Sunday, January 05, 2020

Do Make Me Think

2020 marks 20 years since Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think ushered in two decades of 'Easy'. The next decade is one in which meeting more than our dumb desire for instant gratification will need to be taken much more seriously.

Easy has been a mantra across web design, UX, c
Work it out for yourself...
ustomer experience, communications strategy and alarmingly, media and political propaganda.

The drive for easy should now be tempered with the need we all have to apply more critical thinking.

Easy underestimates human complexity. It dumbs down. And in so doing it reduces our engagement. In our desire to make so much so frictionless, we have unwittingly shifted consumers (and citizens) toward consumption (and passive acceptance) when the promise at the start of the decade was for ever greater participation - with all the value generation of co-creation and collaboration through communities of purpose - people caring enough to act.

Human needs include and demand much more than instant gratification. Challenge, inspiration, judgment, justice - all these contribute to the self-actualisation through which we derive our meaning.

If the last two decades have all been about easy, the next must build on the benefits that has delivered (essentially making technology invisible - an enabler rather than an end in itself).

Easy has become table stakes.

To win in the next decade will be to understand and respond to more complex needs -unearthed through quality human insight. Businesses will have to deliver against those needs in rapidly shifting contexts - managing the ambiguity that inevitably produces - at speed.

And they will need to do it with products and services which challenge, inspire and encourage participation; whether that be to save the planet, improve the lives of millions or the health of the individuals engaged.

It's time to make them think.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Rt Hon Chief Product Officer

If you were planning to build a successful product called Brexit where would you start?
Well - you could, like the least successful product makers, sit around a table and work from a set of assumptions about what you think the British people are likely to buy.
You might even run a 'what do you like' survey. You would then invest the farm (or in this case, the country) on what you assume IS 'what they want'. And then spend, spend, spend on advertising to convince people that the thing you now 'have evidence that they want', is what they should invest their hard-earned in.
This is the way of the 95% of product innovation that fails.
The trouble with this approach is that even if the con(vincing) job works, and the customer does indeed buy, that customer ends up with something that doesn't fit their needs or answer the pain-points in their lives. They won't find it of value - they won't recommend it and they won't buy it again.
No, if you want to build a successful product called Brexit you must start with understanding the core needs of those you are making it for.
What are the core needs of the citizens of the UK? There may be some complex emotional ones (known as Esteem needs in Maslow's hierarchy) about fear of change, loss of status etc. But there are some tangible and more basic ones too: Security; Food; Clothes; Shelter.
And right at the top of the hierarchy is all the 'self-actualisation' stuff about being able to achieve one's full potential.
When those needs are understood - then is the time to move to developing concepts that could be best shaped to meet those needs, to solve their pain.
And in a series of iterations in which you shape the direction of that concept, always validating that it is meeting the needs of those for whom it is intended, always testing they understand and get value from what it is you are shaping, you may move to low-through-high-resolution prototypes until eventually you are in a position to launch something you can be pretty sure meets the actual needs of the people it is meant for.
I have yet to see a version of Brexit that serves more than a very narrow band of the nation's needs. You may see it differently.
We don't need (yet) another PR Guru in No10 to con(vince) us of what we want. At this point we need a very capable Chief Product Officer to respond to what we need.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The difference between success and Segways
Innovation has a number of  barriers in the journey to success.

Adam Grant explores some of the myths around this in his latest book Originals. 
He points out that success is less about willingness to risk take, and more about skill in risk mitigation. 
And that more is more when it comes to ideas turning into successful outputs. (You need to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince/princess).
But when you are dealing with lots of ideas, being able to successfully judge which to proceed with, as early as possible, is the difference between success - and the Segway.

Grant explains:
"Inventors will necessarily struggle mightily in gauging whether their creations are ultimately frogs or princes. The best way to get better at judging our ideas is to gather feedback. Put a lot of ideas out there and see which ones are praised and adopted by your target audience."
You need to hear how your customers feel about your idea. You need to connect early, and often.
"When building the Segway, (the) team generated a wide number of ideas, but didn’t have enough critical input from customers to make the right choices for the final product. The device went through three or four iterations before a customer ever saw it.
Conviction in our ideas is dangerous not only because it leaves us vulnerable to false positives, but also because it stops us from generating the requisite variety to reach our creative potential"
The lesson is simple. Inventors are poor at evaluating the value of their idea versus customer need or response. Managers are equally poor:
"In the face of uncertainty, our first instinct is often to reject novelty, looking for reasons why unfamiliar concepts might fail. When managers vet novel ideas, they’re in an evaluative mindset. To protect themselves against the risks of a bad bet, they compare the new notion on the table to templates of ideas that have succeeded in the past."
Trusting our customers and - particularly in the ideation and concept stages, giving them the tools to be open to the novel (think of the tools deployed to drive open thinking in the Design Thinking process), is your route to the highest hit rate. and the lowest waste of creative effort, time and money.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Why mice get to eat dinosaurs

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Many of us work for a reason. We have something we want to achieve. We want to make change, fix a problem, get stuff done. In the ideal scenario 100% of our efforts are focused on exactly that.

Funnily enough, that's also the reason for every business ever to start. Every start-up is a solution to a problem that someone stumbled on, woke up screaming about or otherwise identified a 'gap on the market'.

So why does it often feel like your ambition to get things done, to make things better, ends up being constrained by the very organisations that were meant to be configured to share in and scale your ability to make that difference?

It's an old conundrum - labelled variously Dis-economies of Scale, career politics, empire building, silo'd thinking etc. Whatever the name the result is immense waste, both for the businesses themselves and for the customers they aim to serve.

This waste gets formalised in structural inertia that constrains the organisation's ability to adapt.
And unless these are understood, acknowledged and a plan for responding to them is drawn up - well that inertia will keep things as they were, stalling the ability to compete.

Of course you don't need to worry if there are no new entrants to your market arriving without all those constraints. But if there are (there always are) then you must address them or try to compete with roughly half your capability and capacity to respond focused on dealing with internal drag instead of focused on meeting market need.

The start-up mentality comes without the brakes. It's little surprise therefore that in case after case the businesses that have succeeded since digital began (you know the examples off by heart by now) have been start-ups built on a different way of working. I'm not saying every start-up will out-compete every incumbent. I am saying that those that survive long enough to emerge to compete come without the inertia of incumbents and are instantly better positioned to perform better.

The inability or unwillingness to identify and deal with their inertia is also why it is so hard to point to a large scale incumbent business in any sector and claim they have pulled off a genuine transformation driven by digital. Orgs that were not born digital have to deal with a heap of internal inertia such as:

Resistance to:

  • Ending old supplier relationships in order to establish new ones. Better the devil you know, right?
  • Admitting you may have backed the wrong horse (eg ending investments you built the case for and/or supported in the past). I haven't got to where I am today without sticking to my guns, right?
  • Moving monoliths of capability and capacity from old to new requirements. What do we do with all these mouths we always fed with the old, while we scramble towards where the market is actually headed?
  • Cannibalising what you do with cheaper alternatives. But that hits my margins! (Sure, wait for someone to eat your business from outside instead then).
  • Anything we aren't absolutely clear about, have little experience in, or isn't core to our strengths. We have no expertise in X. Hint - if it's new, nor does anyone else. The thing to be expert in is learning and responding at speed.
  • New Data. Seriously - how many times have you heard 'we tried this before and it failed' when the whole landscape in which the plan was meant to operate has shifted? New guys don't have your hang-ups (or as you may prefer to call it in the boardroom, your 'corporate memory')
  • Accepting that success in your old model is not what's required to succeed in the new. Proven leaders in the old are just the folk for the new, right?
All of these and several others lead to the most debilitating inertia of all - rabbit-in-headlights syndrome. This is the resistance to making a decision in time to jump.

Of course - not only must you be able to make a decision fast enough, you also need to know which way to jump. That's where real strategy plays, where you ditch the 4x4s to find the insight to really understand the landscape, your opponents, the direction of travel of change/market demand, the wisest places to attack and defend, and the challenges yourselves and your rivals face in implementing the tactics that attack or defence will requireAnd I've shared much on this in recent posts. (eg The Job Of Digital Strategy).

For today, let's focus on how we can remove some of this inertia.

Perhaps its worth taking some lessons from DevOps (and emerging DesOps). It seems odd to me that many incumbent organisations are taking up, or being sold on, the advantages of one or both to make things but rarely getting the hint that perhaps this is how they should be organising themselves to operate for value.

For example, high-level lessons from DevOps:

Measure: Localise accountability.
This requires the redistribution of the power to act - you can't ask for accountability without it. Flattened hierarchies are pretty much inevitable.

Speed: Get to “learn” as quickly as possible.
That demands some Scrum Mastery... driving the notion of server-leaders whose job is to support the makers on their mission, and remove obstacles. If the inertias are your obstacles then, game on. This one organisational focus could save it.

Responsive: Pivot on lessons quickly.
See above. Speed without the power/capacity/capability to respond is just a faster way to crash).

Automate: Use software to do more to help create and manage what can be automated.
See also the idea of Scrum Mastery - as in removing obstacles, accelerating pace, repeating what can be replicated (getting to nuts and bolts you can re-use vs making a new set of nuts and bolts for each piece of work).

Small chunks: Reduce risk through compartmentalisation.
This one large orgs really struggle with. Small teams working at speed, enjoying distributed power with the capacity and capability to act on their own decisions).

There is power in these basic tenets of DevOps, much of it writ-through agile approaches and all of it core to a new way of working.

But let's be clear, this requires a different way of working, different flows of capital, different distributions of power. These come as standard in start-ups. But unless and until you are able to match the freedom to move that a start-up is born with, you will be out-competed, as sure as mammals followed dinosaurs.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Standardising innovation will deliver disruption at scale

I joined in a conversation on Linkedin triggered by one innovator positing a view on what disruption really is - and a dozen more piling in to place their version of the truth on record.
My point of view was/is this:
A technology trend has the potential to be disruptive
The response to it is a business model built on the co-evolution of practice which that trend prompts. If that response is a new model creating value in a new way, it will disrupt the existing landscape.

I felt the lack of clarity/consistency/agreement about a pivotal term like disruption revealed how far from being truly disruptive the innovation industry currently is. This comes as small surprise given that it is a core part of digital transformation (being the way-of-working How of digital transformation). And as I have previously pointed out - Digital Transformation faces its own lack of clarity on the supply side, at a time when demand is outstripping the industry's ability to supply it.

The nuts and bolts of innovation remain too often hand-wrought. We can not expect innovation to become the new way of working at a scale and regularity that the speed of digital demands, unless and until we bring a little more standardisation and certainty to it.

This was something I also referred to in: A Shared Language of Innovation recently. In that article I discuss the way in which terms such as MVP, POC, Pilot and Prototype get used in multiple ways. This speaks to the current lack of standardisation and uncertainty (when the client demand is for more standards and more certainty).

But that was just a start. Take a look at the terms I italicised in my initial POV above. We could have a lengthy debate on the meaning of all of them. Which would waste effort, time and intellect which would be better spent on creating the higher order complexity in which value actually resides.

Innovation - particularly where it relates to digital transformation - must agree and stick to making standard sized nuts and bolts. 

Until it gets close to ubiquity its impact will be limited.
There is little Disruption in making nuts and bolts - but there is next to none without them.

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?