Who pays? (1)

Who pays for what can have a dramatic effect on your work.

Infinite Demand

If what you do is free, and enough people like it, you have a situation of infinite (or as good as infinite) demand. This is fine if you can serve everyone – we all win. Digital products – this blog, things on youtube – are good examples. No-one misses out.

But if your capacity is limited, infinite demand is a problem. Who do you serve? If you could charge a bit more, could you serve more people?

We had a discussion about this today at the charity. ‘Free’ – or rather, ‘we pay’ – was our old model. It was great: we had a long waiting list, and we did good work. But we could only afford to train and equip about twenty teachers a year – on the good years when we didn’t have to shut down operations for a month or so in the summer because we had no cash.

A shift to ‘user pays cost’ (the cost of the materials that they receive, the food they eat during training) means that new users pay for themselves: we can serve as many people as we are physically able, rather than being limited to those we can afford to pay for. We can serve more people, and do more good.

A shift to ‘user pays cost and a bit’ means that we cover our overheads and start to have some space to play with – we can hire new people, invest in new resources that help us improve the quality of what we do, or hire new people to increase our capacity. We serve even more people, and do even more good.

But what about the people who really can’t afford to pay? Do we leave them behind? You might, if you’re not careful. A colleague challenged us about this in our meeting today.

We talked things through, and all agreed that everyone would lose out if we went back to free.

And we all agreed that we didn’t want those with the least to lose out the most.

Reducing our prices isn’t the answer – it makes little difference to those who have the resources to pay. and not enough of a difference to those who can’t.

Our solution: full-price, or free. We price our service at “cost and a bit, and a bit more” as standard – and offer one place in ten completely free – training, materials, meals – as a gift.

Note to self

Writing is a great tool for sharing ideas with other people.

It’s been dawning on me over the last few days that one of the people I’m communicating with is me.

When you take the time to record something accurately, or to express something clearly, or to reference carefully, it’s often a gift to your future self.

So do it often and well – chances are, you’ll thank yourself for it.

Why you?

Imagine someone else made a product very much like yours…

No. Imagine that someone else was selling exactly your product, doing your thing, only slightly cheaper.

What would make your customers still want to buy it from you?

If you can’t think of an answer to that question, think harder, or start looking for the exit.

If you’ve got an answer, probably something about who you are and the way you do what you do, about how you make your customers feel, and about how they know they can trust you…

If you’ve got an answer, keep getting better at those things.

Pretzel. Coffee.

I liked the look of the pretzels. I fancied a coffee.

There were a range of combination deals featuring pretzels and iced drinks, but none with coffee.

Seperately, they were overpriced. They would have been overpriced anyway, but in the absence of a deal I was definitely no longer willing to pay, and they lost a customer.

A combination deal featuring pretzels and coffee is worth more than the sum of its parts.

How can you combine your products of services to make them worth more to your customers, at little or no cost to you?

Offering exactly what your customer is looking for not only adds value – it also builds trust by showing that you’re thinking about them.

A second score

A tip on learning to take criticism well from Adam Grant’s Worklife podcast:

Every time I get feedback, I rate myself now on how well I took the feedback…

When someone gives you feedback, they’ve already evaluated you. So it helps to remind yourself that the main thing they’re judging now is whether you’re open or defensive…

You don’t always realise when you’re being defensive.

The second score is the score you get for how well you deal with failure, criticism, disaster.

Your first score might not be what you hoped for, but you can always give yourself a second score.

With thanks to Sharky for the recommendo.

On Assignment

Kevin Kelly went to Asia in the early 1970s having never held a pair of chopsticks.

He took a change of clothes and 500 rolls of film in his backpack, because he was, as he puts it, “on assignment” to photograph daily life and traditional culture wherever he went. He stayed for most of the decade.

He was 19 years old and going to visit a friend in Taiwan. He had some experience as a photographer but hadn’t really held much in the way of chopsticks, professionally speaking. But he was on assignment. From himself. Aged 19.

I am going to make a badge and wear it every day:

Driverless Crocodile: On Assignment.

KK was interviewed on Ralph Potts’ Deviate podcast.

Time Travel (2)

The Future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

There’s a second way to look at this. If looking at other places can help us see the future, it can also help us see the past.

One of the things I love about Jakarta is that sometimes it feels like living in Blade Runner (shiny buildings, giant LED screens, life in air conditioned bubbles) and Dickens’ London (dingy alleyways, door-to-door tradesmen, whole families sleeping packed into tiny rooms, pointless death from preventable causes) at the same time.

More on that another time – today I’m interested in how looking ‘back’ can throw our values into sharper relief. I notice:

  • More time, and less rushing – time to pass the day with people. It’s rude to rush.
  • Generosity that’s sometimes hard to get your head around, especially from the poorest. I’ll never forget the generosity of friends who have almost nothing but will give me a snack, a drink, a meal almost every time I visit. I’ve learnt to receive more easily here.
  • People who live so close together often have a better understanding of just how contingent life is. They see more babies born, live and sometimes sleep alongside three or four generations of their family, prepare and bury their own people. Closer to life, closer to death.
  • There’s a DIY ethos here – the men of the neighbourhood butchered their own animals at the feast of the sacrifice. They’re not professionals – but it means a lot more for it.

I hope to come back to this theme – there’s more to say. Each of these values – and others like ‘tradition’, ‘family’, ‘community’ – have their wonderful upsides and their suffocating drawbacks, and we see plenty of both.

Can we keep more of the good parts of our culture as it changes?

Can we reclaim the longed-for things we’ve lost?

What can I do to make your job easier?

I ask each member of my team this question at the end of the ‘Any Other Business’ part of our meeting.

I used to think of it as a management question: what can I do – or stop doing – that will make you better at your job?

And it’s a great management question.

It’s also a really helpful question to bear in mind when you’re working on a product or process, and when talking to customers.

  • How can our skills help you achieve your goals?
  • How can we make our curriculum (product) easier to use? Could we make it fun to use?
  • Can we change our training materials (product, service) so that training is easier to deliver, and teachers learn the most important things better and faster?
  • How can I organise information so that it’s easy for my team to tell customers what they want to know: what we offer, how much it costs, what they get in exchange for their money and time, and when and how they can get it?
  • What can I do to make reporting (process) as easy and as light touch is possible, and generates information that is useful – and actually gets used?

Everyone wins when you ask questions like these, listen, and take action.

Three Things

“You get work, however you get work.

“But people keep working in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.’

Neil Gaiman

I love this. Numbers two and three are relatively simple.

Now for the hard bit:

  • Go away, think again about your values. Did you forget kindness the first time round? or fun?).
  • Reconsider your vision in the light of experience. It’s always an MVP.
  • Then define “good work”. Your best work.

Time Travel (1)

The Future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.

William Gibson

There are ways in which we can all see the future, And ways we can learn to see possibilities and bring them into being.

One way of seeing the future is to look at those ‘unevenly distributed’ pockets where it’s already arrived. What new technologies – in the broad sense, including both new gadgets and new ways of thinking, organising work or doing things – what new technologies are overcoming old obstacles and enabling change? How might they be relevant you and your organisation?

Some examples

Here are some concrete examples: the things I’ve got my eye on for my work in education in Indonesia. None of them are really that new – not even new for Indonesia – but they’re new for education in Indonesia, especially in education for the poorest. My questions are:

  • Is it possible that the amazingly rich children’s book culture of, say, the UK, could flourish here? What would it take to grow a ‘children’s canon’ of locally written and published books that were widely known and loved, and a tribe of children’s authors who were household names? Room to Read and the Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read! Asia program are already doing great work to encourage this, but there’s so much more to do.
  • What possibilities will develop for literacy education and teacher training as internet access becomes ubiquitous, even in the most remote areas? What things that have been scarce up to now – teaching resources, teacher training – will become less scarce, or even abundant?
  • What needs to happen so that high-quality electronic teaching and learning resources of the sort already established on the English-language-and-culture internet are available in Indonesian – and then in local languages?
  • Does the open-source movement in software and hardware offer a useful model for developing the above? If enough people start using resources, some of them might share improved versions back into the system, while also localising resources for their own contexts (e.g. to regional languages and culture, or for the needs of a particular group of people)
  • Would a set of widely accepted open-source standards for specific aspects of education, and for teacher training and curriculum development as a whole, be a helpful scaffold for this process?

Further reading

  • If open source is something you’re interested in, you could start by reading Eric S. Raymond’s classic open-source manifesto, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. It’s free!
  • If you’re interested in open-source education standards and resources – or better still, open-source education and standards for Indonesia, you might be interested in an article (.pdf – see page 6) that I wrote for the HEAD Foundation’s magazine THink.

If you’d like to talk about open-source education and standards, including for Indonesia, please get in touch via the contact page.

*Here’s an attempt to embed the .pdf for direct download:

**It worked!