Aiming For Perfection

November 29, 2012

Picture credit: here.


From Assumptions To Business Critical Knowledge

November 22, 2012

I’ve recently read ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ by Clayton Christensen, one of the leading thinkers on business innovation.

The basic idea is that you can usefully apply business theories (developed for organisations) to individuals as well as all aspects of their life. The claim is that doing this will increase the probability of delivering better outcomes. This premise is rather ambitious of course and the book’s got mixed (although generally very favourable) reviews in the press. See eg the FT (you may need to register – free – to read this article).

One of the business theories mentioned in the book was ‘discovery-driven planning’, an idea developed by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan in 1995 (there’s free preview in HBR and an interview with MacMillan here).

Here’s the (fairly common) problem – say you have a number of exciting but imperfectly understood opportunities, what’s a smart way of figuring out which ones are best to invest in?

From the above book (my emphasis in bold):

When a promising new idea emerges, financial projections should, of course, be made. But instead of pretending these are accurate, acknowledge that at this point, they are really rough. Since everybody knows that numbers have to look good for management to green-light any project, you don’t go through the charade of implicitly encouraging teams to manipulate the numbers to look as strong as possible.

Instead, ask the project teams to compile a list of all the assumptions that have been made in those initial projections. Then ask them: “Which of these assumptions need to prove true in order for us to realistically expect that these numbers will materialize?” The assumptions on this list should be rank-ordered by importance and uncertainty. At the top of the list should be the assumptions that are most important and least certain, while the bottom of the list should be those that are least important and most certain.

Only after you understand the relative importance of all the underlying assumptions should you green-light the team—but not in the way that most companies tend to do. Instead, find ways to quickly, and with as little expense as possible, test the validity of the most important assumptions.

In my experience, in the absence of reliable numbers, bids and business cases are often driven by politics (power) as much as anything else. The above method could be a good antidote to this. More ambitiously, you might even be able to apply this method to decision-making in your life!

Is Your Idea Compelling Or Just Unique?

November 18, 2012

I came across this interesting quote on starting up new businesses from James Caan:

‘Remember that your first idea does not have to be your best idea. It is only your first idea. Don’t worry if it’s not workable. Move on. Learn from the experience. Concentrate on finding the right idea. The question to ask is not What is unique about my idea? but What is compelling about it?’ 

From the dictionary: compelling – evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.

That means irresistible to others of course and not just yourself!

Handling Feedback

November 7, 2012

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King (writer)

It’s always good to get your ideas as clear as possible before considering feedback as otherwise it’s all to easy to end up with a mishmash!

Knowledge Transfer And The Over-50’s

November 5, 2012


Everyone’s being encouraged to work longer these days although usually without any clear ideas about how this might actually happen. Large companies are releasing staff (and will continue to do so) and starting innovative small businesses from scratch is not for everyone.

Are there other, more community-driven ways? Ways that might even make the prospect appear energising and satisfying? And, at the same time, is it possible to mix generations, improving the passing on of hard-earned ‘wisdom’ and maybe even helping reduce the digital divide?

It’s a well-known knowledge management issue that when staff leave an organisation, they take their knowledge with them. However, the real societal issue is much wider than this – their knowledge and passion can often just completely disappear without trace. No-one benefits.

In this context I spotted this from Simon Kelner in the i last week (after discussing age and the digital divide)

I was interested to read in my local paper about an initiative called The Amazings. Ignoring the awful moniker, this is a really clever idea which gives people over 50 a chance to share skills, and learn new ones. If you have a talent in a particular area you can offer to teach an online community. If enough people show an interest in learning this skill, it is turned into a course or a workshop that people can book and attend. The “teachers” get 70% of the fees, and the chance to pass on their expertise.

From the Amazings site:

The Amazings was born out of a single, simple idea. Society has always learned from its elders. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection between generations—which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills. We’re on a mission to fix this.

Our vision is a marketplace for wisdom. Where over 50s are empowered to stay active and make money from their hobbies. Where hard-earned knowledge is passed on to the next generation. And where connections between young and old can be made in really fun, really social, really friendly events.

It sounds a really innovative and promising idea.

So, if you’re over 50 and have a skill that you’re passionate about and think that others might be interested in, why not register an interest or, alternatively, mention it to someone else?

The venture has an impressive and interesting list of supporters:

  • The Technology Strategy Board
  • The Design Council
  • Sidekick Studios
  • Hackney Age UK
  • The Cabinet Offiice
  • Deloitte

Comment: I’ve added a few clarifying sentences since the original posting.

Picture credit: here.

Coursera Courses

November 2, 2012

I noticed that there are some very interesting (free) courses provided by (US-based online university) Coursera:

We are a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. We envision a future where the top universities are educating not only thousands of students, but millions. Our technology enables the best professors to teach tens or hundreds of thousands of students.

From BBC News:

Online universities have become increasingly high-profile – with the California-based Coursera one of the emerging major players.

Coursera, backed by venture capital, offers a platform for universities to deliver courses on the internet, currently without any charge to the student.

In its first term it is offering more than 200 courses.

I’m thinking of signing up for the ‘Model Thinking‘ course given by Scott Page:

I start with models of tipping points. I move on to cover models explain the wisdom of crowds, models that show why some countries are rich and some are poor, and models that help unpack the strategic decisions of firm and politicians. The models covered in this class provide a foundation for future social science classes, whether they be in economics, political science, business, or sociology….

For each model, I present a short, easily digestible overview lecture. Then, I’ll dig deeper. I’ll go into the technical details of the model. Those technical lectures won’t require calculus but be prepared for some algebra. For all the lectures, I’ll offer some questions and we’ll have quizzes and even a final exam. If you decide to do the deep dive, and take all the quizzes and the exam, you’ll receive a certificate of completion. If you just decide to follow along for the introductory lectures to gain some exposure that’s fine too. It’s all free. And it’s all here to help make you a better thinker!

I’ve done alot of modelling in my time, mainly in the physical sciences. It would be interesting to learn how modern modelling methods are used in wider (and much more complex) situations – anything involving people!

What You Learn Whilst Blogging

November 1, 2012

“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Flaubert (writer)

This quote certainly resonates with me!

I started this blog four years ago, partly as a by-product of leaving a large organisation and going independent. It was an attempt at trying to get various ideas and opinions accumulated over the past 25 years a lot clearer and put in a modern context. It was very hard to do this in the hustle and bussle of ordinary company life where there is usually little time to independently review and reflect.

Some colleagues have called my blog eclectic – it (deliberately) is – I guess it may be a bit confusing at times, zig-zagging around, but that’s how discovery goes!