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.

What Network Science Says About Career Success

Thanks to Peter for pointing me at this piece on 'The No.1 Predictor Of Career Success According to Network Science'. Like Peter I'm not a fan of the term 'career success' (nor of over-analysing Steve Jobs) since we might define success in so many different ways, but Michael Simmons makes a powerful point about something that intuitively feels right: being part of a small, closed network where you are connected to people who already know each other is distinctly limiting, whereas being part of a large open network, particularly where you are the link between different clusters of people, is empowering, and a good predictor of success.


Research by Professor Ron Burt at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business indicates that no other factor is more important in predicting career success. What the work shows is that simply having a large network of people you know is not enough - but being a 'broker' between different clusters is enormously powerful: 'What a broker does,' says Burt, 'is make a sticky information market more fluid. Great ideas will never move if we wait for them to be spoken in the same language'.

I think this is  a powerful idea for organisations. I've drawn a lot in the past from the book The Power of Pull, which talks about the idea of 'porous enterprise' - how innovation happens at the edges, how valuable connected employees are in bringing fresh thinking into a company, and how businesses need to focus less on protecting existing 'stocks' of knowledge and more on knowledge flow.

It's comfortable and validating for both individuals and companies to stay within the same groups. It's easy for businesses to become extremely inwardly facing and reward managing upwards rather than connecting outwards. But being able to draw information from diverse clusters, make new connections, introduce new information to different audiences or translate and re-apply knowledge has surely never been more valuable. We talk about the need to get out of our comfort zones as individuals, but companies need to do it too.

Dots Final Line Up


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.

Pirate Metrics


We're used to looking at financial statements to monitor the progress of established businesses but when you're a startup that may not generate revenue for some time this is less useful. If we consider a startup as essentially (in the words of Steve Blank) 'an organization built to search for a repeatable and scalable business model', then what is most important in the early stages is acquiring learning. So solely using revenue as a measure of success can be distracting and less than helpful. Traditional accounting methodologies can stifle innovation since they are more suited to established products or services - standard accounting practices like cash flow analysis or financial ratios can put early stage products or businesses in an unfairly adverse light.

So we need Innovation Accounting, in which we use metrics that measure the true progress of innovation - things like customer acquisition, retention, user activity and so on. One of my favourite models for doing this is Dave McClure's Pirate Metrics which defines a set of macro metrics that can be used to model the customer lifecycle. Whilst revenue may be one of them, it’s not the only one. 

Pirate Metrics is a 5 metric-model (A-A-R-R-R...geddit?) designed to represent all of the key behaviors of customers - how many users you are acquiring, how many of them are active users, whether they come back and use it again, whether they tell others about it, and how much money you are able to derive from them. 


It’s easy to guess where problems with a new product may lie, or to act on hunches, or to work off flawed assumptions, but analysing and monitoring these 5 metrics can give you a pretty good idea of where you might have potential issues, or where you need to focus improvements, or where the opportunities for optimisation lie.

Revenue is of-course important, but it's not the only thing. These help to define and measure customer value before you actually start capturing some of that value back. In other words they are leading indicators to revenue before actual revenues are realised. And in this sense they can also be used to hold entrepreneurs, and the leaders of innovation projects, accountable. It's a simple model, yet shows the need for flexibility right across an organisation if innovation is to succeed. And that's why I like it.

Dots Conference 2015


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.