Category: Public notebook

Progressive policies are worthless without real culture change

Andrew Hill at the FT challenges companies offering amazing-sounding benefits that are unlikely to ever really be used by employees without the backing of leaders and some serious culture change:

The need to have enough people available for vital work puts a natural limit on the ability of everyone to bunk off at once. But, without guidance, it may also lash them more firmly to their desks.

Sir Richard Branson was rightly lampooned for making unlimited leave at Virgin conditional on staff being “a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project”.

Discussing the Netflix policy of giving parents unlimited time off in the first year after a child, Hill says that unless leaders at the company take up the policy, or there are other nudges to encourage staff, it will be a hollow offer. The policy may be there, but culture will stop people using it…

The future of digital literacy

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The concept of digital literacy – the ability to use the web and digital media effectively – was brought to my attention by the work of Howard Rheingold, online culture pioneer and edge thinker par excellence. In an interview with Education blog Edmondo, he explains how digital literacy is evolving. Everything he talked about before – literacies of attention, participation, crap detection, collaboration and “network know-how” stands, says Rheingold…

…but is multiplied by the migration from the desktop to mobile. Next up: finally, technology catches up with the dream of virtual reality and many of the attention problems will be multiplied and a new issue of distinguishing digital and physical reality will enter. More and more commercial and political interests are learning how to use digital media to deceive and manipulate—much faster than people are learning crap detection.

At Brilliant Noise we’ve been developing learning programmes for clients like The Financial Times and TUI around digital literacy – we talk about “digital mindset”, but it is the same thing. In the interview Rheingold’s four tips for teachers (and parents)

  • Encourage critical thinking. Ask students to find questionable and reliable websites and tell you why they are.

And I’d extend critical thinking to all areas of one’s life in relation to digital. Why are you using the tools that come as standard on your computer or phone, or that your company issues? How does using a spreadsheet, PowerPoint or word processing software change the way you think when you are working? Which is best? Have you tried outliners, mind-maps or offline tools for organising information and your thoughts?

  • Encourage attention to attention. When you open your laptop in class or look at the screen of your phone, try asking yourself why you are doing it.

This is an extension of critical thinking, and also brings in elements of mindfulness. It’s very easy to get stuck in less useful habits of using digital tools. Personally, I turn off all notifications on my phone and computer, bar text, phone and calendar – and I put the attention hungry apps like Twitter, Instagram and email on the third page of my phone, so I have to make a conscious decision to go and use them. It’s really helped to cut down semi-involuntary app use (but not eliminated it).

  • Encourage participation. Comment on a blog, make a correction on Wikipedia, reblog on Tumblr.
  • Encourage collaboration. Work on a collaborative document, participate in a virtual community.

These two tips work well together. I encourage working together with colleagues to try out new behaviours and tools, with the objective of seeing if they work for you as individuals and as a team. Bookmarking tools like Diigo are particularly useful for this, or collaborating on a Google Doc article together, if you don’t use that already. Digital literacy grows with a combination of experience, critical thinking and reflection. You need to use digital tools rather than just read about them or have them explained in order to really know how they work.

Brilliant to read more of Howard Rheingold’s thinking – he has been a consistent inspiration to me personally and professionally. If you’d like to find out more about his work, I recommend his book Net Smart and he also runs courses – the next one is on cooperation theory.

Strategy and the UK General Election 2015

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Image: Poor taste or poor strategy? A mug bearing one of Labour’s 2015 election pledges.

I’m interested in the role strategy played a role in how the parties behaved in the General Election that has just concluded. Strategy – when it is done well – gives organisations a clear answer to the question: how can I use the limited resources I have to achieve the result I want.

Looking at strategy won’t give us all the answers to why the election result was a surprise – when 45 million people get to make a decision together we should be careful to remember what John Tooby calls “nexus causality” (in layman’s terms explanations for events are never as simple as we’d like to think).

Comparing two accounts of the strategy of the two main parties – Labour and the Conservatives (now the two main parties in England, at least) there are signs that one got its strategy very right and the other very wrong.

Discussing the Labour strategy, Martin Kettle in the Guardian says:

It has always been clear that Miliband has been following a targeted electoral strategy. The generous view is that he believes that, after the financial crisis, there is a winning coalition to be built from core Labour voters, disillusioned Liberal Democrats and middle-class sympathisers with the poor. But last night it became clear that this strategy has quite simply failed.

If this was the Labour strategy it was a wishful thinking at best, at worst it was a vague vision passed off as a strategy. People think that visions are a good thing in strategy, often mistake them for strategy, but in the merciless, street-fighting reality of an election, visions are messages, stories to inspire, they are not effective ways of focusing resources.

The analysis was vague, the resolution equally so. No matter how much energy and resources Labour activists could muster it was going to be squandered on a “strategy” that had a lack of focus and direction.

Labour should publish it’s failed strategy, if it really had one, so that Miliband’s successors can learn from their mistakes.

The failure of Labour’s approach is even strarker when you compare it with the actual focus and discipline of the Conservative strategy, planned and delivered by political consultant Lynton Crosby and Chancellor George Osborne.

Here’s Kiran Stacey in The Financial Times on how the Tory campaign began:

Despite polls showing the Tories in a dead heat with the opposition Labour party, Mr Crosby was in ebullient form. “He told us everything was in our favour,” says an MP who attended. “As long as we made the campaign about the economy and Labour leader Ed Miliband’s weakness.”

Mr Crosby, who cut his teeth in the world of macho Australian politics, had studied the data and knew victory was in the Conservatives’ grasp if they could just win over a few thousand voters in a few dozen marginal seats in England.

What the Conservatives did was deliver well on both halves of the strategy equation: the analysis and direction were right, but then they implemented their plan without losing their nerve even when almost everyone else was telling them they were wrong.

This election was a very close run thing – for all the rejoicing in the blue camp about a majority, it is still wafer thin. Nonetheless, it is far better a result than anyone, bar the leadership of the campaign expected.

Confidence in the strategy waxed and waned in the tense six weeks that ensued — and the strategy itself sometimes wavered. But yesterday morning his approach was vindicated as the Conservatives confounded expectations by sweeping not just to victory but to a majority in parliament.

“The campaign managers were always confident that we could get there, but that confidence was not always shared at the top,” says a Conservative strategist. “Lynton was right all along.”

The Tories learned from their mistakes in 2010 and ran a more focused, consistent campaign in 2015. Labour did not learn from 2010 – it just replaced its leader and substituted wishful thinking for strategy.

People who are disappointed with the General Election result would do well to push for more effective leadership and better strategy from the Labour party. As professor of strategy Richard Rumelt put it in a paper on bad strategy for McKinsey:

The only remedy is for us to demand more from those who lead. More than charisma and vision, we must demand good strategy.

A final point on leadership. There was a strange trope on Twitter along the lines of “if only people voted for policies and not personalities”, as if the ability to develop and then deliver policy would be completely separate from personality. We may not have presidential elections in the UK, but backing a party is rightly affected by voters’ views on the leadership and whether they would be an effective leader for the UK.

New leadership might be hard to come by without a lot of new recruits to Labour, if we’re to believe Paul Mason of Channel 4 News the party hasn’t got the right people to think this through:

Miliband’s inner team had almost no outriders in the press, no co-thinkers in academia; they had support among artists and film directors, but always half-hearted….

Labour […] is waking up to something much worse than failure to win. It has failed to account for its defeat in 2010, failed to recognise the deep sources of its failure in Scotland, and failed to produce any kind of intellectual diversity and resilience from which answers might arise.

Ironic to think that a party that values diversity suffers from a lack of diverse brain power. It certainly needs to promote political and intellectual immigration into its own ranks if it is to rebuild its ability to win elections.

Tracksmith, stories and experiences

Connecting a couple of dots: retail experience and luxury.

The Economist says that luxury goods manufacturers need to look at selling experiences as even the poshest products become commoditised:

Makers of luxury have come to realise that the paradox of industrial craftsmanship can be pushed only so far. To captivate new clients and keep the older ones on board, brands will have to invest shopping with a sense of occasion and give ordinary customers some of the individual attention they have lavished on their biggest-spending ones. Increasingly, that is what they are doing. When Burberry launched a perfume in September, it gave customers a chance to inscribe bottles with their own initials, both in shops and online.

One new brand I’m watching at the moment is Tracksmith, a running apparel label from Luke Scheybeler, co-founder of Rapha the company that showed that stylish clothing at a high price would sell to cyclists.ZZ4AE0A249

With no physical stores yet, and a small collection of niche products, it is using story to create an experience for its customers – the story of running, style, culture and history. And the story of its own beginning.

Since it started, earlier this year, Tracksmith has been selling a small but growing – one or two items at a time – collection of clothing based on traditional New England and Ivy League designs. (Duffer of St George did something similar in the UK in the 90s, and then the brand drifted into mass market confusion.)

The brand is – like Rapha – defined by a bold, clear sense of self, of what it is about, the story it will tell, how it will feel to buy and wear its clothing. A beautiful website is a given with these guys – and this one is perfect. It takes its time – there’s space for the products. The look and feel of the photography is consistent and exquisite – you would buy the VSCO Lightroom pre-sets if they were available.

Tracksmith is testing the market and tempting it – a steadily building collection, limited runs of products. I’ve bought a couple to try out – and I’ve had to wait a couple of months until the first t-shirt I wanted was back in stock.

What’s interesting about Tracksmith’s content strategy is that – point of sale style aside – it centres on a print publication. Meter is essentially a Rouleur for running – all about the history and culture. It comes in a digital version too, but the print looks gorgeous – if you like design or photography and running, you want to own the physical one (only $5).

ZZ0EC2AC73As a runner, I’m used to technical, functional and often pretty unstylish clothing and – frankly – content. Runners World is the staple periodical for runners. It’s good for tips and motivation, but stylish and beautifully designed it is not – and its website is an embarrassment (I say that as a paying subscriber). It’s aspirational in a performance sense, but running as a culture and a lifestyle, not so much.

Any way – connecting this brand to experience. Look what happens when one of Tracksmith’s unsurprisingly pricey t-shirts arrives in the post

 

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The packaging is perfect, like receiving a gift.

And there’s a note in the form of a race number that marks that the order is one of the first 2,014 orders ever to be shipped. Everything about this feels special. Exciting. There’s a story being told and you are a part of that story is what it says. And – simple as it is – the quality of the product is exceptional.

So, Tracksmith. Watch and learn…

Digital transformation is universal

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Following on from the quote about digital transformation from Russell Davies, here’s the Economist’s economics editor in his newspaper’s The World in 2015 supplement:

Virtually every firm in every industry is being shaken up by the digital revolution. No chief executive can ignore the onslaught of mobile computing, big data, artificial intelligence and the like. These new technologies offer the promise of huge efficiency gains, but also the threat of being walloped by some upstart from Silicon Valley.

Just in case there was any doubt…

He goes on to say that the financial crisis may have slowed the impact of digital, but that as the world economy picks up, so will the rate of disruption. It’s only just begun, people.

 

Coke’s alt accelerator

untitledThe Coca-Cola Founders Program is an interesting proposition: bring disruptive thinking into the heart of a giant business by letting serial-start up entrepreneurs have the run of the place and find problems they want to solve and turn into businesses.

Coke streses that this is more than your average accelerator:

Most accelerators conduct three to six month programs and focus on financial investment and mentoring. Our model is very different. We invest in founders first, before they have a startup or even an idea. We don’t dictate the problem they should solve and we give them the time and attention required to truly validate the problem, design the best product/market fit and find a business model to create a sustainable company.

A process of radical change around digital began at Coca-Cola four years ago – the 2020 Vision, the switching of 20% of its ad budget into earned media, the new emphasis on stories and co-creation over the traditional ad.

Coke’s new approach to marketing investment grew out of the need to explore digital media. They  use a 70:20:10 ratio of investment – 70% “now” (tried and tested methods), 20% “new” (experimental new media and formats) and 10% next (edge ideas and innovations). This model has seeped into the culture beyond marketing, it seems and into other areas of the business .

With companies this vast and interesting, though – you need to keep a close eye on developments. Look at them, come back three months and look again – there’s always more to see.

Coke vs. Pepsi on social media and disruption

Coke’s rival, Pepsico, was apparently “all in” on social media and digital media a few years ago – why aren’t we seeing anything as radical or interesting as the Coca Cola Founders Programme there?

It could well be that there are fascinating things happening behind closed doors, or that its PR and comms just aren’t making as much of it as Coca-Cola – but I don’t think that’s the case. There have been high profile heads of digital, accelerators, sponsorships of SXSW and technically brilliant website revamps, but not the depth and ambition of change we see at Coke.

Pepsico has approached digital as a brand marketing challenge. Social as a disruption to advertising – an important trend in advertising that needed a response from a brand built on ads. The company has recently hired a new global head of innovation with a brief to look at innovation in a “more holistic” way.

Coca-Cola’s marketing shift has been huge, but it has coupled this with  parallel commercial and operational change. The 70-20-10 model of investment and taking risks has spread far beyond marketing into how the whole business thinks about innovation and change.

This is no coincidence – Coke’s leadership came not just from a strong marketing vision but from the top – the CEO told the business what change in the digital age was going to look like. The money moved and the operations, culture and suppliers followed suit – rewarding incumbent agencies that upped their digital and earned media game or bringing in new players like Zone, as its UK content agency (which pioneered the editorial style of corporate home for Coke’s UK home page).

Coca-Cola has seen and treated digital as a strategic challenge – and that’s why we’ll keep seeing it produce inspiring innovations like the Founders Program.

Another writing app

Stephen Fry once said, I’ve never seen a smartphone I haven’t bought. My vice is writing apps. Actually it’s all writing technologies – I’m the same about notebooks, pens, typewriters, pencils, writing slopes, dictionaries and style guides. Always have been – but apps most of all, because it is on screens that most of my writing happens.

If I were being kind, I would say that this about a love of the craft, of prose, copy, the act and process of the written word. Being more critical, I would say it is a proxy for getting with it, for the real secret of the professional writer – getting on with it. If I could just find the perfect app, the perfect pen, the perfect machine, then the words will flow uninterrupted – I will find the magic combination of place, tools and thoughts to write the twenty blog posts, five medium articles, seven essays and a novel currently knocking about in the creative holding area of my subconscious.

The latest is Desk. I knew I would buy it the moment I read about it because… because… it is a minimalist writing app. Because I use Byword for work, IAWriter Pro for fiction, Google Docs for collaborative writing, Evernote for lists, Curio for outlining-mindmapping-whiteboarding-in-one-app and Scrivener if I ever think there is a danger of a book emerging.

It’s a great app for me, as it seems to have everything I love about all my other apps rolled into one –

  • minimalist writing layout (fewer distractions)
  • connects to blogging services
  • the first blog editor on the Mac that seems to make image editing really fast and easy (look – you can adjust the size and format)
  • one of those nice “night mode” things for when the glare of the screen gets too much.

All of these things add up to an app for blogging – and perhaps other writing – that helps close the gap between the intention to write a blog post and getting it published, a tip from Adam Tinworth, someone who  is without parallel in their understanding and adept use of that form.

One last thing – a thread I will pick up again later – trying out new apps for working is a worthwhile thing to do to help keep you thinking critically about workflow and how tools shape the way you think and work.

Dots, as told in Artefact Cards

Things are moving pretty quickly at work at the moment, so I’ve not had much of a chance to reflect or mention things that are going on there – but I can’t let the year slip by without mentioning one really cool thing…

Just over a month ago Brilliant Noise held its first conference, Dots: Connecting Ideas, part of the amazing Brighton Digital Festival.

Like Matt Locke says about The Story conference – a big inspiration to us in all sorts of ways – the joy of holding your own conference is that you get to choose the people you want to hear from. With the curatorial genius of Neil Perkin, it was my dream conference – a relentless series of very different but always inspiring points of view.

Adam Tinworth, the best live-blogger in the business, created posts about all of the talks, which you can read by clicking on the speaker biographies on the Dots website.

We had a limited edition set of Artefact Cards – which I love, and have blogged about before – for everyone who attended. On the way out everyone handed in one of their cards with the one most memorable or important thing they would take away from the day. We’ve made that into a poster, so you can view the crowd-sourced notes of dots that were connected on the day – there’s a higher resolution version of this here.

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