Here’s the draft of five questions for first interviews on the DC podcast – let me know what you think. Spec for the podcast (which should have come first) coming soon!)
Who are you, what do you do, and why do you think it’s important?
How did your organisation or project start, and how has it changed?
Can you share an important lesson that you’ve picked up along the way, and how you learnt it?
Apart from that – is there a book, resource or author you’d particularly recommend?
What’s next, and what hard-to-find resources or partners will you be looking for?
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for change, and is in the early stages of starting a project or organisation?
Backup / candidate questions:
a. What piece of advice to you think you most need to hear? b. Can you tell me about a person who’s influenced you in a way that helped you to do your work better? c. Are there any values, commitments or practices that you think are important in running an organisation but are often overlooked?
You only get to do this once, so how are you going to play?
There’s a time for gritting your teeth, grinding it out, pushing through barriers. No pain, no gain is often true.
But for everything that isn’t necessarily hard, what’s more of an incentive to show up – hard work or fun?
If little and often is the best way to build something, to help people, to grow – what’s going to bring you back often?
What’s going to make people want to come with you?
Life is too wonderful, funny, tragic and absurd not to have fun along the way. The older I get, the more important I think this is, and the more ridiculous it seems that we put on po-faces for so much of our working lives, as if curt nods and knitted brows signal expertise and authority more reliably than a bit of levity and, dare I say it… joy?
Of course you should work smart. Automate what you can. Delegate and outsource to people who can do things better than you. Shamelessly avoid, or ruthlessly eliminate, the unnecessary.
Then identify your real work – the things that only you can do, probably things for which there are no instructions or maps. Throw in a few inefficient things that you’ve discovered you need to do to keep you honest – and do the hard work of consistently showing up and getting it done.
Ideas are easy. Ideas are free, they’re everywhere. The hard thing is turning ideas into value propositions that customers want, and business models that can scale.
How many projects do I need to invest in to create the next growth engine?
It turns out, you’d actually need to invest in 250 projects. You start with small bets first, and then gradually you filter out those ideas that don’t work, not based on a beautiful powerpoint presentation but based on evidence from the market. And gradually you’ll get to those that win. So the big lesson here is that you can’t pick the winners. You need to invest in “the losers”.
Where do I take this data from? … If you look at early stage venture investment, which is a great proxy, 65 percent of all ideas fail. 25 percent return a little bit of capital, so you invest 100 you may get 500 back. So where do the outliers come from? It’s from a small number … it’s basically four out of a thousand, or one out of 250 [that provide massive returns].
So if you want growth to happen, you need to create the playground, the boundaries, for these ideas to emerge. You need to allow people to experiment and have projects in parallel, so that you can win. That’s what strategy is about: creating the conditions for ideas to emerge. It’s not “hey this is a good idea, we make a big bet, and we execute.”
There are only a few companies in the world that have created these conditions, and it’s not a miracle or a coincidence that Amazon has grown so quickly, because when you have a leader who says “Amazon is the best place in the world to fail” and he admits that “invention and failure are inseperable twins,” you have a completely different culture for those ideas to emerge.
We’re all looking for shortcuts – ways to reach our destination at lower cost (time or money) and allow us to do more.
But how can we tell whether the shortcut is a ladder (a new way and better way to get our job done) or a hack – a shortcut that saves you time now but that you (or others) pay more for later?
Here are four questions to ask about shortcuts, courtesy of Seth Godin:
1. Is it repeatable? Non-repeatable shortcuts are interesting, but you can’t build a life or a future around them.
2. Is it non-harmful? What are the downstream effects of this shortcut? … I want to know that it’s not going to hurt me or hurt the people I care about it… or break our culture.
3. Is it additive? If I get to do it again, does it better over time?
4. Can it survive the crowd? Does it have to be a secret?
The internet offers all of these short-term hacks, all these things that might make you feel like you’re winning in the short run, but often they don’t hold up to the light of day, they hurt you or other people, you can only do them once, and they’re not aligned with where you’re going and how you’re going to get there…
The long short-cuts are the best possible short-cuts.
Or what about a chip in every Lego brick, or every nail?
You tell your AI what you’re building later, and it crawls your child’s Lego collection or your toolbox to collect the relevant pieces… and tells you what’s missing, and orders the missing piece.
Or you’re struggling to find a piece, or the right size screw, so you ask the Lego box / tool box where it is – and it tells you. Or you scan the heap of tiny pieces through augmented glass and see the ones you need outlined red in the display.
You finish your creation, photograph it, and share it with a friend – not just the photo, but an automatically generated instruction set that they can use to build it themselves (or it could self assemble), modifying it and sending it back to you.
And now you’re playing co-op Minecraft in the real world.
Self-finding, self-assembling Lego seems like the worst kind of dumbing down – but what new types of play does it make possible? Which of the purest parts of playing Lego does it sully – and what does it emphasise and augment?
This is a small example of how technology acts as a lens that forces us to identify and and appraise our values. What we do with it is never neutral, rarely unambiguous, and always a choice – like most interesting problems.
Here are the sorts of things that might happen when there’s a chip in everything, and all the things we own can talk to each other.
You’ll never have to hunt for a lost item of clothing or a piece of paper again. The annoying questions that you used to ask your parents / housemates / spouse will be addressed to the AI that runs your house instead:
“Where’s my orange running shirt?”
Will be answered with something like:
“It’s in your clothes cupboard, but on the wrong shelf, under the green towels**.” or “It’s in the washing machine finishing the rinse cycle, and can be dry in 15 minutes.” or “I last saw it in your gym bag last Thursday… checking your locker at the gym now… I’m sorry to tell you that your orange shirt is lost***. Sending out a Lost and Found notice to your contact list now… It appears that your brother has ‘borrowed’ the shirt again. His AI is arranging for it to be returned later today.”****
Who might this be good news for? School children? The Elderly? You? How could it change the work that you do? How could this go wrong, and what could you do about it?
** Of course, it’s likely that you’ll have a service that will always put your clothes back in the right places.
*** And it’s unlikely that you’ll leave a shirt behind at the gym – your bag will see that it’s been left behind, and ask you if this is deliberate before you leave.
**** Assuming that your brother doesn’t actually want to steal your shirt, in which case his AI might deny knowledge, while arranging to remove the incriminating chip…