Communication Digital Transformation News and Events Painless Change People strategy Uncategorized

Thriving in turbulent (Digital) times

These are a few of the slogans flowing around Digital and Business Transformation and my reply in brackets.

Digital is eating the world (Yes)

The World is being disrupted (So what?)

The future is too hard to predict (Not really)

The overspill of digital technology is impacting every business. Scare stories abound and they don’t offer much of a solution.

The reality is the internet has changed how you do your job. And it is going to continue to change how you do your job.

If you don’t change someone who will change will put you out of business, or make your organisation seem too inefficient by comparison. Copying the work of the kid at the next desk doesn’t work.

Learning together, open conversation and preparing and adapting to change does work.

It is not the strongest businesses, nor the smartest, nor the one with the most money (though that helps) that succeeds. It is the ones that adapt to change fast enough.

We’re running a workshop on this topic in a few weeks. If you’re interested in this you can find out more here.

Candid strategy Technology Uncategorized

Algorithms : prose written by people

As the ACLU highlights the problem of Algorithms that discriminate we need to remember that Algorithms are only as good as the assumptions that they’re based on.

In reality we’d be better off if we replaced the idea of Algorithms as “clean unbiased maths” with “prose instructions written by fallible people.”

But alongside the potential for bringing about social progress, the Internet also holds the possibility of contributing to unlawful discrimination. An example of this potential negative impact is a patent recently acquired by Facebook that could conceivably permit loan servicers to gain access to the credit ratings of a loan applicant’s social network and then use that information to determine whether the applicant qualifies for a loan. The patent combines the possibility of serious invasions of privacy with the realistic prospect of illegal lending discrimination.

More here.  The Guardian also had a piece on some of these problems two years ago.

Image of Justice via Wikimedia

Communication strategy Technology Uncategorized

Snails, Systems and Slack

Paul Quigley CEO of Newswhip wrote a lovely blogpost about the great Snail Derby of 1998. Faced with the problem of getting the Snails to race in the same direction, an innovative 6yo came up with Snail Trails.

 Snail trails. Snail trails are not a product you can buy. Snail trails are a streak of water, placed in front of a snail using one’s fingertip.

You see, snails prefer pushing themselves over wet surfaces than dry surfaces. My girlfriend observed that a simple streak of wetness leading directly from the snail’s current position to the finish line kept them on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Snail trails saved the day, and the snail derby of 1988 was a roaring success.

Paul goes on to describe how you create snail trails for customer acquisition for SaaS businesses.

There is a broader lesson for businesses in the use of technology.  Demming said that “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”  A snail trail is a better system. It’s a very clever use of lightweight technology to reduce friction in a process.  Good systems do that. They reduce organisational friction.  They drive better organisational conversations.   And the value of reducing friction in processes and conversations is very very large.

One company that is building organisational snail trails is Slack.  I’m a very big fan of Slack. The value of what it’s is doing is rumoured to be up to $2 Billion. Double what it was worth 12 months ago. That’s part of the value that Slack is capturing. And it reflects a small portion of value that it is creating by building better Snail Trails.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Dermot has extensive expertise in the area of Digital Transformation and Strategy.[/author_info]

[button link=”” color=”black”] Would you like to talk to Dermot about this?[/button]  [/author]

Our featured image is Snail Trails from Luís Estrela on Flickr

News and Events strategy Uncategorized

The Emperor’s New Facts

“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, it’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.”  Artemus Ward

We’re focussed on helping people improve their businesses in Near Future.  And we think a lot about how we might do that. A part of that involves improved thinking, and asking awkward questions.  I’ve found over time that most ideas are logically constructed and the best way to challenge ideas are to challenge the assumptions, the basis on which they’re built.  If the assumptions are wrong everything else falls apart.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert L Sutton wrote a wonderful book on evidence based management a few years ago called “Hard Fact, Dangerous Half Truths & Total Nonsense” which poked holes in many of the modern Shibboleths of management.

One of the myths that Sutton and Pfeffer explored in their books was on the nature of Financial Incentives. The evidence shows that incentives sometimes demotivate, sometimes motivate the wrong behaviour and often attract the wrong sort of talent. Even in the best of circumstance are damn hard to get right. Even a company as clever as Microsoft has managed to design disastrous incentive systems that it has now abandoned.

We are planning a breakfast event in a few weeks in. It will be on the theme of what we know that isn’t true.  It is designed to break open a few management myths, the Emperors New Facts. The event will be invite only and we have a few open slots, email dermot if you’d like to be included in this or future events that we might run.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your ideas of things that are generally assumed but are wrong.



People politics strategy Technology

#RebootingIreland 2000AD, Metaphors and Messy problems

Lucinda Creighton has launched a new political party.  Or launched a #hashtag. I’m not quite sure which.

As I tweeted yesterday

“First thought on When rebooting a computer you don’t get a different operating system”

There was a lot of comment on Twitter. Dave Winer said recently Twitter can have a tendency towards “high fructose emotional rage medicine.” Mostly the comment was cynical rather than hate filled.

My first thought was of a comic. There is a panel somewhere in my mothers attic from an episode of 2000AD. It’s from the story Strontium Dog. The storyline is set at the end of a war. A military police force is being disbanded and being replaced. Panel one has the old police force. And panel two has the new police force. Same group. Different uniforms. Same system. Plus ca change.

I was reminded of that panel when thinking about #RebootIreland. When we exchanged Fianna Fail for Fine Gael and Labour a few years ago that was the transition. Mostly because the state was governed by the Troika and administered by the politicians we elected. I’m not sure that what’s intended here will be any different.

I took a look at the #RebootIreland website. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. As Tommy Collison commented

I have equal questions of what some of the other statements mean

Fostering a spirit of entrepreneurism in our public sector that will reward those who work the hardest and deliver the best results for our public services.

I’m not sure that lack of entrepreneurism is the problem with the public sector (Too few entrepreneurial teachers and nurses?). And performance management mechanisms lead to dysfunctional behaviour.  There are no doubt reforms that need to be made. It would be an idea to start with an understanding of the problem than a statement of the solution. (If your solution is a hammer, the problem will inevitably be defined in terms of nails).

So what is #RebootIreland ? Is it a statement of intent? Is it an idea? It it a marketing slogan?  Right now I’m not sure. I don’t know what its stands for or what it wants to achieve beyond some a choices of metaphor. Metaphors and symbols matter.  What does #RebootIreland mean?

The metaphor suggests a quick clean out of the system and things can continue as they do before. One other comment on twitter was “sometimes rebooting the computer clears out the rubbish that’s stopping it going forward”.  Perhaps and I don’t think so. Computer analogies and metaphors are too reductive. It continues a trend in human thinking and it doesn’t really get us anywhere.  Reductive models lead us to nonsense like the Singularity.  And one of the tweets that went around last night was the “computer says no” from Little Britain. (Which shows that you can create a hashtag but you can’t control it).   I wonder if the party without a name or policy or candidates is attempting to do some sort of Lean Political Startup? In a comment on inappropriate language and contextless shifting of ideas Dave Snowden recently noted 

Shifting partial understanding of success from one context to a completely different one as a populist recipe is of course no new thing. Neither is wrapping it up in partially understood and inappropriate language.

It would be easy to mock and its important to ask questions.  Maybe #RebootIreland is taking Francis Bacon’s view

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties

I’m reading a history of the American Revolution at the moment.  The revolution itself and many of the leading revolutionaries were quite conservative. The human frailty, stupidity, venality and conniving on every side is the most illuminating and insightful part of a great narrative.  It was very messy. Any change in Irish politics is likely to be messy.  Can we have messy around issues of substance though?  That’d make a nice change in Irish politics.


* image is Johnny Alpha wall paper from the 2000AD website

education strategy

The Teachers Strike, Fool’s Mate and Strategic Play in Education

The teachers are on strike today. My wife among them. So I have skin in the game. I’ve lots, I’ve three kids as well. Still at primary with some superb teachers and I want the best education possible for them.

There is a good post here on why one teacher is going on strike and in it John Killeagh points out some of the things done on behalf of education reform so far

Remove Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools
Increase the pupil/teacher ratio
Cut capitation grants to schools
Again, cut capitation grants to schools (and again for next year)
Reduce supports for students with Special Educational Needs

John Killeagh in his piece states that “I don’t trust the motivations behind these measures.”

He’s right not to. Simon Wardley in another context talks about “Fool’s mate” and the where of Strategy.

Most of the problem appears to be that companies cannot see the environment (i.e. they have no map) and aren’t used to any actual form of strategic play.

I’m not going to draw a map in this context but I want to point out the strategic play in the education environment.

This is only partially about the assessment of the Junior Certificate. It is an important part of the play. Implementing continuous assessment may or may not be a good idea. If its done as planned it will start the creeping corruption of the Irish Education system that Fintan O’Toole has talked about. Twice. And the Ministers idea of 40% rather than 100% assessment. Well can you be 40% corrupt or 40% evil? Yes those are inflammatory words and if there are principles at play then how do you compromise on a principle. What is 40% of a principle?

Behind that move is an attempt to shift a higher admin and resourcing burden onto teachers. Figures from the UK support this. As does the notion that these sorts of approaches lead to corruption. 100 years of management attempts and the manipulation of every measurement system in business only reinforce this point.

This is primarily about money. No resources are being put in to support teachers.  Teachers can see the damage caused by Project Maths, where a pedagogically sound idea has been badly resourced and dreadfully implemented. One review paper on Project Maths referred to “Project Maths contains serious flaws in its syllabus and methodology.”  The title of the report by Dr Cora Stack ITT and other maths professionals “Project Maths and the dire consequences for Irish mathematics education and the knowledge society” is not very encouraging.  The practical difficulties problems are the reason that the Project Maths figures keep getting normalised each year. Students are frustrated, parents are frustrated and teachers are frustrated.

The Junior Cert is the tip of the spear. The 40% (or 30% or 10%) will eventually be pushed back to 100%. The changes to the Junior Cert will be rolled into the Leaving Certificate. The cost of running and administrating the system will shift significantly from the Department of Education to the teachers themselves.

As John Killeagh points out

Where is the educational merit of the decision?  Why does the minister not want to move on the 40% number?  Money.  The less work that is corrected by the State Examinations Commission (SEC), the better.  It saves money.  In it’s original form, the JCSA appeared to be a precursor to phasing out the SEC.

The Government and the Department of Education is attempting to play Fools Mate against the teachers, using the education of children as its pawn.

Hopefully the Unions have seen through this.

Image via FergalTodayFM on Twitter

News and Events strategy Uncategorized

Better Butterfly than Bankrupt. Why Newspapers need to create new products

It’s no secret that Newspapers are dying. Look at any set of figures and they are on a slow (and sometimes fast) downward spiral. Circulation is down. And advertising revenue has been badly hit. One could be cynical enough to wonder if all the talk about a new housing bubble in Ireland is a desperate “Hail Mary” pass to bring back advertising revenue.

So what are Newspapers to do? “Go digital or home” might be the mantra. Lots of eyeballs online to compensate for fewer eyeballs offline? All chasing the same advertising dollar? Not the best strategy in the world. Paywalls. Sure if you’re the New York Times there may be some margin in that. What happens if The Irish Times puts up a paywall?

Even if people are buying the paper they don’t have time to read the damn thing.  TV, Radio, Buzzfeed, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, iPlayer, NetFlix, Spotify, WhatsApp, Vox, Viber, Vocativ, Vice. 57 bajillion channels of information.  And not enough time. Not even at the weekend.  As Markham Nolan deftly asked on Twitter last week

So what are Newspapers to do?  There can only be a few New York Times/Guardian/Mail Online sites.  Offering a generic product that a million others are offering in a generic marketplace is not a happy place to be.  News in many respects is the reddest of Red Oceans. Draw a Wardley Map of News and its not going to a pretty picture.

A different approach is to go swimming in a Blue Ocean. Create new products that people will pay for. Stop chasing the advertising revenue. Yes maximise the amount you can make with your current product and stop obsessing about that and how many copies of pure paper sales you’ll make. Create new products and sell them to people.

Journalists, good journalists, are great on insight, on synthesis and generating value from information. So they should build products that people will pay for. Business products, financial services products, sports products, personal products. Yesterday LovinDublin introduced a mobile app. It has an interesting model, you pay €3.59 per month for a specialist magazine.  You pay for the product. Niall Harbison who is behind LovinDublin is loved and hated in equal measure if the Twitter reaction is anything to go by.  And he has by all accounts a terrible cheek in asking for money a product.

The question I’d like to ask is how come none of our Newspapers with hundreds of staff producing volumes of content on a daily basis came up with this idea? This product could fail spectacularly.  Or it may make a nice little revenue stream.  It’s not going to bankrupt Niall or LovinDublin. And it certainly wouldn’t bankrupt any of our Newspapers.  It’s a safe fail experiment.  And Newspapers and News organisations need to do lots of those.

There are lots of products that will add value to peoples lives that Newspapers are capable of creating.  And lots of products that businesses could pay for.  There are lots of data in the world that can be used to build new products and services for people.  Newspapers and News organisations could and should be working on these.   No one is suggesting this is easy or painless. It’s a bit like a caterpillar transforming itself into a butterfly, painful as hell and rips the creature apart in the process before something new is created. And it beats the alternative. Better butterfly than bankrupt.

If your mission is to produce great journalism then go create some products that will pay for that. It used be Crosswords, TV Guides, Restaurant Reviews, and Horoscopes. Now is the time to create some new ones.

(Some of the ideas here crystallised in conversation with Gavin Sheridan)

Image via Peter101 on Flickr. Shared via Creative Commons License.