Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The professional touch: And other ways to kill your effectiveness

What does being professional mean in a digital world?
Once it was 'professional' to complete and perfect products to the nth degree before releasing them from secrecy. Now it is the norm to release Betas and Alphas to learn from doing, to measure response, to shape to adoption and behaviour.
In the same way professional writing, publications, presentations and thought leadership once served to provide a clear and final view. This was how it was. No argument expected and few tolerated.
Blogging, and other social media changed that - a space was created where ideas were kept alive rather than shot dead to be stuffed and placed on the wall as some kind of trophy.
The digital world requires a different kind of 'professionalism' - one which is less about the refinement of the 'professional touch' and more about using your skills to engage, learn and iterate.
This is a world in which a messy kitchen is more valuable than a neat and tidy professional one. Clay Shirky came up with the analogy in an interview I conducted with him 10 years ago. He argued that people felt less comfortable about joining in if they entered a kitchen in which nothing was out of place. If there was a little bit of mess, we were more likely to pick up a utensil and help out.
There's evidence from the world of dodgy fonts, too. While the professional approach is to use clear fonts with limited amounts of variation in size, emphasis or hue, what actually works is somewhat different.
Studies at Princeton discovered hard to read - or what designers call 'ugly' fonts deliver greater retention of what has been read. If you want to land the message make it ugly, messy and... naturally add some emotion.
Professional detachment is of low value in this last case. Creating memories does not simply rely on the world we experience externally. It is as much about our feelings at the time of experiencing. Let the excitement shine out.

Maya Angelou — 'At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.'
If we accept that we can scale our effectiveness as professionals when we gain engagement, and in so doing can better land an idea, then what passes for professional communication demands to be reappraised.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Avoiding the holes in your future

"Planning involves conjectures about the future and hypothetical cases. They are so busy with actual cases that they are reluctant to take on theoretical ones."

Henry Kissinger was talking about US Government policy makers when he wrote the above - in his doctoral thesis. The insight is equally valid for businesses today.

When 'planning' what is often conducted is an exercise in reactive tactic making - trying to solve the problems facing you right now, usually in the order they appear to be impacting. It is planning in the rear-view mirror.

The result is a drag on future capability, with resource allocation skewed toward problems that have already happened versus preparation to take advantage of emerging opportunity.

Kissinger advises you must create the time to lift your eyes and look as far ahead as you can see.

Words like 'hypothetical' and 'theoretical' are too often dismissed in the daily challenge of dealing with what's right in front of you (by which we usually mean, what is immediately behind us).

So for those who are still more concerned about their to-do list (let's call it our 'should've already done list'), here's a real-world example from the world of advanced motorcycle riding: The further ahead you look, the faster you can go.

Looking further ahead when riding allows you to:

a) Identify risks, and plan to deal with them
b) Get a long view of the road ahead and plan your best position not just for the first bend you can see, but for a series of twists and turns.

The opposite leads to 'target fixation'. This is a known phenomena beyond motorcycling.

From Wikipedia: Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object (be it a target or hazard) that they inadvertently increase their risk of colliding with the object.

Simply: You End Up Going Where You Look.

If you focus too much on the pothole in front of you, you are more likely to end up riding straight into it.

Look away from the danger and towards your opportunities and you are better able to make a plan to avoid the hole in your future.

That's planning.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

What if Facebook is doing us the biggest favour of all?

What if Facebook's scooping up of our personal data is doing us a huge favour?
How can that be? Let's imagine, and think, really big for a moment.

Humans as corporeal beings may be facing an extinction event. We are destroying our eco-system at an alarming rate, making large tracts of land uninhabitable. Sperm count has fallen in developed countries by 50% in four decades. If the rates of decline continue we'll be hitting 'The Handmaid's Tale' scenarios before we run out of Earth to live on.

There are those that argue (Life3.0) that far from dieing out, we may be about to evolve. That evolution would see us abandon our bodies and attain consciousness as digital beings.

To do so would free us from the challenges of keeping our bodies in a decent state - alive for example, and enable us to explore the universe, giving meaning to the vast tracts of it that currently have none (because there is no consciousness out there to experience it).

With me so far? Ok. So how does that mean Facebook is doing us a favour?

AI needs a lot of data to start learning and doing things humans do. It will need even more to recreate conscious versions of ourselves to live in infinity as zeros and ones.

What if this is Facebook, Google, Baidu, Yandex, Amazon's real mission - even if they don't realise it themselves? They are gathering and storing the data - to enable our evolution-as-upload as part of (rather than subject to) The Singularity.

Someone has to do it. If Facebook wants to make use of my data in the meantime to personalise an ad or two - I think that's a very reasonable exchange.

Happy Ishter!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Keep Calm And Get A Relationship

The whole Facebook-Cambridge Analytica debacle can be read as a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth from people who like to see the internet as a wild west awaiting their control. But there is an important lesson for anyone using data.

First - why the fuss? There are already plenty of laws and forthcoming rules to prevent the misuse of data.

The General Data Protection Regulation explicitly states that someone's data cannot be used or stored without their express permission, for example.

So, even if you were to grant a company permission to use your data, you can't grant permission to them to use your friends’ data. A company can't ask for that or use that. Even Facebook realised this was a share too far in 2014 and ended the practice (which had until then been employed by 'abusive apps').

However, the argument is that all that data has already been hoarded by the bad guys. But GDPR will make every item they hoard subject to compliance. So even in the case of old data (which  loses its salience by the second in any event) the hoarder must make it easy for anyone to remove their consent and retrieve their data.

That's going to be a challenge for bad actors. And when the auditors come calling they will face fines for every single data point. And these are fines at the scale of 'put you out of business'.

The short term issue for Facebook and, therefore, for much of digital marketing and communications, is the breach of trust. This is based on the notion that we didn't understand the scale of what could be done with the posts and likes and comments we gave away in exchange for better connection with people and information that was useful or interesting to us.

Facebook could act on this, at least re the instance of Fake News. They could set their engineers to work creating an algorithm to automatically add links to fact-checking or cross-checking validated sites.

They could of course do the same for their adverts. Imagine the potential to cut through the lies...

However, these are only solutions if you have difficulty filtering truth from deceit. In reality we humans have a brilliantly well-developed ability to see through bull.

Large parts of our brains are dedicated to sorting the trustworthy from the cheats. (Martin Novak's Super Co-operators says this was essential to our ability to live in co-operative societies). Target me with all the propoganda you like, I won't be voting Nazi.

So we do have a responsibility in this as individuals. We choose what we are willing to believe, and we must ensure we apply our innate abilities to spot the fraudulent at all times.

And naturally - any business or organisation handling data must do so with care and with all due respect for the owner. It is this respect for the owner that points to the most critical learning.

If the digital industry takes one thing from Facebook's woes, it should be this:

Since the value of data rapidly decays, the relationship with the human behind the data is always going to be of far greater value than the data assets themselves.

Data is not the relationship. It is the output of a relationship. Get one.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Minimum Viable Job Descriptions

To make truly responsive digital organisations requires an insight-led approach to creating new value, shifting the way we work and the technologies we need to support us.  But it also requires a change in us.

One thing the AI revolution is teaching us is that work (at least the bit left for humans) is less about repeating tasks and much more about striving for goals.
Yet job descriptions, which function as both recruitment rule book and measurement and guidance tool, have mostly remained proscriptive and remarkably static.

Most of us know job descriptions rapidly become unsatisfactory. Today it seems they become a poor fit with reality faster than ever. Perhaps it is time to formalise and recognise this.? Understanding what we do often helps us improve it.

So let's abandon the job description in favour of the Job Hypothesis  (or at least pass it to the task-compiling world  the bots better manage). The Job Hypothesis - a minimum viable job description - should be our start point. It should provide a framework to seek candidates within and to give new starters an initial steer.

The hypothesis should emerge from your initial insights; about the market, the needs of customers and trends emerging from impacting technologies.
Add an understanding of the organisation's Why and What and you can start to work out How the role in question should support these.

From these insights you can shape what the purpose of the role is; the roles it plays in supporting the organisation's Go To Market strategies (by audience); and - crucially - the responsibilities versus gathering more insight in all of the above.
These will help define what success will look like (ie in meeting requirements in x way or by y degree).

But this first draft must only be described as a hypothesis. Success is in further, continuous refinement - making the role flexible to live market and business need and to emerging trends. This places the focus on change and rewards and formalises constant learning about the market, customers, technology and other drivers - with the intended benefit of iterating roles towards greater market fit - now and in preparation for the future.

This will not be helpful to those who are only comfortable being told what to do, or who want to do the same old things days after day. But you probably aren't recruiting many of those.  Bots have that covered.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?