Some questions for making change happen

  • What’s the problem?
  • What networks of people and things underlie the problem, and what context or environment are they embedded in?
  • Who wins if you solve the problem?
  • Who stands to lose?
  • What’s in it for you? What else is in it for you?
  • What or who is keeping you honest?
  • Who else cares about this? Can you join them? Will they join you?
  • What (potential) points of leverage can you identify?
  • Is there a technical or technological fix?
  • What are the key relationships, processes, and resources necessary to make the fix work?
  • What are the key relationships, processes and resources for doing it again… And again? (What’s the wrapper?)
  • What story do you need to tell, where and to whom, to make this thing happen?
  • When will you stop?

Work through these questions, act on your guesses, then work through them again.

Clayton Christensen: Jobs to be done (1)

Here’s a great insight from Clayton Christensen: people don’t buy a product or service because of abstract needs, but rather when they have a specific job to do.

So people don’t use public transport, or cars, or taxis because they need transportation in general, but when they need to go and do something specific at a specific time.

All people need to be healthy, but they only consume medical services when they notice that they are sick, or hurt, and have the ‘job to do’ of getting better.

All people have an abstract need for education of one sort or another at all times, but they generally only seek out and pay (in some combination of money, time and effort) for books or teachers or schooling when they have a need or want for a specific thing.

You can watch Christensen’s famous (and funny) example of what people “hire” MacDonald’s milkshakes for in the video below.

Benefits of thinking about customer behaviour in this way include…

  • Better understanding of why people ‘buy’ what you offer – understanding the job to be done is for more helpful for improving your offering than general demographic information or market research into how you might improve your product because it’s more specific, focusing on the critical moments when people actually buy
  • More insight into who else might buy your product – instead of asking “who is similar to my customer?” you ask “Who has a similar job to do?” and “What other jobs does our product do well?”
  • Stability – Christensen points out that ‘jobs’ are far more stable than products and users. Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Steve Jobs, for example, all needed to get letters securely from A to B – but the services they made use of to get the job done were radically different.

Resources: Steve Blank Playlist

If you’re not familiar with Steve Blank, start here:

The Principles of Lean

“No business plan survives first contact with customers.”

On Acting on Customer Discovery

If you’re going to go out and discover whether customers like your idea or not, this is not an outsourceable problem. The founders need to do this. Particularly, the people capable of changing strategy need to be the ones hearing good news and bad. … Getting feedback from customers is the most valuable thing you will do as entrepreneurs. It is not outsourceable.

Customer Development

The thing is to think as much in terms of developing customers as developing products. Once you’ve got the basic idea, watch all of this (long) video:

Bonus Material

Steve Blank: definition of a startup

I’m horrified to discover that I haven’t posted anything much focusing on Steve Blank’s work on Startups, customer discovery and iteration.

His definition of a startup is a great place to start:

A startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Steve Blank – The Startup Owners Manual

And here’s a little more:

Entrepreneurs who have run a startup know that startups are not small versions of big companies. Rather they are different in every possible way – from goals, to measurements, from employees to culture. Very few skills, process, people or strategies that work in a startup are successful in a large established company and vice versa because a startup is a different organizational entity than a large established company.

Therefore, it follows that:
a)  Startups need different management principles, people and strategies than large established companies
b)  Any advice that’s targeted to large established companies is irrelevant, distracting and potentially damaging in growing and managing a startup

Steve Blank – A Startup is Not a Smaller Version of a Large Company

This is a really useful insight: modelling early-stage organisations on large and successful organisations has its uses – Jim Collins suggests that big companies start thinking and acting like big companies before they become big – but we need to appreciate that they’re fundamentally different organisations.

An early stage organisation is all about the search, asking questions like:

  • How do we make the change we seek?
  • How do we make our ideas work in the real world?
  • How do we serve more people and have more of an impact?
  • Where will the money come from?

Finding answers to these questions is dependent on taking risks, trying things out and making mistakes – and is fundamentally messy. It’s supposed to feel chaotic.

Steve Blank argues that a mature business – is primarily focused on exploiting a proven business model. That is, they’ve found something that works, that people want, and that pays for itself, and the challenge is to get it into the hands of as many people as possible and fight off competition. I think mature non-profits are (or should be) a bit different (we should always be looking for new and better ideas, new people to serve in new ways) – but it’s a helpful perspective. Established organisations ask questions like:

  • How can we continue to grow and to serve more people with our product?
  • How can we get more efficient at what we do?
  • How can we secure our position?
  • What will we be doing in five years’ time, and how should we budget for it?

There’s stability, predictability, a degree of safety… and (Clayton Christensen would argue), almost inevitable decline. It seems to be the case that when you’re starting out, you wish you could become a ‘proper’ organisation, and once you’ve become established, you’re desperate for the excitement and dynamism of the start.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what youve got til its gone?

Joni Mitchell

Resources: Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation

Clayton Christensen’s The Innovators Dilemma is a business classic, providing a framework for understanding how technological or business model innovations (or more usually, both) allow new businesses to gain a foothold in markets or to create new ones.

It’s been hugely influential – and has come in for its share of criticism.

This post contains links to a range of resources for getting up to speed with disruptive innovation, as well as some of Christensen’s other theories – particularly his ‘jobs to be done’ view of markets and product development, and modularity theory.

The Christensen Institute:

Brief introductions to:

… and some decent blog posts illustrating some of these topics in different fields

Talk at Google

This is my favourite overview – Christensen covers most of his key ideas clearly and with humour.

At Startup Grind

On how to build a disruptive business…

And talking with Marc Andreessen about his ideas:

On the a16z Podcast

Highly recommend these episodes:

  1. Beyond Disruption Theory: Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz talking about how disruption theory has been important to them, with other insights into entrepreneurship in general:

2. Competing Against Luck: Another conversation with Marc Andreessen about how the Christensen’s understanding of disruption theory has evolved

At Said Business School, Oxford

I’ve just discovered these while writing this post – will add a note later once I’ve watched them.

Lecture 1: Disruptive Innovation:

Lecture 2: Management

Lecture 3: The Process of Research

Carl Sagan on starting from scratch

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Carl Sagan

Starting from scratch is overrated (and impossible). Some better questions are:

– Has someone else already made what I’m trying to make? Or something similar? Or part of it? (Readymade is usually easier than DIY).

– What new things can I make with the components I already have?

– Which building blocks have I overlooked or neglected?

– Where can I look for new building blocks?

– Who else would find what I’ve built useful? Can I share it – or share instructions for how to make it? (Saving someone from having to make something themselves is the foundation of most business models, and instructions are another type of building block.)

– Which pieces of what I do is it really essential that I break down and re-make myself?

Seeds (3): becoming Beatrix Potter

1866

Helen Beatrix Potter born in London.

1876

Beatrix Potter has already been doing a lot of drawing and painting. This watercolour is from 1876, a couple of months before her tenth birthday:

Beatrix Potter Early Drawing of anthropomorphic rabbits

1883

Aged 17, she writes “I can’t settle to anything but my painting. I lost my patience over everything else.”

1890

Beatrix Potter sells her first pieces of artwork, illustrations for a set of Christmas cards. She’s 24 years old.

Beatrix Potter Christmas card image 1890

1893

Potter sends an illustrated letter to Noel Moore, the son of her former governess, which contains what will become the opening line of The Tale of Peter Rabbit:

Beatrix Potter Noel Moore Peter Rabbit early letter

1900-1902

Beatrix Potter turns the picture letter into a story. After a couple of false starts (including an alternative version of the story in verse written by another author), the book takes off. 28,000 copies – six printings – are sold by December 1902.

1902-1943

Potter is intimately involved in the design and publication of her books, and the development of spin-off projects and merchandising. She becomes a landowner and conservationist, “credited with preserving much of the land that now constitutes the Lake District National Park.”**

2000

The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

So what, Sharky?

So this is a beautiful example of an overnight success that was decades in the making. It took thirty-six years – and probably thousands of sketches and paintings – for Beatrix Potter to become Beatrix Potter. She spent thirty-six years as the seed.

For more on Beatrix Potter see Sarah Gristwood‘s The Story of Beatrix Potter, and this site from the V&A.

**Wikipedia

Drucker on the theory of the business

The theory of the business must be known and understood throughout the organisation. This is easy in the organization’s early days. But as it becomes successful, an organization tends increasingly to take its theory for granted, becoming less and less conscious of it. Then the organization becomes sloppy. It begins to cut corners. It begins to pursue what is expedient rather than what is right. It stops thinking. It stops questioning. It remembers the answers but has forgotten the questions. The theory of the business becomes “culture.” But culture is no substitute for discipline, and the theory of the business is a discipline.

The theory of the business has to be tested constantly. It is not graven on tablets of stone. It is a hypothesis, And it is a hypothesis about things that are in constant flux – society, markets, customers, technology. And so, built into the theory of the business must be the ability to change itself. Some theories are so powerful that they last for a long time. Eventually every theory becomes obsolete and then invalid. It happened to the GMs and the AT&Ts. It happened to IBM…*

Peter Drucker – Managing in a Time of Great Change (From The Daily Drucker)

*It happened to Compuserve, MySpace, Yahoo, Nokia…

Seeds (2): bikes, planes and automobiles

Many of the seeds of the automobile industry came from bicycle manufacturers (I touched on this in Use, Copy, Repair, Make), and on a visit to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu I learnt some more of the story.

Karl Benz, widely credited as the maker of the first practical automobile, started in mechanical engineering and ironwork and started experimenting with petrol engines to power industrial machines. In 1883 he joined forces with Max Rose and Friedrich Wilhelm Eßlinger who owned – you guessed it – a bicycle repair shop. Benz & Companie Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik made petrol engines for industry, which allowed Benz to develop his expertise and finish his first Patent Motorwagen in 1885.

Other companies that grew out of bicycle manufacturers include Rover, Peugeot, Opel, Skoda, Humber and Hilman, Sunbeam, and Calcott.

There’s a parallel trend with weapons manufactures: Royal Enfield and B.S.A. (British Small Arms) turned their expertise in machining from guns to motorbikes and cars.

And it doesn’t stop at cars: the Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics turned manufacturers who turned their hand to aviation instead.

We needed bike companies to innovate and start making cars, becoming cross-breed or hybrid companies before second generation ‘pure’ car companies picked up the torch and made further innovations as specialists.

So what, Sharky?

Right now, somewhere, in something that already exists, the seed of the Next Big Thing is taking root and getting ready to grow.

  • If you have an idea of what the future looks like, what might the seeds look like? Can you shape your project with the Next Big Thing in mind?
  • Looking at things from the other way round, what might your organisation be the seed of? What’s The Future for your field?
  • Is there a hybrid step (engines and bicycles, bicycle engineering and wings) that you could take to open up possibilities for your organisation?

Sketchpad studio springboard

Fit for Purpose or Good Enough mean different things depending on what we’re talking about, who it’s for and where and how it’s going to be seen – which is to say that they exist in a network, and that Good Enough can change even for a single piece of work.

This often happens as a function of time:

  • Dirt roads might work for a village, but they’re not really Good Enough for a town.
  • 30 kids copying off a blackboard for an hour or two was a perfectly adequate model of education a few generations ago;
  • What passed as a good website or presentation fifteen years ago rarely stands up today (unless you’re Tom Peters);
  • The writing of Charles Dickens has shifted from being Popular Entertainment to Literature (I doubt much of his work would be serialised in magazines today).

And of place:

  • The famous Fountain was changed simply by being placed in a gallery;
  • Cold beer tastes better on a beautiful beach;
  • We become different people at concerts, in museums, on holiday;
  • A shippable blog post is rarely Good Enough for a book.

And of who we are:

  • Children’s TV is a lot less interesting when you’re no longer a child, and teenage angst gets old as we do;
  • Fox News and The Guardian are indispensable – or not – depending on where you’re coming from;
  • Bat is a delicacy if you’re from Manado.

And – and all of the above are really all examples of this – what it’s connected to:

  • Dickens’ books gain interest and value in relationship to each other, and to Das Kapital, and to TV adaptations;
  • The Beatles’ studio outtakes and rehearsals were by definition not good enough – but became collectible in relationship to all those A-sides, and with time;
  • The contents of Da Vinci’s sketchbooks weren’t Good Enough for a gallery when he was filling them.

Which brings me to the variable quality of posts here, and who and what they’re for. Some are ready to share. Some are sketches. All gain value (for me at least) in relationship to the rest as hummus, hinterland and springboard to something new, and to a better Good Enough.