Category: Ideas

Blogs and newsletters I value

Every once in a while I get asked for a list of good blogs to read (for people interested in the stuff I am interested in, I assume).

I’m putting them here as an easy place to point people to and, y’know, to share.

  • Fred Wilson’s blog – he’s a VC and writes about tech, life, business, investments, food, all sorts
  • Umair Haque – for the bigger picture. Legend.
  • Dave Trott, storytelling advertising bloke – smart witty blogs on advertising and life.
  • Alexander Kjerulf, my friend Alex sharing brilliant important items on happiness at work
  • Maria Popova Brainpicker – she’s good on Twitter and I think blogging too
  • Stowe Boyd is excellent (and a great guy in real life, too)
  • Kathy Sierra is very cool – she’s clever and different
  • danah boyd / zephoria is incredibly interesting, pretty into identity, privacy, digital culture
  • Neil Perkin’s Only Dead Fish weekly email newsletter is excellent for marketing fodder
  • For mobile stuff, Benedict Evans’ email newsletter
  • Velocity Partners – great for content and B2B marketing
  • John Willshire – thinks differently, good occasional blog posts
  • Susan Etlinger analyst at Altimeter Group is a smart, brilliant person – worth paying attention to
  • Global Guerillas – pretty different to these, about global resilience but fascinating

(Important aside: I’m noticing there are few women on my list, I dislike that.)

Do shout if something really good is missing.

Weekly ammo #12

Right, let’s do this. Four fresh Culture Shock-y items.

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What your culture really says – by @shanley

Oh man. This is so good. So so good. Please read all of it. It’s like an antidote to the sunny optimism that pervades my work and that of others, where there is only upside and no scepticism.

Check this out for an ‘ooof’ kick in the stomach:

 An economic and class-based revolt of programmers against traditional power structures within organizations manifests itself as an (ostensively) radical re-imagining of work life. But really, you should meet the new boss. Hint: he’s the same as the old boss.

I need to re-read this piece weekly, because I do blithely drink the kool-aid, I do include examples in my evangelical talks that I pick up with little research or sceptical interrogation. I do need to question much much more.

Hat tip Mark Higginson

Read it now.

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Up a creek, Pirate Party looks for a paddle - Spiegel Online

Ooops, another example I promote in my work, and touted only last week – but it seems that the German Pirate Party has hit a downward spiral.

I talk about the Pirate Party as vibrant example of how politics is being disrupted in the same way as business (and education, and science and government and so on) by networked, purpose-driven organisations with a new kind of DNA.

I still believe that, of course, but this is a very interesting snippet that relates to a big theme in Culture Shock of openness and transparency:

The party’s culture of open debate and transparency has, if anything, provided a powerful argument for the kind of discretion with which most parties go about their business. Hardly a week goes by without a brutal and public personal attack made by one Pirate Party member against another.

One to watch with interest.

Read it now.

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 Martin Sorrell on what’s next - HBR

I just liked this for the fact that Sorrell, a notorious and open micro-manager and self described ‘old fart’ describes his 162,000 person organisation as being in a state of anarchy. At our consultancy we believe that all organisations are spinning into a worldly state of affairs that is more anarchic than they have ever experienced or are indeed ready for, so good to hear Sorrell saying as much.

HBR: You’ve been quoted as saying that your business is in a state of anarchy. What do you mean by that?

Sorrell: There are four forces creating anarchic pressure. The first is what we call faster-growth markets—Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe. The second is new media: digital, search, display, video, social, and mobile. The third is the application of technology to our business, including unifying all the sources of data that our clients use. And the fourth is what we call horizontality, which means getting people to play together.

Welcome to anarchy.

Read it now.

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Before I die – another awesome Candy Chang project

Just love this project from Candy Chang – its purpose, its format and its open-source spreadable nature. (An instance of it has popped up in my city, Brighton).

Here’s how they open sourced the project with a toolkit – kinda Hexayurt-y:

After receiving many requests, we created the Before I Die toolkit and this project site to help people make a wall with their community. You can also download all files for free on this site to remix or create your own stencils. Thanks to passionate people, over 100 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 10 languages and in over 30 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa. Each wall is unique and reflects the people of that community. Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life.

Read it now.

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Hope you enjoyed some o’ that.

And if you did, please spread word of Culture Shock!

On that note, I am grateful for this interesting and positive review by Simon Robinson – a consultant and lecturer in chaos and complexity theory, innovation, creativity and sustainability living in São Paulo, Brazil.

Onwards yeah? Will.

The power of words

I don’t know much about language or the theory behind it.

I do though remember the idea that every word is in itself an idea.

And I was thinking about the power of language and the underlying ideas that live inside words.

So I’m wondering how we can consciously make that part of our power as we change business.

What is the idea or many ideas hiding inside the word ‘business’, or ‘progressive’, or ‘profit’.

Related: I went to a socialist party meeting in Brighton to expand my narrow horizons a little (I’d like to do more of that, hit me if you have ideas).

The thing that struck me was the language: speakers and question askers repeatedly used the words ‘workers’ and ‘struggle’. The ideas in those words don’t work for me, their whole required worldview wasn’t loaded in my brain so the words never quite landed. But they had a power for the people there. Maybe that’s more of a tribal thing?

I guess this is meat and drink to politicians and propagandists. The war over words like immigrant, terrorist vs freedom fighter. The ownership of the ideas in words. BRANDING.

‘Mutual’ is a word becoming quite fashionable in the UK at the moment. Although it is aligned with the Conservative Party in my head, I really like the ideas I have about that word. Mutual. Nice.

Here’s a word I struggle with in all of this Culture Shock / social business / conscious business context: employees. Are they ‘staff’ – bit lowly? ‘Team’ doesn’t really scale, or does it? ‘Workers’ see above (ugh!). Maybe they are ‘people’ :)

What do you think?

Your inbox

If your email inbox was an animal, what animal would it be and why?

I ask because I am interested in how we feel about email.

Bonus points for suggesting an animal for how you feel about your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram…

The Better Business School

For a while I’ve had a hankering to establish some kind of centre of learning here in Brighton where we can gather, share and learn about new better ways to approach business. (And with a Wired Sussex hat on, we’ve had in parallel conversations with the University of Brighton discussions about how we could collaborate on something like this – but here I’m just thinking about what this could be like started from scratch).

This thing would be or lead to a school of thought as much as a physical school.

Where the learning blends the following influences:

  • Semco
  • Cluetrain
  • WorldBlu companies (inc. Zappos, Namasté Solar, DaVita etc)
  • Rebuild21
  • Umair Haque
  • SeeStep / Conscious Business
  • Design thinking
  • Permaculture and systems thinking

I have been thinking it might be good to start with a summer school approach, a bit like d.school.

The buzz words and values would be along these lines:

  • Towards a sustainable world
  • Design – matters
  • Innovation – in all things
  • Peer learning – we learn from one another
  • Learning by doing – yup
  • Diversity – in the search for the best possible results
  • Open – in all things
  • Different – always and above all

It’s definitely not a CSR thing. It’s a business thing. A better business thing. The Better Business School?

New reading term: Selections/shares-per-page

Kindle and the meteoric rise of ebooks in general will change us. They will change what it is to read, like it or not – and I have a feeling that many of us will feel very protective about notions of traditional reading, given how precious the act of reading is to so many of us.

And of course they already are. One of things I am noticing is my innate collector/archivist/sharer coming alive in the Kindle features that allow highlighting and sharing.

I love how Kindle allows me to collect the best snippets from passages of books for future re-use as ‘highlights’, and how these are then saved to the web for my future browsing and re-use. It really is [pukey marketing word] transformational in how I am now reading.

You can say that this is nothing new.

That folded page corners, pencil scribbles in the margins or accumulated notes in the front and rear covers can do all of this in a no-fi way. But the ease, the share ability and aggregation of the web make it a significantly more exciting opportunity for me at least.

Reading Umair Haque’s book (which as a long-term Haquite and reader, I didn’t want to rush into) I have found myself highlighting insanely frequently – at times one or two excerpts on every page, page after page.

This is not anything to aspire to. I only highlighted a few passages – if I remember right – of Neal Stephenson’s gorgeously occupying ‘Anathem’. But there is something of interest when a book activates an unusual frequency of highlighting or sharing.

Sorry to be so prosaic but perhaps there is a future metric here, not something to aim for but something to one and learn from in the digital publishing world…

Average shares per 1,000 words (shares per mille / SPM)?
Highlights per book reader?

(Yes, Kindle already has a setting which can highlight popularly highlighted passages in the text of a book, but personally I found that annoying as a reader, and from an observer’s viewpoint that feature is more contextual and buried *in* the experience. What I am thinking of is the contrails that are written across the sky, left behind the actual consumption and seen publicly and widely.)

So is this something that Amazon will include in book listings too, given their incredible track record as a pioneer in the revealing of data as a powerful social commerce lever?

Reviews, ratings and, coming soon, highlights and shares.

Certainty fucks me off

I had a conversation last night, in a pub (drunk) that about where we each ‘come from’.

It was good-natured banter, but I’ve realised this morning what it was that got my goat. Certainty really fucks me off.

The gist of this banter was that I look a bit non-English, whatever that means, and this friendly guy was trying to guess where I was from (which is fine), and what pissed me off was the certainty that I was or wasn’t something. How can we know? How can we absolutely belong or come from somewhere? (This guy thought he was ‘English’, which when pressed he considered himself to be ‘Anglo-Saxon’, which is pretty funny).

Anyway, that’s not the real nub of it for me. This isn’t about nationality – it’s about certainty.

The last conversation I had that agitated this same sense for me was about humans as rational beings.

In this conversation a mate of mine was staunchly advocating the idea of humans as being frequently rational – making rational decisions, thinking sensibly, thoroughly, rigorously.

I think that’s bollocks :) Personally I believe that even when we’re making ‘rational decisions’ or ‘being rational’, that we’re not at all. Utter guff! But this friend was utterly convinced of the certainty that we are often rational.

I just don’t get certainty. I can’t seem to tolerate it. It doesn’t fit with what I see and have experienced in my limited quaint little life.

What also excites this intolerance in me is the religion of Science, and those espousing a kind of fundamentalist atheism, both of which seem to be all the rage in my world of otherwise likeminded left-leaning liberal folk.

I really appreciate and admire the work of science and its huge contributions to the world we live in. That’s all good. And I agree that lots of religious stuff is silly, oppresses millions of people, is the banner and excuse for war and unnecessary pain, and mostly doesn’t make any sense. But there’s a kind of certainty – sometimes – that I can’t bear.

Won’t there always be things that elude or surprise us? Can’t we only really know stuff and account for it once it’s happened (Black Swan kinda thing)? Doesn’t history tell us that we have a track record of convincing ourself of stuff and then later finding out that we were, in fact, completely wrong? Isn’t the world always going to be partly unknowable?

For me, certainty is the preserve of haughty pompous fools and can fuck right off :)

Technology and our expectations

Instagram provides filters and tidy borders that make his photos look much richer and warmer and better than they really are.

Call of Duty provides prediction code and auto-aim that makes her aim and positioning better than they really are.

Karaoke bars provide clever stuff that makes my rendition of Eye of the Tiger less awful than it really is (and even then it’s still shockingly bad) :)

Spellcheck – for the most part – lessens the awfulness of people’s spelling.

As technology seeps into every facet of our lives, what will these enhanced abilities and invisible helping hands do to our expectations of how good we are at stuff really?

As a parent I see the resilience and fragility that come with learning, with trying, the tears, the ‘I’m rubbish’. It seems healthy, good.

So what it will be like to *not* know you’re rubbish? To cruise around propped up, prompted, auto-corrected – all wrinkles smoothed out.

Will there be clanging moments where lords and ladies of technology suddenly reenter the physical world and find they can’t fix the tap, mow the lawn, cook a meal, drive the basic car?

Will there be different classes of people, new strata in society – those that tech, those that fetch and fix? Will it be symbiotic or will one class of people dominate and bully the other?

From ‘off’ to ‘silent’ to..?

Read Victoria’s comment on the feelings and expectations that go on for all of us around the influence of technology in our relationships.

She absolutely nails it.

Here are some snippets:

Maybe I am peculiarly selfish – but honestly I don’t want to know what people are doing on their phone/ipad/laptop unless I had an expectation that they were – or should be – doing something else, that involved me somehow.

And later:

I think we need some signals back. Maybe my children will be happy for the particular device they’re using to emit the signal but I need my signal to come from a human being, so I feel like there’s opportunity for negotiation and agreement rather than being presented with a fixed notice.

Vic’s comment reminds me of noticing some of this when I did my week long course at London Business School.

At the opening lecture the main professor asked ‘can you please ensure your blackberries and phones are switched to *silent* please’.

For me that was the first formal situation that acknowledged the shift in expectations and behaviour.

For this week it was going to be OK to be looking at devices, just as long as they didn’t disrupt others by making noise.

It feels like we are slipping down an interesting slope – easing from…

- Please switch your electronics stuff off (and be present in the room)

to…

- Please switch your stuff to silent (but do what you need to do)

So what next?

What is the next step from here as the edges blur and our norms stretch?

Or will momentum swing back the other way, with growing consciousness of what these norms actually for our relationships, our productivity?

And, whatever happens, how will it make us feel?

Device wormholes

Something important is missing!

We spend hours gripping and staring madly into our personal devices: our smartphones, tablets, ereaders.

But the difference between our collective devices – like a TV or radio – and our personal devices is that it can be impossible for people around us to know what the heck we are doing when we are on/in our personal devices.

This is the wormhole we appear to disappear down to those around us when we use these devices.

I could be ordering the shopping or looking at pRon, chatting with my brother or filing an urgent report to a client, reading a book or dicking around in a casual game.

The context that was native to single format devices like a newspaper is missing in this multipurpose world.

And from a relationships point of view, this really matters.

We sit in collective shared spaces physically, entirely disconnected and ignorant of where the others are, each in their own personal wormhole.

How does that influence our relationships? What is it like to be sat near someone and yet have no idea where they are and what is going on for them? Is that colleague in a meeting replying to something urgent or playing online Scrabble?!

Personally from experience I think this can be a source of friction, a flashpoint and a place where both/ all parties can feel aggrieved.

The context is missing.
These devices have faces but no facial expressions!

It got me wondering what simple design solutions could solve this problem.

Could my iPhone use coloured lights on its reverse cover to give a sense to others of whether I am working, playing, reading?

Could your tablet sing or ding to indicate aurally what kinda activity you were up to?

I wonder.