Conference: small stages

Good conferences create a range of stages for members of the cohort to try things out on. Workshops, seminars and meetings happening alongside the keynote and plenary sessions create value for presenters (a chance to meet interested people and try out material) and for the cohort (a testbed for discovering new ideas, finding new contributors and new speakers and leaders).

If you’re organising a conference, it’s worth being deliberate about making an on-ramp of smaller opportunities and chances for attendees to contribute.*

*The focus needs to be on contribution – opportunities for members of the cohort to share something valuable with peers, rather than to get on their own private soapbox or achieve five minutes of fame.


What does a conference do?

Conferences are a way of aggregating – of bringing together – several different valuable things.

Conferences aggregate people…

A conference brings together a group of people who are focused on a shared interest. If the people at your conference are similar to each other but not interested in similar things, you’re wasting your time. The more their interests align with the focus of the conference and the greater their interest, the greater the value of the conference.

… which enables the organisers to aggregate better speakers and content…

An audience with a high level of shared interest is a more attractive audience, which attracts better presenters and content.

… which creates a better cohort…

The more interesting the speakers, the more people will attend, creating a larger and better cohort.

… which creates a network with more possibilities…

With more attendees, the number of possible connections and partnerships multiplies rapidly (see Network Opportunities), so a larger cohort creates increasing (possible) returns in terms of connections and partnerships between people.

… which is more attractive to more people…

And so the virtuous cycle continues.

Resource: How to delay Googledrive / Backup and Sync on Windows startup

Googledrive/Backup and Sync has been eating a lot of resources on startup and slowing everything down…

This fantastic howto from maketecheasier is the quickest crib-sheet for scheduling things so that Drive still starts – in my case 10 minutes after startup so that I can get on with my immediate task without things grinding to a halt.

Peter Drucker on performance appraisals

Effective executives usually work out their own unique form of performance appraisal. It starts out with a statement of the major contributions expected from a person in his past and present positions and a record of their performance against these goals. Then it asks four questions:

1) What has he or she done well?

2) What, therefore, is he or she likely to be able to do well?

3) What does he or she have to learn or acquire to be able to get the full benefit from their strengths?

4) If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?
a) If yes, why?
b) If no, why?

This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look at a person than the usual procedure does. But it focuses on strengths. Weaknesses are seen as limitations to the full use of strengths and to one’s own achievement, effectiveness, and accomplishment.

The last question (4b) is the only one that is not primarily concerned with strengths. Subordinates, especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, tend to mold themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in an organisation than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Here, therefore, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on performance capacity and strength.

Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive (from in The Daily Drucker)

Joseph Conrad on art, writing and reaching your audience

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its highest desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music—which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour, and that the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm—all you demand—and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

Joseph Conrad – Preface to “The Narcissus

How, in your everyday work, in your next report or meeting, can you…

  • Appeal to the senses (to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions)?
  • Shape what you do so that the ‘light of magic suggestiveness’ may be bought to play over the commonplace surface of old, thin words – or actions and routines?
  • Enable with your audience (partners! friends!) to find there a glimpse of truth for which they have forgotten to ask?
  • Perhaps, better still – can you find that glimpse of truth together?

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.


Tim Sweeney on open platforms and the metaverse (2017)

I feel especially as we’re building up these platforms towards the metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies then they’re going to have far more control over our lives, over our private data and over our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history.

[How are you going to keep the metaverse open] is a central question for the industry and something we think about a lot.

The great thing is that there are a lot of steps in that direction. There are open file formats now… the web was open because it was built on standards like HTML, Javascript, Jpeg – all these different file formats and internet potocols tied together to create an open web that anybody can participate in. It’s the opposite of Facebook or Twitter, which are locked-down, proprietary APIs and services controlled by companies, and you can’t write a client for these applications unless you get their permission.

So if we build the metaverse on top of protocols and all of the major players in the industry are committed to working together to define these standards and maintain these standards, then we can all interoperate as peers, and avoid any one company taking control over the thing, and having a monopoly over not just commerce, that’s bad enough, but also a monopoly over our private data and the ability to probe in really really scary ways into our private lives when we’re being connected through these digital tools.

Tim Sweeney – interview at GamesBeat 2017

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

Resources about setting prices

A high enough price

If you want to help a lot of people, you’ll need to do your job well and for a long time – something that won’t be possible if you don’t have any money.

Charging a reasonable price is a key part of this – but how do you know what’s reasonable? Here a some resources I’ve found helpful for thinking about prices:

Resources on setting prices

By Seth Godin: Here (read this one first), here, and here. Also, Episodes 1, 2 and 9 of Startup School (audio) – or see the page 29 of the transcript here… actually, open the transcript and search ‘price’ and go from there. Lastly, the Money Flows episode of Akimbo.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz is good on this too (and not as grasping as it sounds) – here it is on the Read to Lead podcast.

It’s worth checking out resources for Freelancers too – even if you’re working on pricing in an organisation.

I highly recommend the thinking explored by Robert McGuire in ep.154 of Ed Gandia’s High Income Business Writing: What’s the Bare MINIMUM you Should be Charging Clients?

Also, try Book Yourself Solid on Read to Lead

This is recommended by Sharky: Price Communicates your Value on The Art of Value

No shortage of money

There is no money shortage.

It might not be where you’d like it, and there might not be people lining up to give it to you for whatever you think it would be well used for… but there’s plenty of money.

Whose money?

It’s usually best if the money comes directly from the people you’re serving – call them customers, clients, partners, or even beneficiaries. This gives you one set of people to focus on*, one main audience to talk with and listen to, one set of incentives driving what you do: meeting their needs and serving them better.

Changing the market

It may be – especially if you’re running a non-profit – that the direct consumers of what you offer don’t have the money to buy it in its current form. In this case you have a few options:

  • Do a better job of convincing your users of the value that you offer
  • Find ways to make it cheaper – strip your product down to the smallest possible offering that makes a difference to your customers, and sell that.
  • Work out the scale at which your original product becomes cheap enough for your target clients to buy. Then sell to people who can afford it now, and gradually move down the market as the product gets better and cheaper.
  • Develop a two-tier business model where one set of customers pays a high price for your product (possibly for a premium version) , covering enough costs to enable you to subsidise it for another set of customers. This subsidy can be direct (you sell the same product to beneficiaries for a lower price) or indirect (the premium product covers enough of your running costs that you can afford to sell a lower-spec product for a lower price. In the case of direct subsidies it can be difficult to draw clear lines about who gets a discount, and who pays full price.
  • Look for the other side of a two-sided market – this means that one set of customers is in some sense ‘buying’ the other set: donors ‘buy’ impact and transformation; advertisers ‘buy’ access to the attention of customers (see Google and Facebook); corporate-social responsibility departments ‘buy’ reputation and visibility. If the sound of this makes you uneasy, good – we need to be clear-eyed about this, even in the world of well-intentioned charity.

*Okay, your product might several distinct groups of people – but they’re all ‘customers’