watched/read:

Proximal learning

I heard about proximal learning on the Farnam Street podcast so looked into it a little bit more. It’s the idea that every person has a zone of what they know, and a zone of stuff that they could know if only they had some help to learn it. In some ways it goes against the idea of self-learning and makes education a far more social endeavour. This makes some sense to me when we think about knowledge transfer and how only that which can be codified into information can be transmitted. So, without someone to learn from, a person would be limited in what they could learn. This applies in a micro-sense within organisations. Most learning is expected to be done through online video course platforms because that makes the learning ‘scalable’, but it limits hat can be learned to what can be codified. So, how do we create ways to learn the uncodifable things at work?

The Difference between Engineering and Design Thinking

This is useful in helping to explain a design thinking approach by contrast the engineering thinking approach.

Don’t Build It. A Guide for Practitioners in Civic Tech

The guide says:

  • If you can avoiding building it, don’t; if you have to build it,
  • hire a chief technology officer (CTO),
  • ship early, and mature long; and if you can’t do that (or even if you can),
  • draw on a trusted crew,
  • build lean and fast, and
  • get close to and build with your users as fast as possible.

Sounds like good advice.

A Constellation of Possible Futures

“The working hypothesis is that the Observatory will gather weak signals from across civil society to create a Foresight Commons, bringing to life civil-society foresight and creating a shared evidence base that helps: Funders fund different futures Civil society organisations anticipate and adapt more quickly” This looks like an amazing piece of work.

And my growth area this week was:

Making connections

I wanted to try connecting more people and more work together this week. I found a few opportunities but I didn’t really feel like the connections achieved much.