Weeknotes 320

Photo of the week:

I wandered lonely as a cloud.

What I did this week:

Agility

It has been an interesting week learning lots about what it means to work in agile ways, what that means for other teams that work with us, how the different understandings make it hard to work as one team. Lots of figure out in the coming weeks.

To whom am I speaking?

The week’s Irregular Idea was that the online disinhibition effect, the idea that when we feel anonymous, or even just hidden behind a screen, we feel less restrained and more able to express ourselves in ways we might not feel comfortable doing in person, is becoming more and more a part of online communication.

A short history of blockchain in charities

Following the trend of interest in blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, the charity sector’s interest peaked in 2018 and settled into being mostly about crypto donations, and with the future looking less decentralised than previously thought.

Read Recently

This week’s reading list was about agile, moral norms, neurodiversity, innovation, systems, accessibility, collective behaviour, money, process design, company wiki’s, Critical Theory, collaboration, and empowered teams.

What I read:

The Internet We Could Have Had

This brilliant piece by Christopher Kelty looks at some of the many things that the internet seemed to promise but didn’t deliver. I wonder if it’s more to do with human nature of always wanting and idealising more, and that those that get out there and build things are usually those with something to gain from it. You can’t fix things humans build until you fix humans.

Reading between the highlights

This article about how the Kindle turns reading from a “solitary activity into a collective experience” but one “without context, highlights are often always misinterpreted as endorsements”, is really interesting. It suggests a future for digital ready where ebooks are passed down from parents to kids and serve as ever-growing body of knowledge. The idea of multiplayer reading is also interesting, but Kindle dating… not so sure.

No Floor, No Ceiling

Another interesting article about what it might mean to live in the internet-era. It mentions the point that some look to the internet as a way to escape working for an organisation but end up working for the algorithm. (Not sure the analogy makes complete sense to me; there’s a limited downside and yet there’s no floor?)

Social capital

I read a few of Dan Ramsden’s posts, but this one on social capital was particularly interesting, partly from an ASD perspective but also because I think I’ve read about the concepts of bonding, bridging, etc., before.

And what I thought about:

Product thinking needs more tools for uncertainty

Most of product thinking tools are designed around creating certainty from uncertainty. The scientific method (which is one of my favourites) starts with questions about unknown things and tries to reach a conclusion to answer it with some certainty. But, in increasingly complex and uncertain situations, trying to get to certainty isn’t helpful. We need thinking tools for embracing uncertainty.

The difference between governance and bureaucracy

Following on from my thinking about ‘just enough enough’, I’ve been thinking about ‘lightweight governance’ or ‘just enough governance’ that doesn’t tip over into heavy bureaucratic process. Thanks to some smart people of Twitter, we can think of the differences as, “Governance is overseeing the strategic direction of a project or organisation and bureaucracy is filling out lots of forms!”, “Governance is a role/responsibility and bureaucracy is a process/system”, “Governance moves us forward, bureaucracy almost always drives us backwards.”, and “Governance is outcome-focused, bureaucracy is process-focused”

Managing and coaching

I’ve been thinking about the differences between managing and coaching, and managers taking a coaching approach, as is the trend. I think the difference is in the nature of the relationship between manager and managee, and coach and coachee. In coaching, the relationship is voluntary, the coachee seeks out a coach and engages in a coaching relationship because they want to. They have a choice. But the managee doesn’t have a choice about whether to have a manager or who that manager is. That relationship isn’t voluntary. So, the question is then, if/how a manager can use a coaching approach with a managee when coaching depends on the voluntary nature of the relationship which doesn’t exist between manager and managee?

Wasting away

Wasting what? Wasting time, effort, money? Andy Tabberer started an interesting discussion on waste in organisations which got me thinking. Is waste considered a bad thing because of how we think about work? If work and organisations that coordinate work are thought about in the ‘factory’ mindset where efficiency is of the utmost importance, then waster is a bad thing that should be minimised. But if we think about organisations more like biological organisms, then producing waste is a sign of a healthy functioning system. The organism consumes resources from it’s environment, e.g., a new management technique from a book, processes it to extract the valuable nutrients, in this case trying to apply the technique but finding it doesn’t work. The time and effort put into that process is waste, because it wasn’t ultimately of value to the organism, and that waste has to be disposed of, by learning from the experience maybe, but if the learning was that the organism shouldn’t do those kinds things because it was wasteful, then it stops consuming. The organism starves to death in an attempt to not produce any waste. So, maybe waste is a good thing.

Weeknotes 319

Photo of the week:

Clouds over the hills at sunset

This week I did:

Just enough process

There’s a pattern in digital teams (and I think in startups too) where to start with everyone coordinates just by talking about the work. Then over time, as the team grows and the work gets more complex, processes are added to take over the coordination. Then, later still, those processes become so embedded and built up in layers that they create barriers to coordination. I think we’re at stage two, starting to add more process to handle more complex coordination. The challenge is to figure out how to get just enough process so that it doesn’t become a barrier.

The coastline paradox

I wrote about the coastline paradox, the idea that the length of an irregular shape (like an island) increases the more closely you measure it, and applied it to setting big goals and taking small steps towards them. The paradox is that the smaller the steps you take, the further away the goal gets.

Reading

This week’s thread was about strategy, posthumanism, writing, subscription models, fractals, blockchain, digital transformation, teams, DAOs, design, circular economy and newsletters. I realised that there is no way to know if something is good compost or not. Or, to put it another way, one person’s good compost is another person’s pollution. That isn’t an excuse for not being discerning about the compost you create, but it does require some judgement.

Just keep swimming

Swam in the sea a few times this week. Luckily for me I’m not near any of the beaches that have suffered sewerage dumping. The sea is still pretty warm, and floating there watching the sun set is my mind gym.

And I read:

Open working toolkit

Third Sector Lab’s and CAST’s Open working toolkit is really cool.

Organizational boundary problems: too many cooks or not enough kitchens?

Elizabeth Ayer’s article on open working cultures and some of the issues that can arise is also really cool.

The Three Speeds of Collaboration: Tool Selection and Culture Fit

Erin ‘Folletto’ Casali writes about the three ‘speeds’ of communication and collaboration; sync, async and storage, which is also really cool.

Thought about:

People’s agenda

This week was one of those ‘remember where you were when’ weeks. The Queen died. After 70 years on the throne. It’s interesting how events like this are used to push people’s own agendas. I guess broadly there are two view; establishment and anti-establishment. The establishment pays tribute to the person who was Queen, the anti-establishment critiques the institution of the monarchy, and its involvement in colonialism, for example. Both can be true. And respectful. And necessary.

One step ahead

If leadership is about getting a step ahead and then getting others to that step, then perhaps there are two ways. The more traditional leadership approach takes that step forward and then calls back for others to follow, “Follow me, this is the way”. This is ‘tell’ leadership. The way is that the leader takes that step and asks others to follow, “Have I gone the right way?” This is ‘ask’ leadership. Either might me applicable in different circumstances stances, but only ‘ask’ leadership has in-built feedback loops that make it more relevant and effective in changing and uncertain situations.

The scientific method is first principle thinking product managers

The more I think about it the more I think that the scientific method is a first principle for product management. As a way of moving from the unknown to knowledge, uncertainty to slightly less uncertainty, in a structured way, and applicable at any level and scale, there isn’t anything to match it. To me, the six steps of observation, research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion are core competencies for every product manager.

Weeknotes 318

Photo of the week:

View from the top of Snowdon.

Things I did this week:

Big loop, little loop

Spent a bit of time thinking about the feedback loop between the governance of work and the implementation of work, and how there needs to be smaller looping mechanisms within the bigger loops to keep each part of the big loop in check. Feedback loops are an essential concept in any modern business model (even for charities) and designing how they work and fit together at multiply levels and scales is really interesting.

Creating and curating

This week’s irregular ideas email was about how curating creative work is more important for the success of the creative work than perhaps we give credit for. “Perhaps as creativity and the creative act becomes even more abstract and mediated by technology, curation of the works in meaningful ways becomes even more important for making sense of the world.”

Certain and uncertain problem solving

I’ve been trying to write a blog post for more than a week about how certainty/uncertainty is the one dimension that divides the project and product problem solving approaches. I wanted the post the go into more depth and have some references to back up my point, but in the end I just wrote a short post to get the idea out there. It isn’t meant as a criticism of project management or project managers but as a bit of a rationale to my point the product management is about applying the scientific method in an organisational context, as the scientific method is the original technique for turning uncertainty into certainty.

Things I’ve read recently

I read 18 things this week about technology, agile, strategy, Ethereum, culture change, digital ethics, marketing, diversity, equity and inclusion, and user testing.

Floating

I don’t so much swim in the sea as float, which isn’t easy when the wind makes waves, but I want to try to carry on doing it as later into the autumn and winter as I can.

Snowdon

I hiked up Snowdon on bank holiday Monday and was briefly the highest product person in Wales. I found the hike up easier and faster than I was expecting, and apart from a few blisters

A few things I thought about:

Becoming good compost

I’ve thinking about how to achieve my goal of becoming good compost by working on things that create fertile grounds for other’s to grow things. I mean this in a conceptual/intellectual way for how I use Twitter more intentionally, write more blog posts, etc., that pollute as little of possible and fertilise as much as possible.

Social experiments

I thought back twenty years to when I was interested in the kind of social experiments where groups of people have to live together in contained environments. Castaway was my favourite, Big brother quickly became just about celebrity. I wonder how much of life is like an experiment.

Charity Futures

I wonder what’s happening with The Oxford Institute of Charity. The website doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2019. Maybe they’ve realised that this kind of organisation can’t represent charities in and of the future.

Some of what I read/watched:

How To Build Products Like a Scientist

I’m hundred percent behind the idea that product management is the application of the scientific method to an organisational context. Unfortunately, this article doesn’t do the idea justice. It just talks about running experiments, not applying the six steps of observation, research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion. Guess I’ll just have to write something about it myself.

Design for Planet

Hours and hours of conference talk videos from the Design Council’s Design for Planet event “to galvanise and support the UK’s design industry to commit to a sustainable, climate-first future.”

The problem behind all of Twitter’s other problems

This is a really interesting article about the problems of platforms. Twitter has “a broken business model that is fundamentally at odds with the freewheeling nature of its platform”… and… “it allowed users to remain anonymous and flaunted an “anything goes” approach that allowed activists and dissidents to speak truth to power — while also tolerating racism, bullying, bots and pornography. In many ways, Twitter was built to be unpoliceable.”

Weeknotes 317

Photo of the week:

Quiet little bay I spent an evening.

This week I did:

Product competencies

I’ve been thinking about how we might define and assess the core competencies of product managers without focusing on specific, contextual outputs (like this, for example, which makes ‘SQL queries a key skill for a product manager). Thinking about the first principles of product management as the scientific method applied to organisational contexts, then the six steps of question, research, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, and conclusion would become the six core competencies for product managers to build skills in.

This also fits with my way of thinking about the difference between a project and product. Project managers are like engineers. If know what you need to build and how to build it, then you need a project manager. They’ll follow a known, structured approach to solve a well-understood problem. Product managers are like scientists. If you don’t know what to build, what the solution is, or even what the problem is, then you need a product manager to discovery these things.

Wasting time

This week’s irregular ideas newsletter was about time, our personal experience of it and the conventions we follow. I’ve written sixty-four irregular ideas emails and I still don’t know why I’m doing it. Since moving to substack I’ve become less bothered about all the other stuff I used to do (like adding to a Twitter thread, linking from my website, adding to the old irregular ideas website). I guess I need to either decide that it’s ok to just continue to use it to explore ideas and write about random things (but then, why not just do it on my blog) or put some time into getting more people to sign-up for it.

Things I’ve Read Recently

This week’s thread of things I’ve read recently only had eighteen things. I’ve managed to post a thread for the last four Monday’s so my experiment in having small specific things with a clear definition of done seems to be proving true. I’m still struggling to apply it to my bigger projects, but I think it’s because they require more divergent thinking whereas my Twitter thread, Irregular Ideas and weeknotes have a consistent format to them which doesn’t need to be thought about.

I read:

Strategy as a Wicked Problem

This HBR article talks about business strategy as a wicked problem. But is it? I don’t think so. Paraphrasing Max Mckeown’s definition, a strategy is a coherent response to a significant problem, then the the fact that strategy can even be coherent tells us it isn’t a wicked problem. There are lots of inter-related factors that contribute to a complex market environment which creates a significant problem for a business, but that doesn’t make it a wicked problem. A wicked problem is substantially without precedent; experience does not help you address it, and a solution is difficult to measure the effectiveness of. But businesses are able to measure the whether their strategies are working by how they are performing in the market, and what a business does has lots of precedent.

Maps and compasses

Rip up your Culture Change Road Map and learn to use a Compass is an interesting critique of roadmaps in a . I agree, the idea of a defined roadmap to describe the exact route to get from ‘not changed’ to ‘changed’ where we can stop changing is not really based in reality. But I struggle to believe that the intelligent people who work in organisational change view roadmaps in that way. I’ve never seen a roadmap that was meant to be taken as a plan. All the roadmaps, whether for organisational change or a product, are simple communication tools that illustrate some of the intended steps. We needs maps and compasses. Maps that show us the terrain. And compasses that help us pick a route through the terrain. But we also need roadmaps to show the route we think we’re going to take. If you go into the mountains with a map and compass but no idea of what route you intend to take, you’ll just wander around and get lost.

Wargames

I watched the 1983 film, Wargames, where seventeen year old David hacks into NORAD’s computer to play a game and triggers a global thermonuclear war. Luckily he saves the day by teaching the computer that some games are best won by not playing. But the interesting theme in the film is about how the people around David understand technology as an unknown scary thing that doesn’t make sense to them. From his mum’s worry that they’re all going to get electrocuted to General Berringer’s statement that he wouldn’t trust that overgrown pile of silicon diodes any further than he could throw it. The other interesting idea is how the artificial intelligence is portrayed as an innocent child that missed interaction with it’s father and just wants to play a game. It’s a very different narrative from the skynet idea of AI wanting to destroy humanity.

And I thought about:

Strategy and delivery

Maybe a strategic thinking question might be, “how would we do this if it was a hundred times bigger?”. Maybe a delivery focused question might be, “how could we do this in one day?” Strategy tends to be about bigger things whilst delivery is often about faster. The strategy/delivery tension and interplay is really interesting. Good strategy should be informed be delivery and delivery informs strategy.

Learning to read the map

Maps, diagrams, signs, all means of visual communication have a language that has to be learned before they can be understood. If the creator of the map doesn’t have a clear sense of the language, and so can’t explain to others how to read the map, then it’s really difficult for everyone to understand what they are looking at. Written language can be confusing too, but for different reasons. Generally, how written language works is better understood. We know about grammar and syntax and spelling. But visual communication is much harder.

Every assumption is a hypothesis in disguise

Or, at least it could be if we thought that way.

Weeknotes 316

Photo of the week:

The week the weather changed.

This week I did:

Autonomous empowered teams

Had some interesting chats about the precious currency of authority and the kind of environment where teams are empowered to achieve goals in the best way they can. The challenge is in how to create a safe space for the team to show what they can do so they can build trust and gain a little decision-making authority, and use that to create more space to show more of what they can achieve. It’s a slow shift. More empowered teams have been shown to be more productive and proactive than less empowered teams and have higher levels of customer service, job satisfaction, and organizational and team commitment, but there that doesn’t feel like sufficient reason for the power shift. Some of the literature talks about how vital top management support is for autonomous teams to be successful, which of course is necessary to prevent power struggles, but I’m not sure that fits the philosophy of empowered autonomous teams.

Building cathedrals

This week’s irregular ideas was about building things to last. It talks about how in an intricately interconnected world, nothing we do has no effect, unless of course it just doesn’t last long enough.

The future of donations

I did a very small bit of work on this blog post that I’ve been struggling to finish for week’s now. I can’t quite figure out why I haven’t been able to focus enough to get it done. It’s part of my 21st Century Charity course, so it is part of something I want to do, and I have time boxed for it, and yet I still can’t get it done. Maybe it’s because the work still isn’t small enough to be deliverable in one box (which is something the things I do get done each week have in common).

Read Recently

This week’s reading list thread included collaboration, UX, the small web, design systems & service patterns, decision making, product lifecycle, nocode, responsible & inclusive design, machine learning.

And I read:

User Stories; Why they exist

This is a really nice intro to user stories. It inspired me to read some more on boundary objects, which are the theoretical underpinning of user stories. Boundary objects bridge gaps between social worlds and domains of knowledge, such as between a user and a developer. They are flexible enough to be meaningful from both those perspectives but stable enough to convey accurate information. The key to a good user story isn’t really it’s format, it’s in how it provides coherence between different people, contexts, understandings and implementations.

Tools for Good

This site has a list of tech for good projects and the nocode tools used to build them. I wonder what the use of nocode says about the digital maturity of organisations like small charities. Does it show more maturity because they are choosing to create digital things that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to create, or less maturity because they aren’t creating digital things in connected, coordinated, sustainable ways?

And thought about:

Thoughtless

I don’t seem to have thought about very much this week. A combination of busy times at work and being on beaches and in the sea, perhaps.

Weeknotes 315

Photo of the week:

Calm seas for a morning swim.

This week I did:

Ordered thinking

Some of my focus this week was on goals and priorities, and helping us order them to guide where we focus our efforts and measure what we’re achieving. The simplest way to bring order to things is to put them into a list, one that is ranked from most to least important, but it’s also the hardest as it’s difficult to know how to decide whether one item on the list is more or less important than any other. Sometimes, a certain amount of vagueness and non-commitment is useful.

A brief history and future of moving fast and breaking things

This week’s Irregular Ideas was a bit boring. I couldn’t think of a good idea, so I used an old idea of where the concept of first-mover advantage came from and how it’s used in silicon valley start-up culture and being used in some of the thinking of longtermism.

Fixing things

It’s been a week of fixing hosting and domain name issues. I bought the cool short domain on rjs.pm but then Afnic (they manage the domain name registry in France including .pm domains) contacted me to say that I can’t have a .pm domain unless I live in an EU territory (thanks Brexit). So now I have to argue with 123-reg, who I registered the domain name with because they didn’t tell me that .pm domains are restricted by location when I bought it. Part of the problem of managing domain names, apart from the awful customer service from the providers, is that there doesn’t seem to be one single provider that can manage all domain extensions, which means I have to have them spread across different companies. And the hosting provider for my website contacted me to tell me that I was in breach of their acceptable use policy and they were going to shut the site down because the large backup files, which their system generates, was stored where they system stores them. They sent me a very unhelpful email telling me that they recommend not storing files in their file storage, something they’ve never told me in all the years I’ve been with them. Good example of a poor company blaming it’s customers because they haven’t set up their systems correctly. The lesson here is don’t use TSOHost. I really need to find a better provider.

I read/listened to:

Exploring Product Management in Nonprofits

Or, exploring how someone who isn’t a product manager in a nonprofit but sells software to nonprofits suggests that nonprofits should use data better and has a book you can buy about it. For anyone who doesn’t know what product managers in nonprofits do, this is a pretty limited representation. Product managers don’t just manage fundraising technology (although in some nonprofits they do that too), they are trying to tackle complex wicked problems. Simple tools and frameworks like OKR’s just don’t work in nonprofits because the change those products managers are trying to achieve could be twenty years away, and be the result of many contributions from many different things.

This work can’t wait

Ideo’s website about their efforts to design responsibly fits nicely with the Design Council’s Systems-shifting design, which is the basis of ideas for systems-shifting product management. Maybe there’s a lesson in naming and branding something that I should apply to systems-shifting product management (I mean, who the hell knows what that is).

A Designer and a Product Manager walk into a Knowledge Base

I found this reflection on how products get built in the Canadian government really interesting. It illustrates how changing one thing, such as hiring a designer and product manager, requires lots of other things to also change, multi-disciplinary teams, planning, validating need, etc., otherwise the benefits of having those roles on a team doesn’t get realised. Either everything changes or nothing changes.

How much time people spend online

This tweet surprised me. Because being online pretty much all the time feels normal to me, it’s easy to forget that most people don’t use the Internet in a digitally native way.

And I thought about:

Messy maps

I wondered whether user journey maps should be simplified, neat, easily communicable versions of a user journey, or whether they should express the messiness of the user’s real life experience. Both tackle similar problems, but probably for different audiences. I think I tend towards favouring the messy maps, at least to start with. Starting with the idealised neat version feels like it might miss things.

Spiky skill sets

In the workplace, communication and presentation are table stakes skills. And we expect someone to have those skills on par with their specialist discipline skills. Whatever area someone works in they are expected to be about to talk about their work in ways others will understand, be engaging and inspire confidence. People on the autistic spectrum can often be really good at some things and really bad at others, whereas more neurotypical people tend to develop skills in clusters at similar levels, which poses the question about how to a) know what skills are expected and b) accelerate learning of things that ambiguous.

Work by value not hours

I like the idea of work being judged by the value it provides rather than the hours it takes. Maybe the same thinking applies to time off from work. Just number of days off isn’t really a good measure of the value provided. I wonder what is?

Problems and pre-mortems

Although I like the peer-to-peer ideal, some problems can’t be resolved in that kind of person-to-person way. The solution is usually an intermediary, an organisation, which takes responsibility for things individuals can’t or won’t take responsibility for. It attempts to provide the bigger things like service reliability, security, safety, conflict resolution. I wonder if one day we’ll find a way for peer-to-peer systems to emerge at scale and be able to provide those bigger things for themselves.

Weeknotes 314

Photo of the week:

Setting sun shining through the trees

This week I did:

Connecting things

Did some strategy definition work trying to uncover some assumptions about problems and solutions for user-facing products, services, technologies and data. It’s a big complicated thing, and although it’s becoming clearer in my head I still haven’t figured how to talk about it in ways that make it real for people. Lots more to think, write and draw about.

Don’t influence me

This week’s Irregular Ideas newsletter was about how we aren’t as influenced on websites and social media platforms as we might think. When modern digital media started personalising content for each of us it broke the power of mass communication and propaganda because now none of us gets the same message at the same time, there is no group experience.

The future of online charity donations

As part of my new focused timeboxing for projects I spent a couple of evenings this week working on a blog post about a future direction of charity donations on digital platforms. The premise of the post is that if you apply the internet-era idea of the long tail to online donations then the strategy for charities should be about accepting donations across lots and lots of platforms rather than looking to the fat head of one or two platforms. This will mean a digital giving ecosystem that includes wearables, gaming platforms, messaging, rounding-up apps, large online retailers, even crypto. In this landscape, charities win by being everywhere and getting donations from lots of places, and companies will emerge to manage that presence. Hopefully I’ll finish the post next week.

I read:

Design system metrics

I looked through some of these design systems but none of them had what I want from a design system. I don’t just want to know how to use different components, I want to know what happens they are used in certain ways. I want the analytics results as part of the design system that says when an accordion is used three quarters of the way down the page x% of visitors will interact with it, that an email sign-up box at the bottom of a page gets x email addresses but half way up the page it gets y. Why don’t design systems include these kinds of performance metrics to help with laying-out pages to achieve a goal?

The Feminist Tech Principles

“The Feminist Tech principles are a set of guidelines for tech policy-making and technology creation.”, or, you know, just the right way to do things.

And thought about:

Voluntary reporting on disability, mental health and wellbeing

“The framework has been developed by the government in partnership with large employers and expert partners (including leading charities) to support organisations to record and voluntarily report information on disability, mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.” Looks like a great opportunity for a few charities to get to together and build a product that makes it easy for employers to complete their reporting and sell it to companies that are serious about accessible workplaces.

Collision course

I had an idea for a product a while ago that would allow people to record their progress on online courses, but as with many of my ideas it went no where. And I have an even older idea called Adjacencies where people in cross-functional teams would learn the basics and language of the other disciplines in their team to facilitate better communication and collaboration. This week I’ve been thinking about another idea in the online learning space that involves curating collections of other people’s courses and resources and creates a structured curriculum with learning outcomes, self-assessment, etc., to help people get more value than they might from just watching YouTube videos. Then, rather than a course in SEO, you’d get a course in promoting your website that would be made up of a YouTube video on SEO, a SkillShare course on influencer marketing, and a Google Digital Garage course advertising.

Always triangulate

I learned about triangulation when studying for my masters. And then I forgot about it. Well, this week it came back to bite me with a few situations where I took one person’s understanding of a situation as correct without checking it. Triangulation means using multiple sources to confirm something. I shall try to apply the concept more often.

Weeknotes 313

Photo of the week:

Cader Idris

This week I did:

Just do it

I’ve been doing some work on a campaign we’ve got coming up. It’s been really interesting to have a product as the centrepiece (to my point last week about products as tools for change). I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. The campaign aims to use behavioural science to achieve it’s goals (I know I’ve said it before but, products don’t achieve outcomes, products change behaviour and behaviour change achieves outcomes) and even though we know nudge theory doesn’t work, it might still provide a useful starting point for hypotheses around the bias people have. If we’re biased towards doing things that other people have done, then does showing that lots of other people did it reduce some of the emotional barrier for us to do it too?

Digital native or a digital immigrant?

This week’s Irregular Ideas newsletter looked at the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants, and how the definition has changed over time from being based on age to being about exposure to, and experience with, technology.

Timeline of digital work

I added a few more things to my Timeline of digital work, so it now goes back to 1885 and the founding of Stanford University, which has instrumental in creating silicon valley and much of the technology we rely on for digital work. I want to add more ideas to it but it’s really hard to date them.

Hiked Cader Idris

It was like walking up stairs for five hours with a jetwash in your face. It was awesome.

I read this week:

RIP James Lovelock

James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, died this week. Another hero gone. I read this article from Noema Magazine and want to read his book, Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence.

The Dangerous Ideology of the Tech Elite

The Tech Won’t Save Us podcast has a brilliant episode about longtermism, effective altruism, and the use of tech-optimism to justify what some billionaires want to do just because they can. It’s a very one-sided discussion with no critique of the positions expressed, but it’s really interesting anyway. It adds to my thoughts about how individuals and small groups of people are just not equipped to deal with the power they are given in society. Not sure if Dunbar’s number applies here, but if you’re actions can drastically affect more people than you can possibly know, then you have too much power. Also, how cool is that website!

When they win, you win

Started reading When they win, you win to try to get a better understanding of the management skills I need to develop. I haven’t figured out how to apply any of it to my context yet but I hope it’s going to be useful.

And I thought about:

Uncertainty is uncomfortable

Charles Lambdin tweeted, Certainty is an enemy of continuous improvement and maximizing value, and I’d been thinking about how uncomfortable uncertainty is and how we sometimes try to bring certainty to things that are actually still uncertain but that we’ve convinced ourselves that it isn’t. How do we get better at dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity?

How I focus my time

I’ve been trying to get back into working on all the side projects that I want to do, without much success. I can do it, 313 weeknotes and 60 Irregular Ideas tell me that. The things I’ve learned from these is that it’s easier to work on things when they are scheduled and timeboxed, and small enough for some kind of output to be part of the definition of done. So, things like Ambivalent.mba that feel too big will be made smaller, and things like SystemShiftingProduct.Management will need some more structure and clearer definition of done. Hopefully I can get into the habit of getting things done.

Impatient with action, patient with results

Been thinking about why it is so difficult to think and talk about what we want to achieve and so easy to default to talking about what we want to do. I wonder if it’s because doing feels like progress and the ‘default to action’ thing is a hard bias to kick? Or is it that we struggle to create causal connection between goals and the actions for achieving them (you and I know that hypotheses are the connection, but it’s all those others, right)?

Weeknotes 312

Photo of the week:

Pile of well-balanced rocks. That makes one of us.

This week I did:

Products and services as tools for change

Some members of the digital and innovation team have been working on defining how our products, service, systems and projects fit together. It’s fascinating work and has made me think about the question from lots of different angles. Once of those is about how, as a social change charity, we use products and services as tools for change. How do we design services in ways that help people help themselves rather than making them dependent on the service? How do we create products that have a goal of making themselves no longer needed because the user problem has been solved?

On the duty of system disobedience

This week’s irregular idea took Thoreau’s essay, ‘On the duty of civil disobedience’ and tried to apply some modern systems thinking to help us be sceptical of all the systems that affect us and how although we might not be able to do much to affect the systems we are in, we should try to be part of creating a vision for future systems.

Cohesion

I thought about, chatted about and wrote about the usefulness of cohesion in strategy and strategic thinking. It often seems like the missing element. Lots of random ideas and efforts isn’t a strategy. What makes them into a strategy is that they are cohesive.

555 stiles and 300 places

I reached 555 stiles for stiles.style and 300 places on my trip around the coast of England, Wales and Scotland.

I read:

Managing Without Profit

I found Mike Hudson’s brilliant book on the art of managing third sector organisations in a little bookshop, and although I’ve only read a little it seems really straight-up. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Digital mindset: A whistlestop tour

This post describes the qualities which Catherine How use to define the digital mindset. There are some excellent points, like “Digital is not a spectator sport and it favours people who can both think and do.”, “Networked power is more organisationally porous, purpose driven and is less controllable than hierarchical power.” and “being open with ideas is both a cultural quality of the social web but also a core capability for collaborative working”. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

The 4 Key Problems that hinder growth in Platforms and Marketplaces

This article is interesting because so many products try to be marketplaces without really understanding what it means. Take Betterhelp, for example, a marketplace product for connecting clients and therapists. What kind of therapists would use such a platform? Those that can’t get a full set of clients in real life. What kind of clients would use such a platform? Those who might struggle to access a therapist in real life. So, the platform brings together the worst of the therapists with the most in-need clients. The result is unreliable therapists not turning up to sessions, leaving the platform without any closure for the clients, and generally a really poor therapeutic service that has the potential to do more harm than good. Marketplace products are really difficult to get right.

UK Digital Strategy

The UK Digital Strategy is an interesting read (well, if you’re interested in digital and strategy). The structure of the document is an overall goal (UK must strengthen its position as a Global Science and Tech Superpower), the six areas of focus (Digital foundations, Ideas and intellectual property, Digital skills and talent, Financing digital growth, Spreading prosperity and levelling up, Enhancing the UK’s place in the world), and then within each of those the different things that will be done are listed. As a strategy document is clearly shows the breakdown of how the goal should be achieved, but it lacks any measures or feedback loops that would signal whether the strategy is achieving it’s goal.

And I thought about:

Product thinking is…

I like John Cutler’s definition, product thinking is structured problem-solving and decision-making. I think that product management is applying the scientific method to organisations, it’s about creating a shift away from guessing and opinion to evidence and analysis.

The difference between a million and billion

A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 31 years. That’s how different they are. It’s hard to intuit from just the words and shows how difficult we find it to think in scales.

Accessible business info

Google Maps business listings should contain accessibility information. Things like whether premises are able to be accessed by wheelchairs, whether they have a hearing loop installed, provide tactile maps, etc., could be added.

Weeknotes 311

Photo of the week:

Driving down into Borth just after sunset with Snowdonia national park in the distance.

This week I did:

Learning to test test and learn

There are some pieces of work that don’t require a full development process and can achieve their goals by focusing on small specific problems. This week I’ve been working on learning how we can run more tests to answer questions about delivering small specific solutions. It means being strict on goals, and using them to help you draw boxes around what you need to do to make the test happen, what you should do because it’s just good to do, what you shouldn’t do because you want to keep the work small and not interfere with the test results.

Lots of info, loosely held

This week’s irregular ideas was about information overload, and how we can deal with by keeping an open mind about the information we receive and being prepared to accept other information that changes how confident we are in what we think. I’m up to 45 subscribers, which is more than I ever thought I’d get.

Timeline of digital work

Because I’m a digital geek, I’ve been making a list of ideas, practices and technologies that created our idea of modern digital work. It includes obvious things like the invention of the Internet and the writing of the Agile manifesto, but also less obvious things like the introduction of API’s in 2000 and registering of the first domain name in 1985. I might merge it with TimelineOfModern.work or just turn it into a blog post.

And I thought about:

Non-competitive strategy

I wonder about the underlying assumptions of lots of strategy thinking and almost all the models as being in competitive environments. The Hidden Brain podcast had a episode about how people behave in groups and included some research about how, once in groups, people automatically feel competitive with other groups. And what is an organisation if not a group of people that tries to bind that group with culture, contracts and organisational boundaries. So, maybe competitive strategy is a reflection of human tendency. Perhaps best to think about strategy description rather than definition then, and use descriptions like Rumelt’s ‘a cohesive response to a significant challenge’, which in itself doesn’t imply a competitive environment.

Ways to think about problems

I’ve thought a bit about how we think about problems, and want to try to make it make sense enough for a blog post (not that any of my blog posts make any sense). Ways to include are ‘wicked problems’, the difference between problems that are difficult vs hard work, and puzzling puzzles where you can’t see what the solution looks like.

And read:

Charity Digital Skills Report

The 2022 Charity Digital Skills Report came out this week. It’s an interesting read (if you’re into that kind of thing, which I am) about the state of digital in the charity sector. There are so many things for charities to improve to be more digital, and so many ways for them to do it. Taking a strategic approach is impossible, there’s just too much complexity to create any kind of cohesive approach. Stigmergy is the only answer.

Emotionraising

Emotionraising: How to astonish, disturb, seduce and convince the brain to support good causes, was recommended to me and it’s a good source for my 21st century charity module on donations. It starts with the science of emotions about giving, which is really interesting. So much goes on in every single donation to a charity, from the motivations of the person to the convenience of the experience.

Learning Morse

I found an old pamphlet about learning Morse Code. It’s interesting to see how a lot of the ‘build in public’ creator economy on Twitter has a long history of people believing in their tools and creating ways to share their passion with others.