DC Podcast: Spec-tacular (spec for a spec)

This is a ‘spec for a spec’ pulling together some threads from This is Marketing (‘The Simple Marketing Promise’, ‘Marketing in five steps’ and ‘Simple Marketing Worksheet’) and this page.

1. Audience: Who do I seek to serve?

What is the world view of the audience you’re seeking to reach?
My product is for people who believe…

I will focus on people who want…

What are they afraid of?

2. Purpose: What change do I seek to make?

What change are you seeking to make?

What story will you tell? Is it true?
I promise that engaging with what I make will help you…

How will it change their status?

3. Mechanism and Ecosystem: How will it work?

How will people hear about it?

What happens when people use it?

How will they tell others?
Where’s the network effect?

Where does the money come from? Where does it go?

What asset are you building?

4. Impact: How will we know if it’s working?

Are you proud of it?

What change do you hope to see?

Where do we go next?

Driverless Crocodile Podcast: 6 Questions

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!)

  1. Who are you, what do you do, and why do you think it’s important?
  2. How did your organisation or project start, and how has it changed?
  3. Can you share an important lesson that you’ve picked up along the way, and how you learnt it?
  4. Apart from that – is there a book, resource or author you’d particularly recommend?
  5. What’s next, and what hard-to-find resources or partners will you be looking for?
  6. 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?

Motto (3): Work hard

Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.

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.

Work hard to…

In my experience the hardest work to do well is the important, non-urgent, values-laden, emotional-labour intensive stuff. For me, this includes

  • Focusing on doing the work, and on the people it’s for, and not on how I look doing it – no-one else actually cares
  • Managing people well – not just to get the job done, but to look after them and help them grow
  • The necessary ‘wrapper’ of thorough preparation and follow-up so that meetings, events, regular training are really worth the time
  • Being present, staying focused and committed and pushing forward when the next step isn’t clear or it feels like nothing’s working, or nothing’s working
  • Having time for people at the right time – and being able to say ‘no’, or ‘I have to go’
  • Following up on things I’ve delegated and doing what it takes to get them done
  • Finishing things when they’re good enough.

Shortcuts: ladder or hack?

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.

Seth GodinAkimbo Sauce and Godiva

Work: living in the middle

With types of work (work: generative; work: decisive) the virtue is in the mean.**

One plants, births, grows, opens.

The other prevents, kills, prunes, closes.

And we have these gardens, between the wilderness and the desert.

** Aristotle

Ways in: ravelling the network

Interface

A discipline, culture or scene is a network: a mesh of people, things, ideas and ways of doing things.

It might be tightly defined, with a clear centre, tightly woven middle, and a strong sense of a margin.

It might be clustered, with areas where the web is thicker and deeper, but with threadbare valleys inbetween,  fading out to the hinterland.

It might be looser – candyfloss or mist – a ball of tenuous connections at a distance.***

Whatever the form – and if you zoom in or out far enough, they all look much the same – a key feature is that there are no edges. The margins are always porous, threadbare, and frayed, and everything is intertwingled.

Ways in

We find our way into a network by joining it – by making points of connection, by crawling the web, ravelling the edges of the network.

For a field of study, we ravel the references, following the threads of footnotes and references to position ourselves in the network.** 

In a culture or scene, we hop from person to artifact to text to place to practice, each one leading us on to another – and back and round again – as we get familiar with the landscape.

Some things to bear in mind

  1. Thick cloth is hard to pierce, and it’s hard to break into the middle of a network. Change (including accommodating you) is slower and harder: the web is thick and tight, the connections harder to break and re-weave, and space is limited.
  2. Networks overlap. A strong connection with a person (relationship, status) or an idea (expertise, reputation) in one field might help you cross over to the middle of another, different field.
  3. The web is sticky. Once you’re in, you’re usually a bridge (in and out) for others. Be generous.
  4. You add value to the network by bringing something new: new and valuable ideas, new tools or ways of doing things, new attitudes that make it more enjoyable to be part of the network, new connections (by connecting the dots within the network to thicken it, and by bringing connections to an entirely different network).

Start somewhere: Show up. Make connections. Be generous.

**Citations formed a web of knowledge long before the internet.

*** Word on the street is that candyfloss is tougher, denser and less tenuous than you’d think (hat tip: RudderlessSalamander)

Work: executive / decisive

These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time.  An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.

Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.

We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.

We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.

We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.

Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.

At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction. 

The last ten minutes…

…before you leave the house is not the time to start moving faster.

Strange things happen to time in the last ten, and the minutes go twice as fast.

Thrash early.

Start acting with last minute urgency with twenty minutes** to go and you’ll glide out of the door gracefully, and right on time.***

*See also: Thrash Now– and this

** Double this if you’ve got kids

***I’m leaving the house in 19 minutes****

**** It’s inadvisable to include having a shower in your list of ‘last ten’ activities

Organisational friction

is caused by things in your working day that you live with or work around but that sap your time, energy or attention and make it harder for you to do good work.

It’s caused by the work equivalents of leaving unwashed plates piled up in the sink at home. You save a bit of time and energy heaping them up instead of getting them through the sink, but for the rest of the day, they slow you down: they’re depressing to look at; they’re get in the way and are awkward to work around; when you’re looking for a clean bowl for breakfast you’ve got to snorkling in the murk to get one; people start to grumble. It’s the death of a thousand cuts.

At work, the same thing happens: we neglect things that need maintenance – relationships, organisation, correspondence; we leave things half finished – policies, sales documents, projects; we keep options open that need to be closed, and closed early, and they drag on, keep popping up at bad times, and leave us with explaining to do.

These things tire us, they make us feel guilty, and they slow us down.

Here are some ideas for dealing with organisational friction – things that will give you an easier tomorrow:

  • Identify the things that keep popping up – decisions that you make over and over because you don’t have a policy, or answers to frequently asked questions that you could copy and paste.
  • Make a list of friction points, then choose your top three, and fix one of them – fix it properly – and only then do something about the second one, and only when that’s done start on the third. The energy you save from reduced friction from the first one will mean that you’ll get the second done faster. And so on.
  • Plan regular times – daily, weekly, monthly, where you’ll maintain things like your petty cash reports or your file system, or a relationship with a colleague. Make it a habit to show up for the important but non-urgent – you’ll find you have less fires to fight as a result.
  • Plan less in your days than you think you can achieve – decide to have time.
  • Say no – take less on. It isn’t that you don’t want to help – it’s that you’re already committed to doing these things well. Know in advance what your thing is, and focus.
  • See what you can procedurise, automate, or outsource. Setting up a good procedure – even one as simple as ‘I’ll scan every receipt and email it to myself before I leave the shop’ – will repay you many times over. Your ducks will all be in a row when the time comes to… administrate them?
  • Put in the hard work early, make some extra miles, and finish easy, rather than the other way round. Build up a frontlog. Do what you can to be running downhill.
  • If it’s not important, and you can let it go… cut off the tail.

The Big Push vs Regular Time

Two approaches to getting work done:

The Big Push

The Big Push works well for defined tasks with clear deadlines. Block out some time, gather what you need, and thrash. Get the job done.

It works especially for urgent tasks – a sales or funding proposal – and there are plenty of other tasks that it’s worth giving a Big Push just to get them done:

  • Creating a new service or resource
  • Filming a video
  • Launching a new website
  • Prepping a presentation or event
  • The Annual Report

Regular Time

There are other things, though, that are important (though probably not urgent) that benefit from regular attention. These are usually jobs that are open-ended by nature. You can’t finish them, but they’ll cause a crisis (or at least, damage your capacity) if you don’t identify them and set aside regular time to work on them:

  • Financial structures
  • Maintaining and improving policy documents
  • Investing time with your team for both management and team-building
  • Keeping a website up-to-date
  • Making contact with potential partners and seeking out opportunities to share about your work
  • Non-urgent supporter relations

Little and often.

Drip by drip.