Well done to Ian Fitzpatrick whose post on Intake and Interruption took an early lead in voting and deservedly never looked back. Ian joins the hall of fame, and my thanks to everyone who took part. Next vote in early September.
It's Post of the Month time. So if there is a post that you read over the past month and particularly enjoyed please do nominate it by leaving the link in the comments below or sending it direct. As usual I have a few starters listed below but do add to these and once I have a good list I'll stick them up for a vote. My starting list is:
I got back yesterday from a holiday week of no internet connection (and precious little phone signal - offline is the new luxury as my friend Gerd has said) and in my catch up today read that John is undertaking a daily post throughout August detailing out his Smithery 3.0 thesis. It is already shaping up to be a rather fascinating hypothesis (there's still time to catch up - you can start here) building on a collision of ideas from two Stewart Brand books: How Buildings Learn and The Clock of the Long Now. I won't do justice in a brief summary so you should read the full posts, but John's focus is around the relationship between people and space, the implications for change, and how systems like companies feature different layers in each of these things that moves at a different pace. Understanding the relationship between the different components and the different rates of change helps change to happen. One quote from Brand leapt out at me:
“The combination of fast and slow components make the system resilient, along with the way the differently paced parts affect each other. Fast learns, slow remembers. Fast proposes, slow disposes. Fast is discontinuous, slow is continuous. Fast gets all the attention, slow has all the power… In a healthy society each level is allowed to operate at its own pace, safely sustained by the slower levels below and kept invigorated by the livelier levels above”
As an example this means (says John) that you can't just get a whole company of significant scale to incorporate agile principles and you shouldn't try either: "The faster layers are there to generate the heat and noise that is innovation, but it’s the slower components within a system that build these into an organisation’s long-term future". I agree. But (as John does say) the interplay between those different layers is critical. This is why it is so important to understand potential areas of cultural conflict and find ways to protect fragile, different, early stage cultures from the antibodies that will naturally cluster around them in order to try to destroy any foreign elements that are introduced into the system.
Thanks to the always good Wunderkammer newsletter for pointing me at this piece on OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) the simple but very sensible organisational system that originated in Intel but has been a long-term staple at Google. The system, involving setting quarterly measurable, definitive objectives at a company, team and/or individual level, and then supporting that with quantifiable key results seems obvious but I suspect most companies fail to do it in quite such a simple, straight forward way.
I particularly liked the idea of a scoring system between 0-1 that not only highlights when things need serious attention but also one where the goal is not to achieve a perfect 1 (since that would mean your goals were too easy) but instead to aim for around 0.6-0.7.
And I also liked the way that Google apparently make all OKRs (from Larry Page down) public knowledge within the company, going as far as making them and the associated scores visible within the public directory and on internal profiles. This transparency helps everyone understand what everyone else is working on, ensuring greater empathy and understanding for individual or team priorities, and giving focus to how an individual might make their own priorities align with someone else’s in order to get stuff done. Simple. But then the best ideas always are.
"The distinction between 'failure demand' - demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer and 'value demand' - what the call centre exists to provide, is a distinction that few call centre managers make. I find that many call centre managers do try to determine the reasons for a customer call, but they do so with an 'internal' - 'what we do with it' - perspective; when I look at call coding I find the codes make no distinction between value and failure demand. Worse, call coding is often 'compulsory' - it is a forced part of the wrap-up. This only encourages operators to put in any code that will move them on to the next call (after all, too much time in wrap-up will mean you get paid attention to)."
"In my experience, most people don’t schedule their work. They schedule the interruptions that prevent their work from happening."
I'm over in NYC on a brief work trip and whilst here managed a catch up with Dan. One of the things we ended up talking about was this great piece on the chokehold of calendars which makes a simple but powerful point about how calendars can become a 'record of interuptions' rather than a useful tool for managing time.
The sentiment of the post reminded me of Paul Graham's essay (that I also mentioned here) that talks about the difference between what he calls a 'maker's schedule' and a 'manager's schedule'. Whilst 'makers' (people who create stuff, writers, programmers etc) prefer to set aside longer periods of time (at least half a day) since that is what is required in order to progress or complete a project, managers often segment time into one-hour slots. The 'managers schedule' may involve several hours being blocked off to complete something, but the default is typically to change what you're doing every hour.
Graham's point is that a meeting for a manager is usually a case of simply finding a suitable slot but for someone on a 'maker's schedule' it can be disastrous since it breaks up a morning or afternoon into time chunks too small to do anything productive with. Problems can arise when the two types of schedule meet and those on a 'manager's schedule' can easily end up making everyone else 'resonate at their frequency'. Both pieces are a good reminder about the sanctity of productive 'doing' time and just why we should work hard to protect it.
Thanks to Andrew Warren-Payne for pointing me at this work by Boston Consulting Group revisiting their classic growth share matrix. The matrix, originated by BCG founder Bruce Henderson 40 years ago, famously plots a product portfolio on a 2 x 2 against growth rate and market share, giving us categorisations like 'stars', 'problem child' (or 'question marks'), 'Dogs' and 'Cash Cows', and is a key part of business school teaching on strategy.
Many large organisations have used its principles of mapping company competitiveness (share) against market attractiveness (growth) as the basis for investment and resourcing decisions. High share could result in sustainably superior returns and eventually cost-efficiences driven by scale and experience, high growth indicated markets with the greatest leadership potential.
In the face of rapid change and uncertainty driven by (amongst other factors) technological impact, BCG now say that companies need to 'constantly renew their advantage, increasing the speed at which they shift resources among products and business units'. In addition, market share is no longer a direct predictor of sustained performance, with competitive advantage increasingly coming from other factors such as adaptability. Sounds a lot like agile strategy.
Their research which mapped every US listed company to a quadrant on the matrix found that companies circulated through the matrix quadrants faster than in previous years (comparing a five year period 2008-2012 to one from 1988-1992). In fact looking at some of the largest conglomerates, the average time any business unit spent in a quadrant was less than two years in 2012 (with only a few exceptionally stable industries seeing fewer disruptions).
There were also changes in the distribution of companies across the matrix, and a breakdown in the relationship between relative market share and sustained competitiveness. Cash cows generated a smaller share of total profits (25% lower than in 1982), and were proportionately fewer, with the life span of this stage declining (by some 55% in industries that saw faster matrix circulation).
Unsurprisingly BCG go on to say that the matrix is still relevant, but needs to be applied with greater agility and a focus on 'strategic experimentation' to allow greater adaptability. This is likely to mean more experimentation in the question marks quadrant, run more quickly, economically and systematically in order to identify promising ones that can grow into stars. It's also likely to mean faster response to cashing out stars, retiring cows and maximising what value they can from pets. All of which sounds a lot like a 70,20,10 approach. But fascinating nonetheless.
Wednesday night saw the great and the good of UK planning come together for our twelfth (twelfth!) Google Firestarters event, themed around 'Designing for the Future', and we had three amazing speakers who gave three excellent provocations.
Anab Jain, TED fellow, founder of Superflux, lecturer at the Royal College of Art (and whose work has been exhibited at MoMA, Apple and the Tate Modern), spoke about designing for the 'new normal'. She described a world of 3D printed guns, DIY drones and amateur space rockets, hackerspaces, crowdsourced innovation and surveillance (including Tiltor, the location-based 'group challenge' service designed to influence crowd behaviour and stop riots). A world where an algorithm gets appointed to the board of a VC firm. A world of technological empowerment. A new normal.
Design, said Anab, traditionally uses comfortable and well understood metaphors to cloak novel innovation (skeuomorphism) but this can be like conceptual valium. Designing for the new normal should be about uncloaking the 'strange now' (learning from edge cases or disruptive forces hidden behind those comforting metaphors), and extrapolating current trends to present the full breadth of (often unsettling) future possibilities. Anab gave some examples of work that Superflux are doing in this area including creating a drone aviary, and the fascinating Open Informant project.
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino followed with a really compelling talk charting the progression of internet of things and how the increasing proliferation of IoT and wearables are turning us all into measurable entities. The data which we generate is becoming increasingly valuable and yet there is no capitalist environment for data. Right now, not knowing the value of what we own, what we produce, what we generate in terms of data is leading a kind of consumer privacy myopia.
Alex used the example of Jennifer Lynn Morone Inc, the Royal College of Art student who has turned herself into a corporation and collection of marketable goods and services as a graduation project in Design Interactions designed to determine the value of an individual. She went on to talk about the potential for data to become stigmatised as it is used more and more to determine personalised experiences, policy and pricing (using the insurance industry and the use of wearables to track lifestyle and behaviour as an example). It is therefore crucial that we are really clear about how data is being used (privacy is only an issue when the value of a service is unclear and handling of data lacks transparency), that we build standard communication strategies, that we decide where our responsibility to end-users lies and engage in opt-in behaviours, and that we give people the opportunity to benefit alongside us.
Faris gave a hugely energetic talk to finish off, focusing on how we define the future. Humans, he said are to a great extent defined by our ability to imagine future scenarios and it is this that enables us to build that future (and without it there would be no planning). Design is making future in our heads, and how we imagine the future defines what it looks like.
He then talked about how difficult it is for us to imagine 'multivariant' future scenarios and how this often results in things that no-one wants (with reference here to the well-worn internet-connected fridge example which has been around for a number of years but has failed in terms of consumer adoption because there is no good use case). And he finished with a lovely thought about how being positive about the future is a lot easier if you like people.
Suffice to say that my head was spinning after all that. A number of people mentioned to me afterwards how refreshingly different the event had been and our speakers certainly gave us three very challenging, brilliant and distinctive perspectives on our theme, so my thanks to them, and to Google for hosting of-course. You can see a Storify of the event here, and see the Scriberia visualisation in all it's glory here.