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.

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

It’s time you learnt (a bit about) how computers work (1)

If you know nothing about how computers work (and I know precious little), it’s probably time that you learnt.

Consider: if software really does eat the world (and the signs are that it is rapidly doing so), huge swathes of your life – everything that is better off digital – will become digital. So it’s a good idea to have at least a rough idea of how computers and software work.

A good place to start is MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python. There are a few versions of this course (MIT 6.0001) on Youtube (alternatives are here and here) but this one’s my favourite. It gets into teaching the (hugely popular) Python programming language pretty fast but has some great conceptual stuff about what computers do and how they work, even in this early lecture, that will almost certainly be useful (or at least interesting) as you sail further into the 21st Century.

Recommend.

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

Horse to water

If a horse is thirsty, if they know that water will help, and if they trust you, then all you need to say is “There’s water over there,” and the rest will take care of itself.

Nothing is as important as whether people want the change you’re working for, and whether they trust that you can help it happen.

Good enough to enjoy it

Running is unpleasant until you get fit.

Swimming is the struggle to avoid drowning, until you can swim.

Writing of any kind can be a horrible sort of trudge through fog until you’ve done it enough to trust the process and it becomes an interesting trudge through fog.

Learning to play an instrument is a lot less fun than making music with other people.

You drop a lot of balls learning to juggle.

The list goes on.

Once you’ve learnt enough new things – and especially if you’ve come close to mastering a few – the struggle of learning new things takes on the glow of anticipation. You can see that you’ll get a feel for it in time. You’ve experienced the pleasure that comes as the basics become automatic, and what it’s like to be good enough at something challenging that you enjoy it.

Are there things that you do just rarely enough, or half-heartedly enough, to stay bad at them? It’s time to decide either to stop playing, or to commit the little extra it will take to allow you to start doing them well, and even to enjoy them.

A sense of urgency (2): Clayton Christensen on measuring your life

John Greenall wrote this about our lack of a sense of urgency about the most important things in life:

I wonder if it comes back to overscheduling, busyness, lack of prioritisation and an internal need to look good. This all leads to overloaded diaries and an overly full life. The routine is downplayed and not given sufficient time or consideration and you lurch from one thing to another. Another factor from above is the lack of urgency on relationships. It can be easy to see people as tools to achieve an end, or to further your own purposes, rather than seeing developing them and helping them win as an end in itself.

John’s right – and his comment is a great introduction to these words from Clayton Christensen, which I added to my ‘to post’ list this morning. Christensen was asked about the origin of his book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, and began by sharing the ‘scarily’ sad life paths of many of his apparently successful peers. In effect, he blames ‘wrong metrics’ – measuring the wrong things, or paying too much attention to the short-term, immediately measurable things:

… I can tell you with perfect certainty that not a single one of my classmates when we graduated from Harvard planned to go out and raise children who hate their guts, and get divorced one or two or three times. Our intention was to create homes where there was happiness there, that was a source of happiness for the rest of our lives.

That was what we intended to do, and how we spent our time and energy was just the opposite of that.

And the reason why is the very same thing [discussed earlier]: it’s the metrics. So those of us who are driven to achievement… when we have that need for achievement, then when we have an extra thirty minutes of time or ounce of energy, we instinctively spend our time and energy on whatever activities will give us the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. And our careers provide that. So every day at work I ship a product, I finish a project, I get promoted, I get paid, we close another deal… and every day I get immediate and tangible evidence of achievement at work.

And then when I walk into the front door there’s not a lot of evidence of achievement when you look at your kids. On a day to day basis they may misbehave every day, the place gets cluttered every day and it really isn’t until twenty years down the road, until you’re able to look at your kids and put your hands on your hips and say “My gosh, we created a wonderful young man or woman.” But on a day to day basis there’s no evidence of that.

As a result of that, we invest our time and energy in our careers, and under-invest in our children and our spouses, even though we plan to have that be the source of energy… and that’s why I chose to write that book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

Clayton ChristensenWhere does Growth Come From? (Talks at Google)

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?

Podcast recommendation: Econtalk – Andy Matuschak on Why Books Don’t Work

This is a fantastic interview that takes Andy Matuschak‘s controversially titled essay as a springboard for a not-really-controversial but fascinating discussion of teaching, learning and tech informed by Matuschak’s work at Kahn Academy.

Highly recommend. Highlights to follow.