More is Different

"At first, poaching stars from competitors or even teams within the same organization seems like a winning strategy. But once the star comes over the results often fail to materialize...What we fail to grasp is that their performance is part of an ecosystem and removing them from that ecosystem — that is isolating the individual performance — is incredibly hard without properly considering the entire ecosystem."

An excellent post from Shane Parrish on making decisions in complex adaptive systems (like organisations). I like what he says about the perils of extrapolating individual behaviour to understand the likely behaviour of a system, being wary of systems becoming too tightly coupled through lack of individual diversity, and the values of using simulations (or tests and prototypes perhaps) to aid learning. Makes a lot of sense thinking about organisations in this way.


Dots Final Line Up

Dots-2015

I'm biased (since I'm curating it) but I'm really excited by who we've got speaking at this year's Dots Conference. The final line up has been confirmed and it's ace. The theme is 'Transformation' and we'll be taking several different angles on that including learnings from those who are leading significant change in their organisations (the FT, BBC, Net-a-Porter), inspiring authors who've written about transformation, technologists speaking about how technology reframes our perceptions and our future, and people who've come up with transformational ideas and done something about it. So our line up is:

A trip to the seaside, an amazing venue, great lunch and great speakers. Quite probably the best conference you'll go to all year (but then I'm biased). Spaces are limited but I have some tickets available at a discounted rate of £150 for readers of this blog. Just go here, and use the code 'ODF'. See you there.


Why it's Time to Ditch the Annual Performance Review

Performance-review

News came at the end of last month that Accenture were killing off performance reviews and rankings for their employees. They're not the first (Deloitte, Microsoft and Adobe have apparently done so too) but this was notable in being one of the largest companies by headcount (330,000) to do so.

Good riddance I say. Performance reviews that are conducted infrequently (many companies are still seemingly locked into an annual frequency) can do more harm than good. I'm not the only one to think so. This piece by Samuel Cuthbert (Professor in the Anderson School of Management at UCLA) articulates well how easily PDRs can become an intimidating, ineffective, overly subjective, truth inhibiting, and often demotivating experience. And there's quite a bit of research around that shows how dissatisfied employees and even HR managers are with the quality of the process. Worse, in my experience PDRs are often not rigidly enforced anyway meaning that many managers ignore the need to do them, which in turn (ironically) leads to staff feeling that their contribution is not valued at all.

No. Performance should be reviewed, but reviewed differently. Instead of a performance review being built up into this huge, high pressure annual event that then becomes soul-suckingly demotivating, it should be a far more embedded into every day working. 

When Deloitte got rid of them they seemingly replaced them with an evaluation process that unfolded incrementally throughout the year and was based on four simple questions. The workplace is becoming a far more fluid environment with adaptive structures and ways of working, and an increasing amount of work being conducted iteratively or on a project basis. When you're working in this way, there should be plenty of opportunity for more regular feedback and also built-in reflection time. If there's not, you're not doing it right. Combine this with a strong vision of where the employee wants to go and you have something that enables us all to see progress, see it more regularly, course-correct where necessary, and recognise great work more frequently. That sounds a whole bunch more motivating to me.


On The End of Apps (as we know them)

Apple-proactive

A while back Tom Goodwin wrote a great Techcrunch piece (the one with that opening line about Uber, Facebook, Alibaba and AirBnB that has been so frequently copied/quoted ever since), talking about how our relationship is increasingly shifting from the creators of products and even services to software interfaces that have become the new mediators.  A new breed of rapidly growing company (like those mentioned above) that are 'indescribably thin layers that sit on top of vast supply systems (where the costs are) and interface with a huge number of people (where the money is)'.  This means, says Tom, a non-stop battle for the interface, for the best customer experience, to leap ahead as the gateway of choice, and to gain scale and breadth in this context.

I think a good example of the kind of shift that Tom is talking about is the change that is starting to happen in how we interact with mobile apps. As Android and iOS develop, more and more interaction is happening in the notifications layer rather than in the apps themselves, increasingly removing the need to open up apps at all. Paul Adams described this trend nicely in his post on the end of apps as we know them:

'How we experience content via connected devices – laptops, phones, tablets, wearables – is undergoing a dramatic change. The idea of an app as an independent destination is becoming less important, and the idea of an app as a publishing tool, with related notifications that contain content and actions, is becoming more important.'

The concept of apps sitting in the background pushing content into a central experience, says Paul, is making more and more sense. The growing popularity of cards, as an increasingly dominant design pattern, and as containers for content that can come from any app is facilitating this. It means designing for systems rather than destination, for content that might be broken down into atomic units that can work agnostic of device, platform or screen size.

Something else is happening here. The growing integration into operating systems of the capability to reach inside apps to extract relevant functionality or data. As Wired pointed out earlier this month“Our dumb, silo’d apps are slowly but steadily becoming smart, context-aware services that link, share, and talk to each other without us having to necessarily see or touch those little squares.”

Google recently debuted Now on Tap - effectively an update of Google Now that makes it smarter, meaning that it can be activated without leaving other apps, examine what's happening on your screen and surface other relevant content (e.g. from other apps), effectively fusing it into the Android OS. Similarly, with iOS9, Apple announced an upgrade to Siri and Spotlight called Proactive, that allows users to reach inside apps to surface their data and link their functionality without having to open them from their home screen.

The existing mobile experience, dominated by a bank of icons for apps that lead to separate destinations is changing. And as experiences become more frictionless they may have more points of contact but potentially fewer options for control. As Google Now and Siri become more active at mining apps for functionality and data, the interface shifts from one controlled by app creators to one controlled by the maker of the operating system.

This is not necessarily a bad thing (from a UX point of view it can make our interactions more seamless) but it is a big shift, the implications of which are pretty huge for how we design services.


Dots Conference 2015

Dots-conference

Last year I curated Dots Conference - run by Antony Mayfield and the smart folk at Brilliant Noise, and a key part of the Brighton Digital Festival. It was lots of fun, and the feedback was great from the people that came along, so I was really happy when Antony asked me to curate it for them again this year.

This time, the theme for the conference is 'Transformation' and we've got an amazing line up of speakers coming at the topic from multiple angles including people who are leading real change and digital transformation within large organisations, a couple of great authors who have compelling points of view about change, inspiring people who have come up with transformational ideas and done something about it, and technologists who have fascinating angles on how technology will empower a transformational future. So far, the line up includes:

  • Tess Macleod Smith, Publishing Director at NET-A-PORTER
  • Tom Hopkins, Product Innovation Director at Experian
  • Steve Chapman, Author of Can Scorpions Smoke?
  • Eva Appelbaum, Digital Director at BBC Earth
  • Adam Morgan, Founder of EatBigFish
  • Christina Scott, CIO of the Financial Times
  • Sam Conniff, Co-founder of Livity
  • Ciara Judge, Founder of Purchasemate
  • Stuart Turner, Founder of Robots and cake!
  • Antony Mayfield, CEO, Brilliant Noise

It should be excellent. The early-bird discount for tickets ends Friday, and you can both read more about it and buy them here. See you there.