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Searching: Part 1 - Secrets and lies

I’ve just been looking over my site statistics which is not something I do very often (once upon a time I was obsessed with them but then I figured out that I’m writing for myself, not an audience therefore I should just shut up and write) but is sometimes fun and in the search statistics I found two brilliant nuggets which I’ll share with you in this two part series.

In January/February this year amongst the top search items leading people to this site was the search string “secret information on joe vaughan” (and not just one but several instances of it)

This tickles my funny bone immensely. If this is someone doing some detecting (for whatever reason) on me or one of my many namesakes, it must be the worst investigator in history (seriously? would Sherlock Holmes just start googling for “secret information” on a target? I think his search terms  would be more subtle than that). Surely any competent detective would be aware that this could alert the potential target. It would be like a surveillance team on stake-out having a loud-hailer and yelling at their target telling them they are being watched. Très amusant.

The other reason it tickles me is because my life is a pretty open book. I’m open to a fault in fact. Ok, like everyone else (I believe) there are probably numerous white elephants, half-truths and “fictions now pretending to be memory” all over my personal history but as far as I’m aware I have only one real “secret” which I don’t divulge for purely personal reasons (and I will one day… it’s a matter of timing).

So if someone is looking for “secret information” on me then I would recommend you start by asking me! I’ll probably tell you what you’re looking for. I’m stupid like that. :)

So, anyone else have any amusing search terms they’re aware of?

Synchronize by default!

Beyond a shadow of a doubt in my mind, the single biggest chink in the armour for iOS is it’s lack of a proper synchronising file system. When I say “chink” I actually mean “gaping hole you could drive a juggernaut through”. It’s head scratchingly frustrating that a company who are so clever and have such a good sense of “making things easy” for consumers haven’t solved this problem or worse, have exacerbated it.

This lack of vision on Apple’s part has meant that my various apps have had to resort to all sorts of self built synchronization schemes to varying degrees of success.

It also, more importantly represents a barrier to entry for most ordinary people in transfering files relating to their applications via the, let’s be generous and call it merely “awkward” mechanism in iTunes.

Of course the problem is laughably easy for Apple to solve. Buy Dropbox and integrate their code as the core filesystem API for iOS (and the backend as the core of the new MobileMe).

Dropbox is without question the single most important application on my iMac, Macbook, iOS devices and PCs. It has become so central to what I do and so much a core component of my app ecosystem (most of my important apps use it) that I almost couldn’t operate without it. I’m sure most of their customer base think likewise.

And therein lies the rub. Why should this be a third party application from a small (initially) developer when Apple should have had this stuff out of the box? Apple have focused much of their cloud effort on UX and fancy design for MobileMe apps and seem to have forgotten about the core capability which a cloud storage platform can provide – ubiqutous information access.

Be that as it may, if Apple saw the light and just bought Dropbox and integrated them we would have a truly remarkable opportunity for an integrated device ecosystem where information is (near) instantaneously synchronised across all of the “smart” devices we use.

The new iCloudBox could become a standard feature not only of iOS but of also of Mac OS X (and here’s a radical thought make file-system-drivers/libraries available on Windows as well. Dropbox have the codebase already.) where by default your “Documents” and “Pictures” folders (for example) are automatically enrolled for online synchronisation (and hence iOS device synchronisation).

The barrier to entry (i.e. the “awkward” iTunes mechanism) for the non-initiated would also disappear. They’d just use files as normal and the synchronisation would occur implicitly and quietly behind the scenes.

I could geek out and drone on and on the possibilities of this but I’ll leave it at this plaintiff cry:  Apple, please buy Dropbox! kthxbye!

Annual Review: Demotivation 101

Performance Appraisal. Performance Review. Annual Review… There are nearly as many monikers for it as there are stars in the sky but what it really means is the annual demotivation farce which is perpetrated by employers on their employees.

What it boils down to is an asymmetric negotiation about pay and benefits in which the employer holds all the power and the employee must justify their contribution to the company in order to secure a better future for themselves. It’s archaic, unfair and frankly downright distasteful. We need modern enterprises to evolve beyond that.

These things are an anachronism of the post-war (pre-automation) industrial age where manufacturing output was directly contributed to by the individuals on the line. In a knowledge economy (which the first-world, at least, is fast becoming) we don’t have conscripts upon whom we can foist performance targets, we have volunteers who we need to engage in the continuous performance improvement of our organisations. You don’t do that by treating them like children and in fact I believe it’s counterproductive to do so.

Why don’t we take a 21st century approach:

First you need your managers to take responsibility for continuous performance management, not just on some amorphous “objective plan” once a year but continuously, based on real metrics which matter to your business: Reducing costs, increasing revenue/profits, increasing quality, increasing brand recognition etc.

Good managers will always know who their key performers are and who is not making the grade. You don’t need an overblown process to manage this, just common sense. Of course the counter-argument will be that you run the risk of cronyism, favouritism etc. but that is a straw man. Where those things are going to happen, they’ll happen. The “official” performance management systems will simply paint a veneer of objectivity over this behaviour. Without this veneer, such behaviours will quickly become apparent.

Second, you need to empower your staff to manage their performance by showing them the results of their efforts on a continous basis (business intelligence for the masses!). If you make the performance of your business, the things contributing to it and the impediments, transparent to your  workforce then they will help you solve the problems, improve the performance and innovate to make improvements.

Look to your strategic business plan for your key metrics and make them everyone’s responsibility.

Third: Personal Development Plans: Poppycock. Why do we feel the need to “improve” people and push them up a hierarchy away from the job they’re good at (after all, we hired them to do it). This is a 1970’s throwback when we still treated employees as children who we were responsible for developing into nice uniform “adult” worker bees fit to the molds and pidgeon holes we have created from them.

Why don’t you just ask your people about what skills they’d really like to gain/practise/train? Ideally what they want will be something which they can directly use to improve the organisation daily but if they are not explicitly so, it doesn’t matter. If gaining a certain set of skills is something which makes them a happier human being, they will be a more productive worker.

In the 21st century we are coming to realise that diversity is a more potent force than conformity and makes our businesses more agile, effective and innovative. Help your employees to be everything they want to be (which might not be what you want them to be) and you will find their capability to surprise you with different viewpoints, innovations etc. increase. (I’d love to see a future where (for example) the BBC sends people off on Basket Weaving courses :>)

If we stopped treating humans as “resources” but as people and recognising that they will always be more than any pigeon-hole we create for them we will open up a whole new set of capabilities for our organisations. Furthermore, I believe by breaking ourselves out of the Parent-Child managerial mindset and having managers face up to the responsibility to manage the performance of their team and teammembers continuously (instead of once a year) will mean we have much productive, committed, creative, innovative and dare I say it, happier teams.

If we want to know how our employees are performing then we measure how the organisation is performing. If it’s doing well then our employees are performing well – No need to demotivate them once a year when we can motivate them every day!

No iPad 2

I love my iPad. It goes everywhere with me. It comes to work with me, wherever I go during a day it’s glued to my side. In the evening and at weekends it follows me around the house like a faithful pet, it even sits patiently beside my bed at night while I sleep (I like to think it keeps watch over me)… but I’m not going to be getting an iPad 2!

While you recover from the shock of that revelation let me tell you straight up it’s not because of any problem or shortcoming of my iPad 1, nor is it because I think the iPad 1 is perfect, it’s not.

The main reason is simple. There is no reason to. The iPad 2 will not offer me anything which will make it worth my while to upgrade.

My rationale is this:

For the purpose of what follows, let’s take as a given that the iPad 2 will have more RAM, a camera (or two), a better processor, possibly better battery life (as if that’s a problem as it stands), maybe be lighter, maybe have a slightly better screen (or even a vastly better one) all wrapped up in a neat little upgrade package which is appealing to the tech geeks but really, for the rest of us, represents little more than a slight evolution to the platform rather than a revolution.

If there’s one thing Apple does really really well with it’s established products is to raise the bar “just enough” on each iteration to edge themselves above their competition. It’s like a pole-vault event where they only need to add an inch to the height to claim the gold. They only pull out the stops and go for it when their crown in a marketplace is genuinely under pressure, i.e. when someone vaults a foot above them.

And that’s the problem with the nascent Tablet market. There is nothing out there right now, or apparently on the 2011 radar (from all the tablet reveals we’ve seen so far) which is coming anywhere close to the iPad in terms of the capabilities, experience and most importantly, price.

Sure, there’s lots of hot-air and tech blog comment inches written about this or that Android device, the RIM Playbook (are people really going to want a tablet running some bastardised Blackberry OS? As if it wasn’t bad enough on their phones…) and that HP Tablet (which I actually had high hopes for since webOS looks to me like the only contender for the iOS crown – but it’s going to be too little too late) and even Windows 7 (ugh) based units.

The technical focus is always on this processor or that camera or the ability to plug in a USB stick. In reality most of us don’t give a hoot for the technical specification, we just want a device which works and is easy (indeed I may say: pleasurable) to use.  Nothing I’ve seen to date ticks those boxes anywhere near the iPad (1) in 2011 and they all come with a pretty hefty price premium besides.

And that’s ultimately the main problem with all these 2011 units: They are designed to (and most fail to) challenge the iPad 1. They can’t match it on price and they have not significantly raised the tablet-experience bar therefore all Apple have to do with the iPad 2 is exceed the iPad 1 by a small percentage to maintain their market dominance. They only need to raise the pole vault height by an inch.

For me, a lover of the iPad (so much that it’s kinda wrong) that means the upgrade from iPad 1 to 2 is unlikely to offer me any compelling reason to upgrade (unless all of my friends and family suddenly get iPhone 4s and Facetime becomes an important part of my life – unlikely).

My hope is that 2011 emphatically hammers this message home to the would-be competition so that they actually raise their game enough to force Apple to go for a new world record and leap the game forward.

Don't lie

Organisations are communities and most of them tend to be pretty tight-knit communities at that.

If there’s one thing that living together as human beings for the last 50,000 years has taught us is that communities gossip. There are few real secrets in any tight knit society and those that do exist are held usually by a couple of people or single individuals and as we all know, the best way to keep a secret is to tell noone and ideally forget it yourself!

When someone leaves an organisation abruptly or under any sort of cloud there seems to be a tendency towards panic amongst the senior management about what should be said. I’ve lost count of the number of times colleagues of mine have either: “left for new challenges” (which seems to be code for “we don’t trust you enough to tell you the truth about why they’re gone”) or the management team have hidden their head in the sand like ostriches and tried to pretend that an upheaval hasn’t happened.

While an information vacuum is bad and can breed all sorts of conjecture and rumour it’s actually the lesser of two evils.

The worst thing you can do in this situation is to lie because that sends your staff two clear messages:

(a) I don’t trust you with the truth of the matter.

(b) I’m a liar. You can’t trust me.

Congratulations! You’ve just killed your colleagues’ trust in you in one foul swoop and pretty emphatically displayed your disdain for them.

As a manger or executive you’re almost certainly going to come across a situation where someone has abruptly left or been ejected from your organisation. If you find yourself writing the message which explains why to your colleagues and catch yourself writing the lines: “has left to pursue new challenges…” it’s time to stop writing, crumple up that paper and re-evaluate your relationship with your co-workers…

Grow up! You’re dealing with other adults who probably already know the reasons for the upheaval anyway. For goodness sake don’t lie if you don’t want to make an ass of yourself!

Failure is not an option!

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

A man walks into a bar and says “Failure is not an option!”. From that point on nobody in the bar does anything because life involves risk and risk implies the possibility of failure.

Ok, so it’s not a funny story or even a joke… Organisations the world over are strangled by an inability or an unwillingness to balance risk for benefit. When something goes wrong, fingers are pointed, blame is apportioned and the individuals involved castigated to ensure that they do not do this again (best case).

This behaviour builds an intrinsic aversion to risk taking in the individuals and hence decision making is either shirked or avoided (fence sitting) as much as possible.

Much of the process overhead of (knowledge based) organisations is as a result of this aversion. We build massive edifices of process to ensure that we’re not left “holding the bag” when something goes wrong. Always get “sign off” by someone higher up the chain that way your ass is covered.

Seriously: This is the 21st century. That old world process centric management ethos should be dead and buried (very deep) by now. Stop playing lip service to the concept that “we don’t have a blame culture” and actually change your culture to one which not only doesn’t apportion blame but which understands that risk involves the chance of failure and that failure is just another way to learn.

In my mind, the most important leadership trait of all is Bravery. A Brave leader intrinsically understands that the only failure which counts is the failure to understand risk and act appropriately (and decisively) – everything else is optional.

Just enough is enough.

Some time back I worked for an organisation which was a startup but it was actually incubated out of a large well established business. There are definitely benefits to being a “seedling” from a large tree like this but there are some deep deep pitfalls as well.

The business model for this organisation was an unusual one in that there were essentially 2 parties at opposite ends of a supply chain which we were connecting together. An additional complication was that this organisation was attempting to create their market instead of entering or attempting to disrupt a current one.

The supplier end of the chain was the paying customer but the value proposition to them of the product was based on cost-reduction. This is almost never as sexy and easy to sell as revenue generation but is still big bucks if you have billions of dollars locked up in your supply chain.

The consumer at the client end of the supply chain were being sold the product on an even more amorphous”ethical” grounding and fundamentally they were the ones which made the proposition appealing to the customer  (if you had a critical mass of these consumer clients, the suppliers were interested in talking to you but not before). In other words, you had to sell to them to sell to the money.

An incredibly difficult and finely balanced sell all around as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The initial idea behind all this was great, the technology was excellent, the team were superb but the organisation as a whole was a total nightmare.

The problem was that this startup was actually modeled on the mature enterprise it had sprouted from. That meant heavyweight processes, draconian policies, a massively top-loaded managerial hierarchy, top down management style,  top-down decision making and overbearing Board demanding “results” pretty much off the blocks from an infant organisation attempting to establish it’s market.

All of this engendered a rigid operating model for a company which was trying to carve itself a niche under highly risky conditions.

In a startup one of the ways we manage risk is by being flexible and agile. Until a startup is at the point of executing an established operational business model, it needs to embrace (rapid) change as key fact of it’s existence. The only real risk that the organisation has any sort of control over (illusory as it may be) is the risk of total failure. Determining and engaging it’s market and executing it’s product(s) should be the sole focus and it must be prepared to pivot to meet the markets it uncovers in order to mitigate that risk.

In this situation the organisation was defined much more by it’s process and it’s structure than it’s product or its potential market. Fundamenally this locked it into a business and operating model which prevented it from pivoting and eventually pushed it into a holding pattern waiting either for the environment to change to suit it’s (single unalterable) model, or for the money to run out, whichever came first.

The irony here was that the customers (both ends) proffered to us a pivot which would make the company work, establish the market and although it would have gone against some of the initial principles, particularly that the “ethical” aspect would have to take a back seat, it would have opened the door to a future where the dominant player (the organisation I worked for) could start to lay the groundwork for that idealistic future state.

Needless to say, that pivot proved to be impossible for the organisation to undertake.

When I read articles by Eric Reis on Lean Startup and by Steve Blank on Business Model Generation and Customer Development, this experience comes back to mind and I think that if only that organisation had started up Lean, as a “real” startup and had focused not on trying to operationalise an initial idea but on generating and iterating over it’s business model, developing it’s customers and pivoting to find the right fit, then it could be a hugely successful business and one I would have been immensely proud of being part of.

The organisation is still plodding along but has reduced it’s workforce somewhat and is really in that holding-pattern. As it stands right now, I hope for it’s survival (I still have great friends there) and ultimately it’s success but am hard pressed to see where such success can come from as it’s future is essentially based on the wager that the necessary conditions will appear or be created before the funding ceases.

This is an example where process and top-down decision making has gone mad. In a startup (or any organisation) you need your processes, technologies, structures and cultures to be just enough to serve your current business model and just enough to allow you to pivot. It’s utter madness to lumber 20 year old mature “enterprise” processes on an organisation at this stage of it’s lifecycle. Instead the organisations needs to be rapidly iterating, evolving and pivoting to find the emergent behaviours, processes, market and product mix which will give it the best chance of success.

In a startup, perfect operation of a risk free single operating model is not possible or necessary. Just enough is enough. Try, Learn, Evolve.

Hiatus interruptus

It’s been an extremely hectic couple of months with work, multiple small (but annoying) illnesses, a minor car crash, of course the Xmas period and a plethora of other things pulling at my time.

In effect because of a constant feeling of exhaustion I’ve had to take a lengthy hiatus from writing just to cope (excepting a brief rant last week at the politicization of the judicial system in the UK).

Not much has changed… Work and life are still hectic but I think that’s just the way it is and is going to be henceforth (if not more so). If I’m looking for a window of calm and peace in order to be able to write I’ll never scribble another word in my life. Time to man up and get on with it.

So, inspired by Euan Semple’s blog post this morning: We need more shit I’m just going to write as well as I can, tired or rushed as it may be and if there’s any signal in that noise, it’s up to you, gentle reader, to work it out.

Time to practise the “rhythm method” of blogging and interrupt this hiatus. :)

We’re Back in Blog (sorry – I’m listening to AC/DC: Back in Black as I type – hence the awful pun)

Welcome to the Orwellian State.

I wonder if I’m the only person who thinks this is a disgrace:

Student protester jailed for throwing fire extinguisher

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-12159581

versus:

G20: No charges over Ian Tomlinson demo death

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-10723274

Let’s put this in perspective:

The former is an act of stupidity by a little more than a CHILD which resulted in NO INJURY to anyone that has lead to a young person’s incarceration for 2 1/2 years and a future being irrevocably altered (probably not for the better).

The latter is an unnecessary vicious attack perpetrated by a man (P.C. Simon Harwood) with a documented history of violence which resulted in the death of an innocent bystander and carries the penalty of…. losing his job if the charges of gross misconduct actually stick (of which there is no guarantee).

Am I the only one  who struggles to see the “Justice” in this?

Not a very “equal” society one would have to say.

Decisions decisions

There are good decisions, there are bad decisions and then there is the worst decision of all: No decision.

Earlier this summer I attended a lecture with Dr Khaled Soufani at the Judge Business School and during that lecture he made a comparison between British and US Tech companies and the fact that the latter were far more innovative and likely to succeed than the former.

He put this down to one key difference which after living and working in the UK for the last 5 years I wholeheartedly agree with: “The ability to make decisions”.

US companies, he argued, make decisions, they keep making decisions, good or bad. By comparison, the equivalent company in the UK is seen as indecisive or exceedingly slow to make decisions.

While this is a generalisation, not really intended to be a realistic US/UK business culture comparison and I’m sure not really the case across the board, it is a good straw man about the problems of effective decision making (or lack of it)

As a leader and manager, I impress this point on my team again and again:

Gather as much information as possible, collaborate and debate as much as is feasible but ultimately make decisions as quickly as you can with the least cost in terms of time and resources.

Clever people, with a bit of input from other clever people and a clear context, will usually make the right decision and if they don’t we can easily cope with wrong decisions made quickly because they can be quickly changed.

If, on the other hand, you procrastinate and make no decisions it’s impossible to deliver on our remit.

The Price of pomposity in education

I’ve just been watching (rewatching actually) Euan Semple’s talk on the Price of Pomposity at Life 09 in June of last year.

The core argument is clear, that the old style command and control and the heirarchies built upon it  will find it increasingly difficult to compete in a knowledge economy where staff are “volunteers” rather than conscripts. In such an economy, effective managers are facilitators to collaboration, communication and understanding not “parents” dishing out tasks, plaudits and punishments to children.

Euan argues that organisations have to make a fundamental and difficult change but actually I believe that the scope of change is much greater and  applies to society as a whole but most particularly to education.

The problem is that our entire education system, particularly in the UK where I currently reside, is based around command and control mentality, not only in the treatment and interactions with students but within the curriculum itself.

Education in Britain (and I suspect in many other countries) is designed to deliver moderately articulate manufacturing workers into the job market at the end of a long period of indoctrination into the command and control management systems of the post-war industrial age.

The difficulty is that first world economies are now if not in, at least rapidly moving towards, the post-industrial age. If we’re to have a true knowledge economy we need to change how we build and operate businesses and consequently to change how we educate and form the workforce which will staff them.

Fundamentally the educational curriculum and approach needs to change to one which not only teaches knowledge and skills but importantly, how to collaborate with others to achieve goals. The entire educational approach has to engage with pupils as partners, not subordinates, and collaborate with them to share (yes share! teachers and parents can learn from pupils too!) knowledge and learn the skills they need in a knowledge economy.

Pupils are already learning these skills in their home life by interacting with each other in information and collaboration rich social networking environments but education is not aligned with the reality of their world. It’s fundamentally failing to reinforce the positive education they’re getting in life and helping to guide them to right choices because it’s taken a “we don’t talk about facebook” stance.

Every time some kid gets into trouble because they make poor choices of who they interact with via social media tools, the hysterical reaction is focused keenly on the social network as if the tools, and the people who provide the tools are the source of the problem.

I, on the other hand, believe it’s the parents and teachers of the young person who should come under scrutiny. They have a duty of care to the child which they should not be allowed to abrogate simply because they don’t understand the means by which the child is putting themselves at risk.

Rather than sticking their heads in the sand or worse, pompously looking down their nose at these tools and the interactions they enable, they need to be educating themselves and discussing these tools, their use, risks and collaborating with their children and their children’s teachers to raise their collective education and awareness.

As it happens Euan Semple mentioned just such a head in the sand educational approach yesterday

Customer care

Good customer care is solving your customer’s problems. Great customer care is when you don’t solve their problems and they still feel like they’ve received great service.

Apple’s customer care is awesome. There’s a reason why have once again topped the American customer satisfaction index survey for the seventh year in a row and I experienced it this week.

My wife dropped her iPhone 3GS which cracked the LCD (although, strangely not the external glass). My iPhone 3GS also had a problem (actually I’ve suspected almost from the outset that something was not right with it’s internals but it’s testament to just how good it is, when flawed, that I waited till now to do something about it) so I booked up some sessions at the Apple Genius bar last Saturday.

Wife was originally told that she’d need a replacement phone. Turned out not to be the case, they simply replaced the broken LCD.

My phone it turned out did have some dodgy internals and was replaced under warranty.

Fast efficient and friendly! Awesome.

Then about 15mins later we found out that in repairing the wife’s phone something had happened and the “Home” key was not working. Back to the Apple store (we were only a little bit away in the same shopping mall) and as we’re walking back in, the manager, recognising us asks: “Is there a problem sir?” – We explained about the Home key and the phone was instantly whisked away and brought back 3 minutes later in fully working condition.

This is good on many levels. OK, better to have made the repair correctly the first time but if you make a mistake, get it sorted there and then no muss, no fuss.

Today I was in again with my aging Macbook. I’ve bought a replacement battery for it some time ago and that battery has turned out to be faulty. I brought it to the genuis bar today and they ran the tests etc. They told me that if it’s under warranty they’ll replace it there and then. In fact, unofficially, the manager told me that if it was no longer under warranty, they’d still replace it because it was looking a bit “bulgy” and therefore a faulty unit.

The only stipulation was that because of the way Apple have structured the Retail vs Online store they are only allowed to replace equipment bought in store. Now frankly that’s ridiculously poor process from Apple, but it’s not this guy’s problem. Apple – Sort that out.

As it turned out, (I couldn’t remember initially since it’s been a while and quite a few Apple product purchases later) this is an online battery. That means the online store have to replace it… but because of their 14day return policy I was able to buy a battery today and can return it within 14days if I get a replacement for the faulty one from the online store.

During this process of sorting out what can/can’t be done the Genius also spotted that my case is cracked at the edge where the screen closes on the keyboard. This is apparently a known fault and therefore I’m entitled to a free repair. What? I didn’t even care about that, it’s a 4 1/2 year old laptop which I use occasionally!

So, they haven’t solved my problem, but because they have dealt with my other problems so well, and because of their honest, open and friendly approach I feel like I’m not only willing to forgive them the silly divide between Retail and Online but over all I feel more cared for not less. Ok, I’m still sorting out the battery issue but on the other hand my 4 1/2 year old laptop is getting a facelift… excellent.

Now that, in my book, is customer service. Even when not being able to help me to solve the problem today  they’ve built loyalty. What brand wouldn’t love to have that ability?

No snake-oil here.

Hi, I’m Joe and I’m not trying to sell you anything whatsoever.

Specifically:

  • I have no book to pimp
  • I don’t write for anyone but myself
  • I’m not for hire as a consultant
  • I’m not trying to make a name for myself as an analyst with one of the big consultancy firms.

I am interested in many things but most particularly on discussing and thinking about the evolution of enterprises and the need to strip many years of accumulated grime off them to enable them to be agile, adaptable, fast and lithe. I write about that and other things on my blog.

I don’t have an MBA. I haven’t studied organisational behaviours, human psychology or anthropology and I’m not running a research project into anything.

I do, however, have over 20 years of experience in nearly every job in IT (and beyond), most of that time spent leading and managing teams so I’ve built up some ideas on subjects such as technology, collaboration, leadership, management and enterprise (to name but a few) and this is where I share them. Given my lack of formal credentials to lay weight to such ideas, it’s up to you how much or how little stock you take in them.

Be my guest. Have a look around and enjoy.

About

I’m an Irishman living in the beautiful cotswolds regency spa town of Cheltenham.

Much of this blog in the past has been about my ideas relating to technology, business change and management so the archives contain a lot of preachy nonsense.

Now I’m just going to keep it simple and about the things I’m interested in.

This is my personal blog and as such the views expressed are mine alone and represent nobody but myself.

Dirty Protest

We all have those days. You know the ones: You’re tired, maybe you have a headcold, perhaps you’re a bit hungover from a few too many glasses of wine or beer the night before, perhaps, indeed your morning commute involves being parked in city traffic for fifty minutes going nowhere.

On the really bad days, perhaps, as I have had today, you’ve got all of them at once!

These are the days which really make you not want to make the effort, not want to have to deal with the traffic of the commute, not want to drag your tired, mucus spewing, hung-over carcass out of bed and cope with a normal working day but would much prefer to stay at home with your gorgeous wife and beautiful two year old daughter…

Trudge, trudge, sneeze, cough, trudge.

Then you get a phone call from home like this:

Do you know what our daughter has done?

She has taken off her nappy, pooped in a corner of her bedroom and then stomped around in it!

followed by another call an hour later which is:

She’s now done the same thing with her afternoon yoghurt and stomped it all  over the living room floor!

Y’know what… my job ain’t so bad. Commuting’s easy. A cold’s just an excuse for a good sinus clean out and two paracetamol will soon put paid to the hangover dues. Everything is relative and sometimes, just sometimes, the grass is greener just where you are.

Think I’m going to sing all the way home on this evening’s commute.

Ping pongs

Oh my, what a disappointing turn of events.

Tech blogs and the rumour mill have been rife for weeks and months with speculation about “Social” coming into iTunes.

Well Ping has arrived and has completely underwhelmed even the most die hard Apple fans (of which, you could probably argue, I’m one) so far. It’s a mess. Let’s be brutally honest, it’s a steaming pile of poo.

@Euan Semple pretty much sums up the worst failings in this blog post.

The unfortunate thing about Ping is that it’s not a social “music” network but a recommendation engine for the iTunes store and artists. The evidence for this is clear if you see that the discussion about Ping isn’t happening on Ping (it can’t because of the way it’s set up) but on Twitter and Facebook.

That’s a missed opportunity if I ever saw one. Opening up a social platform (based around the music in their library’s as well as what they purchase) to the 160 million customers of the iTunes store is a gold mine. Closing that network so that people can’t actually interact in the way that they chose (or are used to from other platforms) is a mistake of Bill-Gatesian proportions (circa ’99 – CDs are it, the Internet is a fad)

What’s interesting is that it seems from this debacle that Apple share Google’s failure to “get Social”. Microsoft by comparison seem to be closer to the pulse, integrating Facebook into their apps. Could it be that that the recently de-throned King from Seattle still has some arrows in it’s quiver, is willing to embrace the new (instead of trying to reinvent it in a way that they control) and be learning from it’s past mistakes?

Interesting times ahead.

Take a Leap of Faith

“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him.” – Booker T. Washington

Trust is very difficult for most organisations. By their very nature and structures they are set up with hierarchies designed to limit exposure to the potential damage a breach of trust could have on the organisation. This is very understandable. Ultimately all organisations are made up of people and as Abraham Maslow pointed out in his hierarchy of needs; security and protection are only just above physical needs for individuals. Trust means making oneself vulnerable to the impacts of decisions which other people make and this feeds our fear of not having our security and protection needs met.

To counter this vulnerability we build shining edifices of control into our organisations on the mistaken assumption that this mitigates our vulnerability. Of course it’s nonsense. We’re dealing with people here, from the CEO, MD, Chairperson or whoever all the way “down” the organisation heirarchy to the people who service the basic needs of the rest of the workers (almost always the lowest rung of the organisational ladder even though they serve the greatest and most important needs) any of whom can “impact” an organisation by breaching the trust placed in them in a myriad of ways.

Some recent examples of this are the swift exit of Mark Hurd as CEO of HP, whatever the reality of the case proving as the “head” of the organisation that to err is human; that regardless of the position in the hierarchy (the level of trust) a person can make mistakes. Similarly is the case of the Afghan war diaries leaked to Wikileaks. There can hardly be a more control oriented organistion on the planet than the US government and her military forces. The reprecussions of failing to act within that control, or actively subverting it are severe and yet, human beings, driven by other needs make value judgements and act accordingly. If there was ever an example that intimidation and punishment based control doesn’t work this is it.

On the surface these examples hardly make a strong case for placing greater trust in employees I’ll admit but that isn’t the lesson here. The lessons are twofold. In the Hurd case, it’s a stark reminder that hierarchicial control structures are implicitly flawed because of the assumption that the human beings higher up the structure are more trustworthy than those below them. The Wikileaks example shows us that no matter how heavyhanded these controls and the associated severe repercussions of breaching them human beings will make value judgements of their own and act accordingly.

I see this within my own family. Our 2 year old daughter is precocious and very very stubborn. She is also fearless (as most toddlers are). This makes it extremely difficult for her mother and I to “control” her behaviour and sometimes we’re at wits-end when trying to get her not to be naughty or to behave differently. The key realisation we’ve come to is that we can’t realistically control someone who doesn’t understand or recognise the reprecussions of her actions.

Our strategy therefore has been to focus much more on influencing her behaviour than to control it. Where “time outs” were initially about reprecussions for her actions we’ve now changed them to being literally a cool-off period, letting her, and us, calm down enough to discuss the action she’s taken which precipitated it. (OK, so I know this is parenting 101 for some people but it’s all part of a learning curve for us as well as her) This way we hope that by continuously reinforcing the message that “x is not appropriate behaviour” we can influence her towards a more appropriate behaviour pattern. In essence we influence as much as we can but then we have to trust her.

Similarly organisations have to wake up to the fact that control, reprecussions and hierarchys of trust are not going to ensure that their trust can’t be breached. These things have the opposite effect on the human psyche. We rail against the lack of self determination and ultimately we trade these things off against the value judgements we make about what we believe is right.

The ways that organisations seek to justify a lack of trust in their employees is that trust must be earned or that trust has been betrayed in the past. Of course the fallacy here is that trust only needs to be earned if you’re entering the organistion at a certain level. Above that trust is implicit. How many organistions hire a CxO level executive and then don’t trust them to make decisions and have access to sensitive information?

So what do you do to instill trust in your organisation particularly where there isn’t any or there has been a betrayal in the past which makes people feel vulnerable. The answer is that there’s nothing you can do about that. The past and it’s sins are manifest and immutable. All you can do is move forward. Assuming you have a reasonable recruitment discipline your employees, in the main, should share some (or all) of the values and beliefs of the organisation therefore trusting them is not exposing your organisation to much risk. Their value judgements will co-incide with the organisation’s for most things.

What to do if you’re not confident that you’ve selected employees with the values and beliefs of the organisation? Well here’s the thing. Take a leap of faith. Trust them, and let them know they’re trusted. Simply doing that, as Booker T Washington says in the quote heading up this article, few things will “help” them more (and lead them to share your organisations values and goals) than giving them that responsibility and letting them know that they’re trusted. Let go of the preconceptions and betrayals of the past. Look to an emergent future. Trust your people even if you have been burned in the past.

As another of my heros, Cesar Milan often says: “Live in the now!”. Get rid of the fallacy of control and hierarchies of (dis)trust. Create an environment of trust and collaboration and you never know what the future may hold.

The past is gone, the present is but a fleeting moment, there is only the future.

Why Google Wave failed? Too many contradictions.

There are a few reasons why Google Wave failed:

Too Much too soon

There’s no doubt that the technology of Google Wave is excellent but the actual implementation that they provided to the public was about the most convoluted awkward interface that you could possibly invent.

I suspect that they couldn’t really think of a good way of demonstrating this technology in a way which would engage with users but not seem like it’s just a copy-cat.

The thing is that there was a real opportunity if only they’d grasped it by doing something as simple as Twitter.

Google tried to demonstrate their engineering prowess but the difficulty is that only geeks are drawn to that. It’s not geeks who have made Facebook the 3rd biggest country in the world… it’s not geeks who have made Twitter so popular, it’s “ordinary” people.

Too little too late

The “invite” model for Gmail worked because you didn’t have to be on Gmail to interact with people who were. In the case of Wave, that same model was fundamentally flawed. If you want a social network to catch on you have to either open it up completely so that I, and my entire network can jump ship onto it or you integrate it with the incumbents so that I’m not missing out by switching to your platform.

I think there was a real opportunity here. There was a certain “jadedness” at the time with the current incumbents which Google could really have capitalised on but they failed to do so by taking the “toe in the water” approach. This was a land-grab. You don’t scrimp on a land grab. You spend spend spend for the promise of future riches. They should have opened the floodgates wide and just bought their way out of the subsequent problems the influx would have caused.

Too integrated

As I’ve said, if only they’d essentially copied Twitter (oh.. too late to the party Buzz!) they might have had a real chance to grab a chunk of social real-estate. Instead they tried to showcase every minute capability of the platform with “bots” and fabulous taxonomies and search capabilities all integrated together into a glorious engineering Golden Calf.

All of these things are great but they end up confusing everyone (I’ve been a computer geek since the dawn of time and even I was confused as hell!)

Come on Google this wasn’t hard to do: Take out more of the cool integrated features. Swallow your pride and just copy your competition (but do it better) which is you’ve already made a global business out of…

A simple Twitter alike (two-way integrating Twitter and Facebook so that it’s not alone in the wilderness ala Buzz…) would have paved the way for all the bells and whistles to be added and integrated as you went along.

Not integrated enough

Holy mother of all that’s holy. Google: You operate two of the most popular internet tools on the planet (Search and GMail) and you don’t leverage them by integrating Wave into them? Cmon… a 12 year old could have worked that one out.

Wave, integrated into email (instead of standing up to “replace” it. – Email aint that broke that it need replacing.. it just needs fixing…) would have been an instant hit. Turn my “postcard” based asynchronous conversations into “anytime” (sync or async) conversations… awesome.

Likewise with Search… You control pretty much the entire internet via Google search which is the default entry point for most people to get onto the web. Why not have integrated Wave to begin to provide some semantics into search results? Talk about a showcase of real value…

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see these things. They’re self evident.

Innovate

The most common criticism I have heard of Wave (apart from it’s alone-in-the-wilderness approach) was that it was “kinda IM, kinda twitter, kinda other stuff” but not as good as any of them.

If you’re going to introduce an “email killer” then it needs to be a pretty innovative solution. The Wave preview wasn’t.

It’s pretty damning when a far more innovative demonstration of your technology is produced by what amounts to a Financial Software company (SAP).

Don’t re-invent the wheel

And on the other side of the coin, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel when it’s perfectly capable of achieving it’s objectives.

Wave was touted as a mail-killer. Does mail need killing? Is it somehow not fit for purpose?

Likewise, while Wave was not totally dissimilar to other systems such as Twitter or Facebook’s status updates, Google tried to introduce a new vocabulary to accompany it.

There was nothing wrong with the old vocabulary!

If you had an equivalent to a twitter Tweet, then call it a Tweet, or at least allude to the similarity so that people can draw your vocabulary into their frame of reference instead of going out of your way to make it clear that “we’re not copying anyone because we’re actually cleverer than all of them”.

I couldn’t honestly tell you the difference today between a Tweet, Mail, Blip or Wave… it’s all so…. confused…

So in essence, once again, it feels like Google have committed their usual sin of not being able to step outside themselves and look at the world from the point of view of their potential customers. I think it’s fundamentally because they still don’t “get” social.

They’ve disrupted excellently 3 times with tools which could be seen as “enterprise” or which you could argue everyone basically already understands and “gets” (search, mail, apps) but they seem to still have a mental block about “social”.

Wonder how long “Buzz!” will be around… If they don’t “get it” soon that’s another Dodo jumping up and down shouting “Extinct Me! Extinct Me!”… (Hint: 2 Way FB/Twitter integration might actually give it some legs. I’d personally kill for a decent social gateway/aggregator integrated with my mail…)