Strategy: from ideas to value propositions to business models

Ideas are easy. Ideas are free, they’re everywhere. The hard thing is turning ideas into value propositions that customers want, and business models that can scale.

How many projects do I need to invest in to create the next growth engine?

It turns out, you’d actually need to invest in 250 projects. You start with small bets first, and then gradually you filter out those ideas that don’t work, not based on a beautiful powerpoint presentation but based on evidence from the market. And gradually you’ll get to those that win. So the big lesson here is that you can’t pick the winners. You need to invest in “the losers”.

Where do I take this data from? … If you look at early stage venture investment, which is a great proxy, 65 percent of all ideas fail. 25 percent return a little bit of capital, so you invest 100 you may get 500 back. So where do the outliers come from? It’s from a small number … it’s basically four out of a thousand, or one out of 250 [that provide massive returns].

So if you want growth to happen, you need to create the playground, the boundaries, for these ideas to emerge. You need to allow people to experiment and have projects in parallel, so that you can win. That’s what strategy is about: creating the conditions for ideas to emerge. It’s not “hey this is a good idea, we make a big bet, and we execute.”

There are only a few companies in the world that have created these conditions, and it’s not a miracle or a coincidence that Amazon has grown so quickly, because when you have a leader who says “Amazon is the best place in the world to fail” and he admits that “invention and failure are inseperable twins,” you have a completely different culture for those ideas to emerge.

Alex OsterwalderGlobal Peter Drucker Forum 2018

Old year’s resolutions

  • What can you tick off already? Good work on those.
  • What do you need to quit – stop doing, stop trying to do, draw a line under, declare an amnesty for yourself, admit that it won’t get done, and let die with the old year?
  • Perhaps most crucially, what are the little things – acts of kindness that you’ve been thinking it might be nice to do, short emails to friends, decisions, bookings, commitments – that you can do, and get into the habit of doing, starting from right now? Today, the day before you make new year’s resolutions, everything you do is a bonus, a gift of the momentum that a frontlog brings that will make tomorrow better or easier for your future self – the self who’s arriving tomorrow.

Deep literacy: Kevin Kelly on more than reading

… producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Real literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permitted ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that made it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. We don’t have a parallel notation in film yet, but we need one.

Once you have a large text document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them in the 13th century. Where is the equivalent in video?

Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film.

Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And that would be useful in video as well.

And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of courses we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorise using a selected word or phrase for later viewing.

All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.

These tools, more than reading, are the foundations of literacy.

Kevin KellyThe Inevitable

Stability: Burke and incremental change

Steve Jobs is right about changing the world.

And here’s Edmund Burke with a counterpoint – for society read ‘society’, but also, ‘family’, and ‘your organisation’:

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.

It is to be looked on with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.

As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.

Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France

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The point?

Stability counts. It’s a product of history, built by those who went before us. The strongest systems grow incrementally  and through iteration, rather than flat-out revolution.**

Too much change will leave your team feeling adrift and uprooted, uneasy and struggling to focus. It’s great to get rid of things that cause friction and slow us down, but change too much, too fast, and things get slippery. It can be hard to keep a grip.

We’re just as blind to many of the things that hold us together as we are to the things that hold us back. So by all means, bounce – but don’t break the trampoline.

**Come back another day for tea with Hayek

In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

Network opportunities

One telephone – in the whole world – is useless. Who would you call?

The more telephones there are – and especially the more telephones that belong to people you want to talk to – the more useful they become.

This is Metcalfe’s law: the value of a network increases exponentially with the size of the network.

It works for Lego, too. Add a brick, and you add many more possibilities.**

And it’s true for languages – broadly speaking, if more people speak a given language, the more opportunities knowing it creates.

Books also exist as a kind of network. They don’t just depend on other books to enrich their meanings. Books need other books to mean at all. Books make it easier for there to be more books, and if more people read them it makes your books more valuable.

Most things work better with other things – and it’s truer than ever as our networked age allows more people, things and ideas to connect than ever before.

Some ways to add value to a network:

  • Expand the network – add a new node and increase the possible connections
  • Highlight the best parts – not all books are equal
  • Strengthen important connections.
  • Make maps: find and share ways through the network that make it more useful, richer in meaning, faster, more fun
  • Explore: find lost treasures at the periphery and bring them in
  • Create: look for missing pieces – points of possibility that would add a lot of value to the network if they existed – then make them

** Two eight-stud Lego bricks of the same color can be combined in 24 different ways. Three eight-stud bricks can be combined in 1,060 ways. There are more than 915 million combinations possible for six 2 x 4 LEGO bricks of the same color. (Lego Land fun facts)

GNU-GPL – a base of code

Richard Stallman famously wrote the GNU GPL, which is a license based on copy-left, not copyright. His position is the freedom to work with computers and work with software and work with software is hindered by copyright.

That in fact these are useful tools, and there are people who want to make useful tools and remix the useful tools of people who came before. Everything you use in the internet – that website that you visited that’s running on Apache, that email protocol, you’re able to do it because so many other entities were able to share these ideas.

So the way copy-left works is that if you use software that has a GPL license to make your software work better, it infects your software, and you also have to use the GPL license.

So if it works right, it will eat the world. So as the core of software in GNU gets bigger and deeper, it becomes more and more irresistible to use it. But as you use it the software you add to it also becomes part of that corpus.

And if enough people contribute to it, what we’ll end up with is an open, inspectable, improvable base of code that gives us a toolset for weaving together the culture we want to be part of.

Seth Godin Akimbo, November 21 2018 – Intellectual Property

An open, inspectable, improvable base of code.

For software.

For tools for making software.

How about for educational outcomes? For assessments?

For a set of tools and resources for running an organisation?

Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?

The exact cover of the Marvel What If that Dave’s brother kept in a plastic folder


Stan Lee was brilliant and prolific.

We know him for Spiderman, the X-men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther… for being the driving force behind Marvel Comics, now a multi-billion dollar, multi-media juggernaut.

It’s less well known that he started in the comics industry in 1939, aged seventeen, as a general dogsbody, lunch-fetcher and inkwell filler at Timely Comics (which would eventually become Marvel).

Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.

By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.

He was forty-one years old.

The rest is history.

What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?

Some takeaways:

Value loop

Most businesses that prosper create value for their communities and their customers as well as themselves, and the most successful businesses do so in part by creating a self-reinforcing value loop with and for others. They build a platform on which people who don’t work directly for them can build their own dreams.

Tim O’Reilly, WTF?

This is a key to building a fruitful and sustainable business or charity – be part of your partners’ success story.

Make yourself so useful that they can’t imagine doing it without you, and are eager to pay for what you do.

Align your interests so that their success is your success.

Be such a source of good in your community that they cheer you on.

Be indispensable.

Education for the future: which kids are ours? (2)

Which kids are yours?

Which kids are “our kids”?

It’s fine to start with your own or those closest to you. If those kids aren’t your kids, it’s hard to see how any others possibly can be.

So ask yourself: what will it take for those kids closest to me to thrive – to have the kind of future I hope they’ll have?

They’ll need to love and be loved, to stay safe, to have enough to eat and drink, to have chances to learn and make mistakes. They’ll need friends, peers, juniors, seniors, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, leaders, followers, allies and possibly opponents. They’ll need people to build infrastructure and people to operate and maintain it. They’ll need medical care. They’ll need places to go and things to do and see. They’ll need clean air and water and plants and animals and natural beauty. They’ll need practical skills and art and science and wisdom and faith.

Our kids need all of these and many more to live well and, eventually, to die well too. So starting from the future-that-is-becoming-the-present – that is, starting from right now, and forever after – our kids will need other people just to live, let alone to thrive.

And not just any people – our kids need as many of the right sort of people as possible – people who can flourish, and help those around them to flourish too.

So of course, we start with the kids closest to us – of course we do. But even in the unlikely event that you only cared about yourself and those closest to you, when we’re talking about education for the future and what our kids need, we can be clear that “our kids” can’t just mean your kids.

Our kids need other kids, and the adults that those kids will become.

Even the most narrowly self-interested definition of “our kids” has got to include other people’s children too.

Start with yours, and work outwards.