Weeknotes #233

This week I did:


Team scoped an MVP aligned with organisational objectives and funding obligations, confirmed technical feasibility, designed wireframes and got stakeholder approval in two weeks. Absolutely awesome people! Next we move into deep levels of definition and get set up for development.

Lessons from managing products in charities

I had an idea about creating a ten-part automated email campaign based on some of the things I’ve learned from developing products in charities. I don’t know why they couldn’t just be blog posts other than because I like experimenting with different media. I started making notes and figuring out the structure the emails would have. I don’t know how I’m going to get the time to finish them but I guess there’s no rush.

Digital creativity and new media

Although I didn’t attend the lecture (work call. Priorities, you know) I already think it’s a really interesting topic. I’m going to cathc up on the lecture, get into the reading and start thinking about the assignment ‘Does digital creativity differ from non-digital creativity? Develop a critical argument and illustrate with examples’.

It also turns out that the lecturer for this module is my dissertation supervisor so I’d better be on my best behaviour.

I read/watched:

Not-for-profit vs For-impact

I watched Simon Sinek’s video ‘Stop Calling Yourself a Not-for-Profit‘. He suggests using the term ‘For-impact’ to describe the kinds of organisation that refer to themselves as not-for-profit to focus on what they do rather than what they don’t do. It’s a fair point, if not particularly original.

Hwang and Powell said, “In recent decades, the nonprofit sector has evolved from informal activities of charitable do-gooders to highly formalized endeavors by enterprising individuals. In such areas as health care, higher education, social services, and the arts, nonprofits are major service providers.”. In this sense “Nonprofit” is professional term used to convey credibility and influence society, almost a badge of honour and a moral stance. ‘For-impact’ might seem more appropriate from Sinek’s ‘start with why’ point of view but in fact the sector is more complex than can be understood by a single axis or characteristic of not aiming to make a profit.

Morris talks about how “Institutions which are neither statutory, nor profit maximising, have been collectively and variously called the voluntary, third, non-profit, or more recently, civil society, sector.” and looks at the definition of the sector from a range of perspectives including the types of goods and services the sector provides and “the positive externalities that they create for society”.

Pallotta suggest calling it the Humanity Sector. His arguments against the other terms aside, he says, “What brings us to this work is our humanity. And what makes the work happen is the generosity of countless people from all socioeconomic levels, who make donations out of their humanity. Moreover, it is for humanity that all of this effort is undertaken. To call it by another name is at best to miss the point, and at worst to betray it.”

Clearly the reason no one can agree on what to call the sector is that no one can agree on what axis to analyse organisations in the sector.

Last Year in the Creator Economy

“Collectively, Gumroad creators earned $142 million in 2020, up 94% from 2019. This post discusses the forces that shaped Gumroad’s role in the creator economy in 2020 and will direct it going forward, as well as what you can do, today, to become a bigger part of it yourself.” This is so much more useful than obscure tweets that attempt to present themselves as insight.

Digital economy report 2019

“The digital revolution has transformed our lives and societies with unprecedented speed and scale, delivering immense opportunities as well as daunting challenges. New technologies can make significant contributions to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, but we cannot take positive outcomes for granted. We must urgently improve international cooperation if we are to achieve the full social and economic potential of digital technology, while avoiding unintended consequences.”

And thought about:

Leaning into difficulty

There are always lots of problems to solve, lots of difficulties to face. Picking which ones to focus on isn’t easy, but once we know which difficulties we want to tackle leaning into them, getting serious about them is the only way to affect them. Heads in sand doesn’t help.

Communication over coordination

Work needs coordination too, but it needs more and better communication more.

Right or wrong

Everyone is doing what they think is right, it’s just that we all think different things are right. It’s easy to think that some people are right and some are wrong, and usually that those who agree with us that are the ones who are right.

People tweeted:

People like me

Ethan Mollick tweeted “Homophily is the principle that we like people who are like ourselves, and it is a powerful force in explaining how society is structured. This paper shows it goes deeper than skin: You are more likely to be friends with people who literally think like you”. If, as the paper suggests, we are more likely to be friends with people who perceive and respond to the world in ways similar to us (which makes intuitive sense) then how do we get diversity and the benefits that come with it? Maybe work is the answer.

The shape of a product manager

Ravi Mehta tweeted, “Most PMs, even peak PMs, excel at only a handful of these competencies. The difference between the average PM and the peak PM is an understanding of gaps and the ability to unite a team that fills those gaps.”

Rules to live by

Jon Yates tweeted, “After 40 years, I’ve begged and borrowed a few “rules to live by”. Often mess them up! but here they are … What are yours?” The latest rule I’ve been thinking about is ‘Don’t shop hungry’, by which I mean don’t make decisions based the immediate situation you are in. Always try to step back, think about what you are trying to achieve and whether this will help you do it.

Weeknotes #232

This week I did:


This week has been one of my most most fun weeks at work for a long time. The team was set the challenge of rethinking the product we’ve been working on and coming up with a minimal viable version that can be launched more quickly. We worked asynchronously in a single shared document and Miro board and it feels like we’ve made more progress in the last three days than the last three weeks. Of course we wouldn’t have been able to work so quickly without all that background work, but it’s good to experience what we can do as a team when we focus.

For me personally, it’s been interesting to move so quickly between what we need to do strategically to achieve objectives and what we need to do technically to build a solution that works now and gives us a foundation for the future. This what I mean when I talk about how good product management ‘integrates’. It connects the heights of strategy to the low details of how the software works, the past to the present to the future, and the different teams across the organisation to all work together. When I hear product managers say that they’re operating a strategic level like it’s some ego-trip or status-signalling I immediately see how ineffective they are being. Getting better at that ‘integration’ work is one of my professional development goals.

Met the neighbours

As a digital nomad I never thought I’d have neighbours. One of the places I’ve been parking seems to be a well-known spot for those living in vans so I did the neighbourly thing and said, ‘Hi’. One of my neighbours is living in a camper while he waits to be able to return to China to teach English. We talked about American politics, the nomadic lifestyle and other good places to park in the area.

And I thought about:


With numerous X-As-A-Service business models, and the blurring of work and life from more people working at home, the natural evolution seems to be selling X-As-A-Lifestyle. Are you a ‘successful’ work-from-home parent? Write a newsletter about it, build an online following and monetize your experience. Did you suffer from stress and then learn how to cope? Create an online community and sell your wellbeing coaching services. In times of uncertainty people look to others even more for guidance, not just in how to do one thing but in how to live a new life.

Do charities need product management?

I’ve been thinking about product management in charities and what benefits that type of thinking brings to a charity. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal written about product management in charities but given that it’s a function that serves other organisations in other sectors well, and that charities are becoming more reliant on digital technology (not that product management is exclusively about tech) it seems something worth exploring. I’ll get around to turning my thoughts into a blog post one day.

Skill development models

You should specialise. No, you should be a generalist. No, you should be a T shaped person, or I or X shaped. No, you should be star-shaped. The diversity of sectors, careers and careers paths surely makes it impossible to say that a single model fits all situations, perhaps to the point of uselessness. Identifying what skills you should develop, especially given the world we live in today, seems like it should be a bottom-up exercise that is capable of changing quickly rather than one that fits a particular model or system.

And read:

No Meetings, No Deadlines, No Full-Time Employees

Sahil Lavingia writes about how work is organised at Gumroad. It is a glimpse at how one company has evolved to be completely remote, asynchronous, low overhead cost, and transparent about things like wages. Obviously the model fits a very particular type of organisation, and has reached this place through crisis rather than intelligent design from the outset. And the post has none of the, ‘This is how we succeeded and you should copy us’ tone that some organisations have when they write about their working culture and comes from a humble place of sharing how it worked for them. For those organisations trying to get back to the normal working of everyone in the same office at the same time it offers an interesting contrast.

Ideas That Changed My Life

Morgan Housel wrote about the ideas that changed his life. I was particularly interested in the parts on sustainable sources of competitive advantage and the quote by Historian Niall Ferguson who dais that “The dead outnumber the living 14 to 1, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.”. One of the ideas that I’ve been thinking about and feel has changed my life is around the balance of benefit and cost, and how I think everything has more cost than benefit, which is right in that what is a cost to me is probably a benefit to someone else, and that’s how a complex society works, but also how continually incurred costs seems like another way to talk about entropy and the eventually consumption of all finite resources.

Remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree

Charles Burdett wrote, “When it feels like you’re not making progress, remember the Chinese Bamboo Tree.”, where the growth of bamboo is used as a metaphor for continuing to work towards success even when there is no visible growth at beginning. For me it illustrates that we all have mental models that don’t match the reality of how systems perform. We expect growth and success to be linear, but in fact it almost never is. Getting our understanding of the world closer to the realities of the world seems like a essential, albeit probably impossible, challenge.

And some people tweeted:

2 ways to teach.

Craig Burgess tweeted about two different relationship models for teaching, one where the teacher is seen as an authority passing on best practice from an existing body of knowledge and one where the teacher is exploring and learning at the same time as sharing their new knowledge. We had a short discussion on Twitter about whether one way is better than the other or could be used for different situations. Perhaps the first way of teaching works better for established bodies of knowledge where students need stability in what information will be transferred, and the second works better where the knowledge hasn’t been codified for transmission and is still emerging.

Building an online audience online is developing social capital

I tweeted a short essay about how the things people write nowadays about building an online audience are based upon thinking around developing social capital that is almost a hundred years old. In a way it relates to my chat with Craig about how established and emerging knowledge affect each other. How much do those who are creating emerging knowledge in a particular field, such as building an audience for an online business, build upon, knowingly or unknowingly, the body of existing knowledge? If there are no new ideas then is everyone wasting their time discovering their own emerging knowledge? I think not, because existing knowledge is codified as information and can only be turned into knowledge by someone else if they go through a learning process.

Personal blogs and RSS feeds

Terence Eden tweeted about reading blogs via his RSS feed setup and Luca Hammer tweeted his very cool tool for identifying the feeds of websites that people link to in the Twitter bios. I’ve been trying different ways of building a horizon-scanner using RSS for ages, and with tools like IFFTT and Tentacle having limits to the number of feeds I hadn’t got very far. Then I found out that Slack has an RSS app so I set up a channel to receive notifications from different websites across the charity sector. Now I get a notification when a new article is posted on any of those websites. I’ve never been a big fan of Slack, probably because of my leaning towards asynchronous communication and having never worked in an organisation where it had been allowed, but it actually has more uses for an individual than I previously thought. I’m starting to think of it as less of a communication tool and more of a stream of stuff going on that I’m interested in.

Weeknotes #231

This week I did:

Annual Review 2020

I looked back over the year and wrote a bit about the things that went well and that didn’t. It helped me focus on my goals for next year.

900 Digital Tools

The Ultimate Digital Tools List now has 900 products and tools. Next target is one thousand.

Panta Rhei

I wrote and sent my second Digital Nomad Newsletter, and this one was actually read by my three subscribers. I’m getting a better idea about how I want to use the newsletter. It’ll be a bit about my experiences of being a digital nomad, places I’ve visited, etc., but mostly it’ll be about the underpinning thinking for the lifestyle and mindset of digital nomads, remote and flexible workers

Message me

Added smallchat to my website. Its a cool integration with Slack so when anyone messages me on my website I can chat back from my phone. It’s especially cool because no one is going to message me, so I can play with things like this without being bothered.

And thought about:


I was thinking about how much we complain about meetings, but other than some ideas on asynchronous communication, we don’t really have any good ideas for replacing them. I wonder if it’s because meetings tackle different problems for different people in different situations, but we don’t call out what any particular meeting is meant to achieve. I don’t mean that each meeting should have an agenda, and that that would fix it all. I mean that when people started working in offices meetings solved a communication and coordination problem because getting people in a room together was the only way to do it, there was no technology that could solve those problems. Then, there was a period where we did have the technology but continued to put people in a room together, and now we put people in virtual meetings together. I wonder if we think meetings are still solving the coordination challenge that work ultimately is, when maybe they are solving other problems, possibly social connection problems. Do we have meetings because we want to be in the in crowd, don’t want to feel like we’re missing out on anything, don’t want to feel lonely at work. Perhaps understanding and decoupling those problems could lead to solving them in different ways.


I thought about Craig Burgess’, “Make the focus tighter and the repetitions more frequent”. It works as a solution to a particular problem, but it isn’t a starting point. Intuitively it make sense, especially if you have any pre-existing agile conditions. Feedback loops are really important. Just doing the same thing more isn’t going to achieve very much if you’re doing the wrong thing. How you build feedback mechanisms into the things you do, and use those to course correct seems far less understood. It also made me think about how so many wisdom-tweets are at a point in time, for a particular person, in a particular context, with a particular history, and with particular prerequisites.

One hundred innovation ideas

I was wondering if I’ve learnt enough about innovation, from an academic perspective and in practice, to write one hundred short blog posts. I thought it might be an interesting and challenge-ified way to revise and recap my knowledge. I wonder if I’ll ever have time to do.

And read:

Remote work

I read Exploring the opportunities of asynchronous communication and the (conscientiously) written word and Did A Virus Just Bring About The End Of The Office? as part of my interest in WFA

Midweek nudge

I read the Midweek Nudge Compilation by Deepansh Khurana from his newsletter. It’s interesting to me for a number of things, a) how useful the knowledge (expressed as information) is in all of these kinds of things, and as a side-project

Reading list

I put together my reading list for the module I’ll be studying this term on Digital Creativity and New Media Management. It’s about art and creativity and the use digital technology, so it should be really interesting.

Tweets read:

Liquid employment

I tweeted that “Liquid employment is going to revolutionise knowledge transfer“. Liquid employment is the idea that as employees don’t need to be in an office for eight hours a day it frees them up to work multiple part-time jobs for multiple employers. If employers are smart about this they’ll encourage the knowledge transfer between themselves and other firms and utilise it in competitive ways.


Oikos Digital tweeted about the “changes for me and my clients regarding data protection when the UK leaves the EU“. It’s a really useful primer to make you think about the impact Brexit is going to have on data protection.

Indie economics for good

Traf tweeted, “A few things I’ve learned this year from building a small, profitable internet business from zero to $100k ARR in 8 months.” Apart from my interest in the indie maker economy, I’m keen to figure out some ideas about how charities can learn from this kind of thing, and where the overlaps are in the economics of what charities provide and how makers make money.

Weeknotes #230

This week I did:

Service blueprinting

I reworked our service blueprint to take account of a new programme design. I’ve been thinking about where our knowledge and information resides. How do we effectively develop shared understanding of user needs and business requirements across scope definition documents, service blueprints, user stories, etc., and how do we help each other understand how they all fit together. One of the interesting stances we’ve taken is the the user journey within the service blueprint is our single source of truth about what to build. It shifts the focus away from business requirements and what stakeholders want to what experience the user has and how all the parts fit coherently together.

Some thoughts on digital project management

Inspired by Be More Digital‘s post on Simple project management I wrote some of my own far less useful thoughts on managing digital projects, including why digital project management is different from non-digital project management, what is actually managed by project management, and why prioritisation leads to uncertainty.

The Ultimate Digital Tools List

I put my Digital Tools List on Gumroad. I expect the list to be up to a thousand products and tools over the next few weeks. I haven’t made any sales but that’s not surprising because I haven’t promoted (and I have no intention of becoming ‘the digital tools guy’ on Twitter), but the process of writing a product description helped me figure out the usefulness of the list. The Digital Tools List can be used to create a unique tech stack for an indie business. So, for each side-project or maker business someone decides to set up, they can either do it the way everyone else is doing it, or they can think more strategically about what tools to use to help make Twitter be an effective main promo channel, or to stream their video to multiple platforms at the same time. Productising this process was the idea behind Build Better Systems. It would help makers figure out their business model.

Why charities tackle wicked problems

I wrote up some of my ideas on why charities choose to tackle wicked problems rather than tame, solvable problems. The post veered off from what I intended it to be and went on more about my idea of the three spheres of societal life and how they can or can’t respond to wicked problems. My intention was to write about how charities are actually pretty well equipped for tackling wicked problems but maybe that’ll be another post.

2021 Goals

I started writing my goals for next year, which are mostly continuing with what I was working on this year (doubling-down, as they say). As part of ‘Know What You Bring’, one of my side projects, I was working on a method for identifying things like that are you interested in, how those areas of interest intersect, how you develop expertise at that intersection, how you communicate that expertise, and who will find it useful. The process lead me to conclude that I want to spend more time on the intersection of charity, digital and innovation than I do on indie maker side-projects, so I want to try to spend more time writing blog posts about digital charity and innovation than I do working on side-projects.

I also updated my Now page. It’s still a mess but I like the idea and want to try to find a way to make better use of it.

I read:

Learning attitude

I read A Summary of Growth and Fixed Mindsets and I assume I’m below average, both of which deal with having a learning attitude. Derek Sivers says, “To assume you’re below average is to admit you’re still learning.” and Carol Dweck says “There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

A foray into Online Film Clubs – a peek into the future of community building

I read Paulina Stachnik’s article talking about how “digital leaders, we have a unique opportunity to create this sense of community for our supporters.” Digital communities isn’t something I know very much about, but as Paulina says, they are more important now than they ever have been. What the article shows is that things that could be done without considering community can also be done with community in mind. That’s really interesting and opens up lots of possibilities. It basically says that anything and everything can be a community-building activity.

Why should community building be important? Well, there is some research that says that it’s intrinsic goals (like feeling a sense of belonging to a community) that improve our well-being, so how we create things that help people achieve intrinsic goals (being part of a community) whilst achieving extrinsic goals (watching a film) matters.

Moving Beyond Command And Control

I read Moving beyond command and control* by Paul Taylor. He talks about different assumptions and perspectives people hold on centralised control and localised communities, and how both are needed in national crisis situations like a pandemic. He goes on to talk about the different narratives around communities and how they shifted from celebrating the ingenuity of communities when they seemed to be abiding by the wants of centralised control to criticising communities for breaking the rules when they seemed to take too much of their own power. He ends with, “In 2021 we all need to get off the fence and state which one we truly believe in, and make that world a reality.” Do we believe that communities can hold their own power and make their own decisions, or do we believe that should not have power communities and so need central command and control in order to make decisions.

Out of context, but it made me think about loosely-coupled systems again. The issue I see with the either/or approach to where the power lies is that it is built on hierarchical structures from previous centuries. If we were building something new today with modern information networks (and what we’ve learned from how a global pandemic disrupted tightly-coupled systems) the available options might look quite different.

Thought about:

Learning from the past

The problem with learning from the past is that it assumes we’re facing the same problem in the present. Often it’s easier to assume we’re facing the same problem, and ignore the differences as inconsequential. Sometimes, saying that we’re learning from the past is a shortcut to conclusions even if the context is different. I don’t know how to resolve this, to tell the difference between when learning from the past is a good idea and when it isn’t. The only sense that I get is that the level of abstraction matters for the relevance of the learning. Too detailed and the differences between the past and the now means there is nothing to learn, too generalised and the lesson becomes so vague as to be useless.

User stories

There’s lots written about how to write User Stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about how to interpret user stories. Do designers think of user stories differently to developers? How are user stories useful for stakeholders, and for testers? User stories have a form and function, and a language of their own. Without a shared understanding of those how can we expect to understand user stories?

Posthuman charities

I’ve been thinking about writing a blogpost about how charities might work differently in a posthuman society. If we “reject both human exceptionalism (the idea that humans are unique creatures) and human instrumentalism (that humans have a right to control the natural world)” then how might we think about charities and for-good organisations that have their thinking rooted in humanist ideals?


Fake it till you make it

James Heywood tweeted, “Another problem with “fake it until your make it” is that you know you’ve faked it. That can trigger anxiety even as you succeed.” It made me think about how the phrase can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Faking it could be seen negatively as hiding inadequacies or incompetencies. Or it could be seen more positively as demonstrating a growth mindset and courage to go outside your comfort zone. It could be seen in different ways by different people, leading to confusion about how well-equipped a person is and where they might have development needs. I guess that’s the things about short phrases like this, they are purposely ambiguous, which can be a good thing when it leads to conversations to uncover and improve understanding.

Strategy for information products

David Vassallo tweeted, “A reliable info product strategy:

  1. Find something you know very well.
  2. Share what you know on the internet.
  3. Wait until people start asking for more.
  4. Do a brain dump of everything you know about the topic.
  5. Edit for high info density.
  6. Self-publish.”

It implies the idea that well communicated expertise can be part of overcoming the information product paradox, where customers don’t buy because the don’t know what they’ll be getting, but if they are given two much of the information then they don’t buy because they already have most of the value. Expertise signals value. If you’re known to be an expert in a topic then there is the expectation that what you produce will be valuable even without knowing what you’ll be getting.

Select who to serve first

Natalie Furness tweeted, “How to assess product market fit, while generating traction without spending money. A thread based on my experiences on scrappy startup go-to-market strategy.” She goes to offer lots of advice to indie makers including, “Product Market Fit : Select who you want to serve first. Try and make your test audience as narrow as you can to start with. Remember, this can change as your product develops.” The idea that indie makers start by building an audience around their area of interest before they even know what product they’ll be building is opposite to the usual approach of a business where they develop a product that fits their capabilities and then go looking for an audience. Its interesting to see these difference as the majority of business business models have grown out of industrial thinking whilst indie maker business models have grown out of internet-era thinking. I’ve said before that the maker movement will come of age when a single maker disrupts an established incumbent business, but perhaps another measure of success for the maker movement will be when businesses begin adopting their strategies (like they did with startups and software development).

*I don’t normally tag my links, just this once for fun.

Weeknotes #229

This week I did:

Wrapping up for Christmas

Or not. It doesn’t feel like finishing any of the things we’re working on has aligned with the end of the year. We’re still in the middle of lots of things and that’s ok, that’s how things work out sometimes.

Digital nomad newsletter

I sent the first edition of my digital nomad newsletter, titled ‘The end is nigh‘ (with a nod to Red Dwarf) to all three of my subscribers. It’s taken me a while to figure what I want to do with it but I landed on it not being about remote work or the nonsense of the digital nomad lifestyle, and instead being a more thoughtful discovery on ideas about art, life, the outsider, minimalist, stoicism, essentialism.

Exams. Done

I did the Research Methods in Business exam and Innovation Management and Policy exam. Six modules done, two modules and dissertation to do.

Getting organised

I’ve tried the simple kanban of To do, Doing, Done and I always found that lots of things stayed in Doing because I was technically still working on them even if I hadn’t progressed them recently, and I didn’t want to lose them in the To Do list. This made it increasingly harder to use the Doing list to focus. So I’m trying a time-focused approach. My columns are ‘Today’, ‘This week’, ‘Future’ (which is effectively To do) and ‘Past’ (which is mostly Done but also some things that had a date that I didn’t do. I’ve added lost of the tasks I want to do next year for all of my projects.

Step by step

Had a good chat about some of the product advisor work I’ve been doing. Its interesting professional development for me and is giving me some context for formalising some of my product thinking, not least that every product development framework and method is context specific, and that the best way to build a product is to build the process for building the product as you build it.

Digital tools

My digital tools list is now at 600. As a list of tools it seems to have limited value, and that value isn’t going to increase with the number of tools on the list, but how the info used on the list might have some value. Two of my ideas so far are around market analysis (if you’re going to build a video product you could quickly check out all the other video products) and building digital business models by connecting up the tools (a product for creating Twitter threads to promote the product you built in a nocode product which uses a subscription collection product to take payments, and so on).

I thought about:

Linear innovation processes

There is a paradox in how we present innovation as a linear process whilst knowing that it better resembles spaghetti. Obviously it’s human and management nature to simplify things into what can be easily explained and will fit on a PowerPoint slide, but its interesting to think about how to get past those out-of-date mental models.

Goal setting

Having organised my project tasks for next year, it made me think about different approaches to goal setting:

I’ve no idea which approach works best in what context but I bet they aren’t mutually exclusive.

Most Valuable Person

The most valuable person in an organisation used to be the one with the most power. Soon it will be the one with the most knowledge. Knowledge is value (and it doesn’t have to have power).

And I read:

Wicked problems

In 1973, design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber introduced the term “wicked problem” in order to draw attention to the complexities and challenges of addressing planning and social policy problems“. I’d heard the term ‘wicked problem’ before but never knew it had a source like this and so much thinking behind it. It adds to some of my thinking about how charities choose causes and solve (or not) social problems.

Southern Co-op uses facial recognition

Branches of Co-op in the south of England have been using real-time facial recognition cameras to scan shoppers entering stores.” Interesting tech ethics to consider when an organisation with an ethical ethos introduces technology that others raise ethical concerns about.

The structure and dynamics of the Third Sector in England and Wales

The Third Sector Trends Study has now used data from the Charity Commission register, the Third Sector Trends Study and NCVO Civil Society Almanac to get a much clearer picture about the situation of the local Third Sector across England and Wales.” The report frames the Civic Space as existing between the private sector. the state and private space. In my thinking it’s the private space that exists in the middle of the three spaces created by the different modes of organising people. I also found the power law distribution of charity size and income quite interesting, although not surprising. I wonder how the age of the charity would map against its size and income. There are so many interesting things in the report.

And some people tweeted:

Working From Anywhere

Michael Wilkinson tweeted “Great weekend reading from Harvard on the Work From Anywhere (WFA) future. There are many benefits and challenges that the feature discusses which I thought I’d share here.” The thread has lots of really interesting thoughts about flexible working. The point I would add is about the long term benefits that flexible working has in knowledge transfer between organisations and the rest of society. By making the boundaries the organisation puts up (from Friedman’s statement that a firm’s responsibility is only to increase profits) between it and the rest of the world, more permeable, the way knowledge and information flows will fundamentally change.

Digital knowledge base

Paul Taylor tweeted, “A “digital repository to hold all of your organisational knowledge, that will allow unprecedented access to deep insights with a few keyboard taps” is a fantasy that only exists in the minds of people selling you a Silver Bullet“. Knowledge can’t (yet) be codified, it can only be translated into information to be codified (and then stored digitally) and so much is lost in that process. Turning information and/or knowledge into intellectual assets is a really difficult problem.

Small number of bold and unique bets

Jack Altman tweeted, “Most great companies are built by taking a small number of bold and unique bets, and then being as by-the-book / best-practices as possible on everything else.” The strategy is delivery. Execution wins.

Weeknotes #228

This week I did:

Safer by design

I spent a lot of time working on digital safeguarding and risk assessments. The more I learn the more I realise what a complicated and dynamic situation it is. Building systems that take account of how quickly a situation can change, how an effective response is dependent on having information about the person and about the risk, and that all the things we can do to keep someone safe still might not be enough, is a complex responsibility.

Awesome General Meeting

I attended the annual general meeting of the charity I’m a trustee of. Looking through the reports from the CEO, HR, Operations and Finance it’s easy to see what I tough year it has been. Dealing with mental health is challenging at the best of times but the pandemic has caused more difficulties for more people and made it harder for them to get support. However, despite that we saw a 17% growth in income on last year. Although that’s only one very simple measure it shows what an amazing job everyone at the charity has done in adapting and still being there for the people that need them.

Revision, revision, revision

I have two exams at the same time next week, My strategy for revision has been to focus on the topics where I have some knowledge but not quite enough and ignore the areas that I’m weakest in in the hope that the exam questions will be about things I know about rather than something I know nothing about.

I received the grade for the assignment I wrote a few months ago. It was right on target at 72. That puts it at the low end of a Distinction which what I aim for, hoping that its the sweet spot of a good score for the least amount of work.

Thought about:

Weisbrod’s nonprofit sector model

I’ve thought for a while that the nonprofit sector might deal with market failures of the state just as the state often deals market failures in the commercial sector. then I found out about Weisbrod’s nonprofit model.

“In the Weisbrod model nonprofit organizations satisfy a demand for public goods (non-excludable and non-rivalrous), which is left unfilled by government provision. The government satisfies the demand of the median voter and therefore provides a level of the public good less than some citizens’—with a level of demand greater than the median voter’s—desire. This unfilled demand for the public good is satisfied by nonprofit organizations. These nonprofit organizations are financed by the donations of citizens who want to increase the output of the public good.”

Economically, it seems to explain why such a thing as a nonprofit sector would exist. There are three important aspects; the market failure of the state as a result of a focus on providing public goods for those voters that will keep them in power (it could be argued that if Government’s aim is to create a more equal society then it should change it’s focus of spending), that a nonprofit sector is the only viable response to the market failure of public goods (the commercial sector doesn’t do public goods), and that the donations from citizens are not the only source of income for the nonprofit sector, which demonstrates that there is a further imbalance and that the market failure is not fully solved. It’s a complex thing to try to understand.

Stories and attention spans

Why are so many products introducing Stories. Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, and now Google? The tech trends are surely part of it: vertical video, better cameras, faster internet speeds. And user behaviour trends too (driven of course by the tech trends and products introducing this type of content) of wanting quicker means of consuming content. Are users shortening attention spans a factor? Yes, according to lots websites, but not according to Simon Maybin from BBC World Service who wrote that attention spans definitely aren’t getting shorter (in case you didn’t get it, attention spans aren’t decreasing but quality articles on websites are).

Perhaps the definition of ‘Attention span’ is something to consider. Perhaps the scientists think of attention span and ones ability to remain focused on a single thing, whilst attention span via product metrics is more likely to indicate how long a user spends on a single piece of content before moving on. By the latter definition our attention span on the internet is shorter because the content we are looking at is shorter and doesn’t hold our attention for long enough.

Of course, it’s impossible to know what causes what, but the introduction of Stories in so many products is a trend that shouldn’t be ignored.

The future of B2B software is a focus on the end user

Business-to-business software that meets the end user’s needs will increasingly win out against software that is focused on meeting only the buyer’s needs. It seems obvious to say if you’re an end user. And probably sounds like nonsense if you’re in the sales teams of business software companies that provides systems that don’t do things consumers do (HR, expenses, that kind of things). But watch out, this is where disruption comes from.

The tipping point for indie makers

The tipping point for small software startups occurred when they started to disrupt larger incumbent providers. The tipping point for indie makers will be the same. When an individual building products from nocode tools disrupts a market with incumbent players, the business world will start to take notice. The challenge for the indie maker will be what to do then. In order to compete on an enterprise level startups had to build and grow a company alongside their product. Can indie makers stick to their roots, stay as individuals, and scale their product without following in the footsteps of startups?

And I read:

Minimum Viable Creativity

The creative process that allows you to produce quicker and collect the maximum amount of validated learning from your audience with a lower barrier to production. Producing things that are a little bit of everything rather than all of one thing or all of everything.

The logic of the internet is bait

And that bait has “strategic ambiguity“. It is designed to draw you in, make you think you’re getting what you want, but is really in service of those that set the bait.

The New Marketing Infrastructure Layer

Ad blockers and the death of cookies are creating a need for a shift away from marketing suites and funnel-thinking towards a multi-modal use of data and use of authenticated identity. But we knew that months ago.

Tweets I read:

Neuroscience of messaging

Evan LaPointe tweeted, “As a system, the brain is super complex. But there is linearity to how the brain works, and that makes things WAY simpler. Here’s what happens with sensory data in the brain, and what you can do about it.”

Evan describes how our brains react to new information and ideas and for your message to be truly considered by someone, it needs to be novel and worth paying attention to, needs to be nonthreatening and careful, and needs to be a match to some existing paradigm. So, whether that message is big or small, we have to get t through those filtering parts of our brains before . (As an aside, it makes me think about user needs in a different way too, that there are user needs that users aren’t aware of.)

Curation As A Service

Sari Azout tweeted. “We are living through the emergence of a new business category which I believe will become an important part of our digital lives: community-curated knowledge networks

The bundling of other people’s knowledge to create curated products and services, what I call Curation-As-A-Service, is an easy means for someone to get into being an indie maker and developing side-projects. Leveling that up to building a community that curates knowledge (their own and other’s) is an interesting challenge. Doing so in ways that empowers people to get the knowledge they want and need rather than building a product that drives product metrics is an even more interesting challenge.

10 Commandments of Product Management

Shreyas Doshi tweeted, “The 10 Commandments of Product Management

I think my favourite is, “Thou shall take the necessary time to understand the real problem before starting to solve it. Thou shall not confuse Execution problems with Strategy problems, Culture problems, or Interpersonal problems”

Weeknotes #227

This week I did:

Planning for mobilisation

Now that we’re underway with development I’m shifting my focus to how we’re gong to be mobilising. One of the interesting things I’ve been working on this week is risk assessments. How we assess risks, understand our assumptions and biases about risk, maintain an up-to-date understanding of the risks that are constantly changing is an interesting challenge. Handling risk effectively is a balancing game.

Solving the tacit knowledge problem with AI

I had an interesting conversation with Matt Ballantine about “Microsoft patent filings describe a system for deriving and predicting ‘overall quality scores’ for meetings using data such as body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and number of people in the meeting.” Most of the outrage on Twitter about this patent was around it being used as surveillance technology to allow managers to monitor employees. I don’t disagree with this, but I think Microsoft has a very different end game in mind.

Lot of organisations are already using Teams for all of their communications. That means every word that is said in a video meeting or typed in a chat message is available for analysis. If Microsoft developed a means for doing a similar thing in real-life meetings then there would be even more communication being codified into information. But why not just record meetings? Because to understand the meaning of the information you need to understand the interaction.

I think Microsoft is trying to solve the tacit knowledge problem: to codify knowledge, wisdom, intuition and make it transferable. Michael Polanyi thought that tacit knowledge could not be codified, but that wouldn’t stop you if your hypothesis was that codifying the tacit knowledge held by employees and turning it into a competitive advantage was good for business.

Prioritising side-projects

I’ve got lots of projects on the go and even more ideas for projects that I haven’t started yet. So how do should I choose which one to work on? Some of my Tweeps had some suggestions so I put them all into a blog post.

Digital nomad

I’ve started a newsletter about my experiences of being a digital nomad, remote working, minimalism and leading an intentional life. I not quite sure what I’m going to do with it other than record my roadtrip and see what I learn about this way of life.

500 Digital Tools: a mega thread on Twitter

I set myself the target of getting my digital tools list to 500 by the end of the year and said I would put them all into a mega thread on Twitter. I wasn’t expecting to be an entire day’s work but at least I got it done. I’d really like to create make business model recipes as part of buildbetter.systems like these examples from Whit.

I read some stuff:

Innovation as learning

I read lots about innovation as part of my revision for my upcoming exam. There is so much interesting thinking trapped in pdf’s and held behind institutional logins. I’d love to have the time to write about each paper I read and bring those thoughts out.

Charities and politics

Like everyone else on Charity Twitter, I read Baroness Stowell’s article saying that charities shouldn’t get involved in party politics and culture wars. Lots of people argued that charities should and/or have no choice but to be involved in politics, but I wonder whether that was really the point of the article (which was very poorly written and not backed-up). I think it was more likely written with the purpose of inflaming the charity sector. To make a statement to effect that charities shouldn’t get involved in ‘culture wars’, by which we can assume she means the current events and movements around anti-racism, but doing so in a way that draws them into the culture war by writing an article in a national newspaper, seems suspicious to me. So, the question is, how should we respond to trolling?

Building your own website is cool again

This article about people getting into setting up their own websites is pretty interesting. It mentions some of the tools people are using at the moment and the interesting point around how personal websites compare to social media, which of course are different solutions to different problems, one being about ownership and longevity and the other being about immediacy and reach.

And thought about:

Learning business model

I’ve been trying to figure out a flywheel business model for my knowledge building. It includes how information is inputted into the system through newsletters, books, studying, etc., how it is processed into knowledge, correlated with other knowledge to form new ideas, and codified to be outputted. And then how the outputs feed back in as inputs to be correlated with any new inputs and drive the flywheel. My hope is that if I can design it to work hypothetically I can then optimise my learning practice to test and improve the model.

Connected to this but at a different level is the idea of the knowledge society, that knowledge (or probably more accurately ‘information’ as the aspects of knowledge that can be codified and transferred) is more valuable than physical goods in a post-industrial society.

Power structures and information structures

I’ve been thinking for a while now about how power and information follow very different structures within organisations. Power is typically organised hierarchically whilst information more usually follows a network structure. If we follow the assumption that innovation requires the creation of new knowledge, that how organisations allow information to flow (which I think fits with Christensen’s point that when orgs are small they are more resource-focused and maintain knowledge in individuals but as they become larger that knowledge becomes expressed by the culture).

In a way, this organisation-level thinking fits in between the individual knowledge flywheel, where the the unit of analysis is the individual, and the knowledge society thinking as that is information flow at the largest scale. So the question is, are information models fractal, in that the same pattern exists at every level, or is it not that simple?

Know what you bring

I’ve been thinking a bit about personal branding. I have an idea for a chatbot that helps indie makers identify their personal brand so I’ve been doing a bit of research.

  • In my personal branding (whatever that means, I still not sure) I think about what value I bring to any given situation I’m trying to have an impact in. It can take a while to figure it out, and something it feels more or less clear to me, but it’s what I mean by the phrase ‘know what you bring’.
  • Wes Kao said, “If you cringe at the idea of personal branding, reframe it to yourself as personal credibility. Personal credibility is about being good at your craft & keeping your promises.”
  • This OSINT framework is pretty cool. It’s almost like reverse personal branding. It’s intended as a guide for how to find out open-source intelligence about someone, but if you turn it around it becomes a guide of where to control your brand image.
  • People are trying to become brands. Brands are trying to become people.

Some people tweeted

Build in public

KP tweeted, “Building in public helps you put in reps and build muscles on:

  • shipping products
  • staying accountable to goals
  • handling PR & media
  • handling a multiple of inputs (often from customers or potential customers)
  • the art of storytelling
  • the thick skin to be a founder”

Building in public is the compounding network effects of the Maker community. It allows people to become known for something, to learn from others as they build, and create a sense of abdunance

But building isn’t enough

Toby Allen tweeted, “Want to validate your idea?

  1. Setup a Gumroad Pre-order page
  2. Add a wicked description and mockups
  3. Clearly state it will only get built if you pass X number of pre-orders
  4. Survey all users that pre-purchase.

Build it or Kill it!”

I completely agree about validating ideas by putting them in front of people, but perpetuating the idea that building is enough to get validation of an idea is unhelpful. Maybe this needs a step 0 of ‘Build an audience’ and a step 3.5 of ‘Promote the hell out of it’. Maybe the maker community focuses too much on building because building is the easy bit.

The 9 biggest lessons

Will Myddelton tweeted, “I’ve learned so much about doing product work in the last two years. These are the 9 biggest lessons I’m taking away.

  1. Riskiest assumption experiments are my north star
  2. Off-the-shelf software is cheap and crazy powerful
  3. Whole-team planning creates shared direction
  4. You’re gonna need a bigger goal
  5. User research with real signups is my jam
  6. People respond best to real people
  7. Written culture makes things resilient
  8. The runway won’t take care of itself
  9. Working with an ADHDer has changed me
  10. I made (more) mistakes”

All good things to learn.

Weeknotes #226

This week I did:

Kanbanning it

We’re going to start using Kanban for our product development process from next week. It’s been a few years since I’ve used it and I’m a bit excited. We’ve been discussing things like what the work in progress limits should be for each part of the process and how to communicate this way of working to stakeholders.

The evolution of technology and innovation policy

This week’s lecture was about the evolution of technology and innovation policy, patterns of uneven technological development and innovation amongst countries, the role of the state and innovation policy and the market failure argument. I find these kinds of ‘interplay’ topics quite interesting. What is the relationship between the state and the market in creating innovation? How is technology development and policy creation connected in driving innovation? Where is innovation investment most effective, in improvements and efficiency gains to existing technologies and business models or on higher risk new new innovations? Utilisng new technology has two aspects, the knowledge about the technology, which is a public good that no one can be excluded from gaining, and the non-codifiable tacit capability which is dependent on organisational routines to make use of the knowledge. That’s an interesting interplay too.

Qualitative data analysis

The other subject of study this week was thematic coding for qualitative analysis. I found this more interesting than I thought I would. The process of formalising an informal body of information, but doing so in a way that is unique to you, is interesting to me. It connects with some of the thinking around note-taking methods like Zettelkasten and Building a Second Brain. I guess the difference is that in academic research the coding must be done after the information is collected to avoid any bias whereas most note-taking methods recommend coding at the same time as creating the note.

30 to go

My digital tools list is up to 470, making the target of 500 by the end of the year easily reachable. At some point I’m going to have to decide what to do with the list. I can either continue to add to it in Notion where no one else really knows it exists or uses it, or I can think about how to make it more public and usable.

Thought about:

Which project?

With so much of my time spent on studying recently I haven’t done very much on any of my side-projects (other than think of a few others to go on the list). I feel uncertain about how to choose which ones to work on, and about starting new projects without ever getting close to finishing any. I like LaunchMBA’s idea of launching twelve products in twelve months but I know I’m not going to have time for the next ten months. And maybe that isn’t the right approach for me because it is about finishing things and maybe what I want is just the creative expression of playing with these ideas.

Layers of abstraction

I’ve wondering about how you might represent the layers of abstraction in product thinking. At the most real and elementary level the digital products we build are just a bunch of electrons that are represented (or abstracted) by 1’s and 0’s in binary code, which is further abstracted through various levels of programming languages to create a graphical user interface that people can interpret and abstract through their actions into ideas that fit into mental models at the highest level of abstraction. However you slice the layers there has to be translation between each layer. How good that translation is matters. Our ideas make electrons move. And electrons move our ideas.

Design principles

How important are design principles? Or any principles for that matter? Does having vague concepts help to provide direction, make decisions, achieve anything? One of Yves Béhar’s principles for design in the age of AI, “Good design works for everyone, everyday”, for example, looks like it makes sense. It’s hard to see how or why anyone would disagree with it. But it’s also hard to see how it could be achieved in practice. Is that the point? Are principles meant to be aspirational, a representation of something we value and so aim towards, even if we never achieve it? But then, how do you stop a principle being a cliché, or just some that sounds good but is meaningless?

Pressure junkie

Under less pressure I’m achieving less. I used to sleep five hours a night, work 15 hours a day, and get lots done. Now, with so much less pressure I’m not being anywhere near as productive. Relying on self-motivation to get myself to do things I’m not too bothered about doing isn’t working. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe its time to learn to live without the pressure.

Audience building

The basic business model for the internet indie maker is to start with building an audience, which means figuring out what you want to be known for and by who. I did a bit of thinking about how my audiences might be, one for digital charity stuff and the other for indie maker stuff. All the stuff I’ve written and the ideas for products I’ve started have always been purely for my interest, so thinking about audience building brought up the question, ‘Do I need an audience’? It’s a prerequisite aspect of a business model, you need to have someone to sell to, and based on the thinking expressed in Courtland’s tweet below, everyone should have their own business model.

Permissionless apprenticeship

Permissionless apprenticeship is an idea from Jack Butcher, that if you want to grab the attention of folks that you admire – start apprenticing under them without even asking for permission. It’s interesting on many levels, from the obvious of using it as a way to learn from someone and (perhaps) get their attention, to seeing how the maker community responds. Of course, as is right with the indie maker ways of working in the open and sharing ideas, people from the community jump on the idea and build-out their own ways products from video courses to worksheets.

And read:

What makes a good cucumber?

I read about Gherkin Syntax to remind myself about the behaviour-driven development approach and writing acceptance criteria.

What makes a good charity?

NPC’s guide to charity analysis by Ruth Gripper and Iona Joy from 2016 is really interesting. With statements like: “The starting point when looking at any charity is to understand how it wants to change the world”, “Scale is not necessarily a sign of success”, and “the digital maturity of an organisation is likely to be constrained by its size, budget and leadership”, it seems to take a pragmatic view.

What makes an excellent charity?

The King’s Fund’s ‘Modelling excellence in the charity sector’ report from 2017 with it’s characteristics of GSK IMPACT Award winners list reads like a a bit of a how to guide for making an excellent charity. It includes ‘services strongly rooted in the community’ , ‘strategic partnerships where charities play an active role in identifying issues and finding solutions’, and ‘board skills that reflect the changing nature of the charity sector’. One of the ideas I found interesting was the mention of the ‘added-value’ charities could provide, so that when commissioned to provide a specialist service they also offer more generic related services. In the commercial world this might be called cross-sell.

Service dominant logic

In Systems Thinking in Design: Service Design and self-Services, John Darzentas and Jenny Darzentas state that, “Services have moved from being a peripheral activity in a manufacturing centred economy, to an engine for growth and society-driven innovation… Known more commonly as ‘Service Science’ its aims are to integrate findings from these different disciplines to achieve better understandings, tools and techniques for creating innovative services… Vargo and Lusch (2004) argue that services require a change of perspective or ‘logic’. having been based on a model of exchange they term ‘goods-dominant logic’. In this view, services are being treated as products, as tangible resources with intrinsic values and with a basis in transaction. That is, the customer obtains the goods/services in exchange for money, and that is the end of the interaction with the provider. In contrast, ‘service dominant logic’ (SDL) describes services as intangible resources. Providers do not provide value, but ‘value propositions’; that is customers decide whether or not to make value out of those propositions or offerings, in effect they ‘co-create’ with the service providers.

Triangulation in research

Triangulation is a method used to increase the credibility and validity of research findings. Credibility refers to trustworthiness and how believable a study is; validity is concerned with the extent to which a study accurately reflects or evaluates the concept or ideas being investigated. Triangulation, by combining theories, methods or observers in a research study, can help ensure that fundamental biases arising from the use of a single method or a single observer are overcome.” I wonder how much of the user research that is used to make decisions about websites, digital services, product development and business direction has been triangulated to any level of robustness?

Some people tweeted:

I’m a business, man

Courtland Allen, tweeted “You’re not an employee, you’re a business. We just changed all the names. Posting your resume is marketing, interviewing is sales, salary negotiation is pricing, your employer is your customer“. Like Jay-Z said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” It’s really interesting to think of individuals in this way as it changes the power dynamic between organisations and individuals (which is changing anyway).

Invest in your future self

Julian Shapiro, tweeted, “Judge your days by how much you invested in your future self. Judge your years by how much you cashed in on that investment“. It’s not about getting stuff done, it’s about getting stuff in service of future leverage and benefit.

Nocode, no problem

Whit tweeted, “Want to build your side project for less than $100? It’s very possible. We’ve done it 6 times in the last 3 months.” and goes on the explain the tech stack for each of the side-projects. Of course, building products is the easy part. Building an audience, building them something they want, and selling it to them, that’s far more difficult.

No future but what we make

Jason Crawford offers “Some visions of the future based on different views of technology“, which of course aren’t mutually exclusive unless you state ‘when’ the future is, but all take a dualistic opinion of technology being either good or bad. Perhaps the future for humanity and technology, as we learn more about complexity and systems thinking, is to move away from simplistic narratives.