That's Amazing

For over 25 years now I’ve worked in an environment that has meant that I’ve regularly seen something new that has got me excited about its possibilities.

I’ve become a bit more discerning about the things that I invest my time and energy in, but I continue to be amazed by the ingenuity of people.

Long may it continue.

Life in the Long Tail

This blog lives in the Long Tail.

If you are reading this blog you too are dwelling in the the Long Tail.

The concept of The Long Tail was popularised by Chris Anderson of Wired. There’s even a book, and it’s been around for a while now.

Here’s a really clumsy explanation of the concept. The top 20% of a probability curve of popularity are very popular, but there is more volume in the other 80% of the less popular. In other words, for those watching in colour, the yellow bit is bigger than the green bit.

I know that some people get millions of visitors to their site, and still others get tens and hundreds of thousands.

I’ve been writing it for years, and I enjoy doing what I do, but I don’t get tens of thousands of visitors. On my busiest month I got 1261 visits.

There are some pop-star blogs, this isn’t one of them, but there are a set of regular readers and I get comments from all sorts of people. I’m not invisible, I’m just out there in the Long Tail.

The other day Seth Godin talked about being Famous to the family:

The way my family plays 20 Questions is that one person silently chooses a famous person and then everyone in the car has 20 yes or no questions to figure out who it is.

A variation that was briefly popular was to redefine "famous" as "famous to the family." You could announce that you had chosen this variation and then pick, say, Ziggy the painter. Zigmund might not be known to the public or the history books, but in our family, he’s famous.

I’m fascinated by a new category, though. "Famous to the tribe." Is Xeni Jardin famous? Merlin Mann? What about Anne McCrossan? Never mind that Warhol thing about 15 minutes…

Everyone is famous to 1,500 people.

Welcome to the tribe folks it’s great to have you along for the journey.

Do work – Delight in work

I’ve always tried to be in a position where I love what I am doing at work. I’m not a mercenary who is just doing it for the money – I need to feel a value in what I do. The money could never make up for the feeling of achievement.

That need to feel value often means that I’ll go beyond the bare minimum so that I can get to the real meaning of what I am doing.

We have a standard methodology for some of what we do as an organisation but I regard it as a privilege to be in a position where I have a reasonable amount of autonomy over what I do. This freedom means I can go above and beyond when there is value in doing so and delight in doing it – a bit like this ice-cream seller:

I could spend my life delivering ice-cream, but I’d rather be delighting the customer and myself while I’m at it.

Hat tip to The Chief Happiness Officer for the video.

Information, Information, Information

I really enjoyed today’s infographic from Flowtown showing just how much information we are going to be creating in the future.

  • There are 65 million tweets every day
  • More than 70% of the Digital Universe in 2010 was generated by users.
  • Nearly 75% of the data stored in our digital universe is a copy.

Have we reached a world of infinite information?

Time to Think – Not just a New Year thing

I’ve been involved in a number of meetings recently which were people taking time to consider plans for the coming year. It’s a natural thing to do at the start of the year – but why only at the start of the year?

If we are going to make smart decisions and do intelligent things we need to take the time to work out what they are.

Scan Reading – Summary Reading

I have a confession to make, I rarely read all of a document.

Jimmy and Granddad visit Alnwick GardensThere, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open.

Why should I? It’s rare that the whole of a document, or to that matter, an email or a blog, has been written wholly with me in mind.

It’s been written to communicate something, so I need to be able to read enough of the document to understand what is being communicated, to the level that I need to understand it.

It’s not a productive use of my time to read all of a document when I’ve understood what needs to be understood by only reading part of it.

I’m sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but it is the reality of the world in which I live.

It’s a skill that has been born out of necessity. In the technical industry people don’t generally rank too highly on the spectrum of brevity. It’s much more likely that people will say too much than not enough.

One of the first lesson I learnt in summary reading was that you can’t get a summary of a document from the section title Introduction and certainly not from the section titled Executive Summary. I always thought it was a rather cruel trick to expect people who have not been executives to know what an executive might want to know about in a summary – assuming, of course, that a Technical Executive wants to read the same summary as a Project Executive or Finance Executive.

The need to understand a document at the summary level is one reason why I still print out quite a lot of documents. There have been all sorts of advances in screen technology and displays, but I still haven’t found one that allows me to flick through a document, forwards and backwards,

I wrote a bit more about this in an earlier post on scan reading.

Knowing that most of you haven’t even got this far I’ll finish there.

Scan Reading – Pre Classify

If there was one skill I would teach people it would be the ability to scan read, but there is an important skill prior to that – pre-classification.

Chatworth with the FamilyThe people who will succeed in the knowledge age will be those people who can assimilate huge amounts of information, being able to understand what is important and what is not.

It isn’t possible even today to read all of the information that is made available to us, and we shouldn’t even be trying. I know of many people who, myself included, can’t even properly read all of the email that they are sent each day, and I for one don’t even bother trying.

But I do scan read every one of the hundreds of emails, the hundreds of blogs, twitter and facebook.

I don’t find these numbers overwhelming, or a burden. I have a routine, and a system that shows me what is important and allows me to fly through what is not important.

A significant part of that system is the pre-classification system.

Pre-classification is all about efficient use of your minds ability to process things. The minds is much more efficient at repeatedly processing similar things. It’s not so efficient at switching the processing between different types of information. If we had to work our way through a set of activities we would naturally split them down into groups of things and then tackle a group at a time – that’s what the pre-classification system does with information. There’s no way that we would switch between ironing and washing the pots – iron a shirt, wash a pot, iron some trousers, wash a port – and yet that’s exactly what we expect our brain to do with information.

Every email client I know has a rules engine of some description that allows you to pre-classify emails based on where they have come from or on their content. But I see so few people using them. This engine might just be your life saver.

In my scan-reading system all of the emails from expenses, from travel, from corporate communications, from marketers and newsletters get classified before I’ve even seen them. I’ll still scan read them, but that’s all they are going to get. Doing this allows me to handle them in bulk. There’s only one piece of information I care about in the emails from the expenses systems – and, as it happen, it’s the last line that says “status”. As long as this doesn’t say “rejected” I’m fine. Having a set of similar emails to review allows me to apply the same routine to each one, which is much more efficient than switching between email types.

Chatworth with the FamilyThe classification system works in my blog reader to (which happens to be FeedDemon). I fly through the updates of pictures that come through from flick because I’m really looking to see if there is anything particularly interesting. I know which these blogs are because they are in a folder called unsurprisingly “pictures”. The “colleagues” category, though, get much more attention, I want to give the people I work with more time than a high level scan.

Same with twitter and facebook pre-classify and then scan read.

For twitter, TweetDeck is invaluable for this, I care that the column from colleagues has been updated, I will rapidly skim through “all friends” list. They don’t necessarily say anything any more profound, it’s just that I care more about what they have to say than I do about Dave Gorman or Jason Manford, or even MC Hammer.

I’m slightly stretching the point on facebook though, because I don’t get many status updates as I’ve turned most of them off. This then means that I can scan through what’s there without having to work out whether I care or not.

Go on try it out – remember, this skill could be essential to your future job prospects.

I’ll talk about the actual process of scan reading another time.

The Conversation Prism V3

An update to the Conversation Prism Infograph.

Chatworth with the FamilyThe prism shows 28 different categories of technologies that support the current complex set of conversations that we all have, everything from Wiki to Streams and Social Commerce to sCRM.

As someone who works within the corporate IT world there are a number of very prominent organisations we barely feature , or don’t feature at all: Microsoft, Oracle, HP, SAP. The high levels of choice also shows that we are a long way from many of these capabilities becoming universal, and for some even mainstream.

I’m also sure that we’ll see some of these capabilities collapse into other capabilities. There’s also a massive difference between wide adoption and deep adoption. Anyone who assumes that just because they are using Facebook for 2 hours a day means that everyone else is – is mistaken.

Look out – the Millennial are coming

If you have children under the age of 30 and they use IT, you will notice that they do it in a radically different way to the way in which you started using it. These people are the Millennials, also known as Generation-Y.

Jimmy and Granddad visit Alnwick GardensThere has been a good deal of debate recently about the impact of the Millennial on the workplace.

These discussions are generally polarised between the people who believe that business practices, as we know them, will be completely and dramatically changed through to the people who believe that the Millennials who encounter the harsh reality of working life will conform to the business culture.

As with all things, it’s not likely that either of these polarised views will be overarching reality, although in some businesses one, or other, of the extremes is likely to prevail. But it’s interesting, to me anyway, to see the influence that this body of individuals is already have on the way that corporate IT people think.

As a starter it’s probably worth understanding the things that make a Millennial tick – 60 minutes put it this way:

They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it.

The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.

A recent survey highlighted in CIO magazine defined four key lessons for CIO’s:

1. Millennials expect to use the technology and devices of their choice.

2. They either don’t care about or won’t obey corporate IT policies.

3. They have an entirely different view of privacy than previous generations.

4. They have little use for corporate email as a major collaboration tool.

The basic premise being that organisations need to behave differently if they are to get the desired outcome from this generation of workers. And how do they need to change:

1. Get Millennial employees involved at crucial points whenever key technology use and policy decisions are being

2. Make sure technology-related policies are written in plain language and do not sound overly punitive.

3. View corporate technologies through a Millennial lens.

4. Figure out how to work with Millennials who are not hierarchical in their teaming and collaboration approach.

5. Look closely at collaboration, much of which is technology-enabled.

In other words, Mr. CIO change the way you work or you are out of of synch with the business and ultimately out of a job.

That’s one way of looking at it.

Andrew McAfee writing for the Harvard Business Review reflects the other end of the spectrum in his article Millennials Won’t Change Work; Work Will Change Millennials. I suppose the title says it all, but to underline the point:

I absolutely buy that Millennials have different technology habits and preferences than us older workers. In short, they consider enterprise 2.0 the no-brainer default rather than something scary and weird. But that’s about the biggest difference I see.

I think that today’s workplaces will change Generation Y more than the reverse. I realize that this makes for a less splashy article. Good thing I’m not trying to sell magazines.

My personal view is that we will continue to see significant change in the workplace. Some organisations that are large and productive today will stagnate and die, others will evolve and grow. New business will be started with radically new business models, as well as new businesses doing things the way that they’ve always been done. New types of work will continue to be created, but we’ll still need a mechanic to fix the car. Information and knowledge will continue to be a significant factor in the effectiveness of many businesses, it’s use will be a key differentiator for them, but I’ll still have a window cleaner who puts a hand written note through the letterbox.

In other words – yes we’ll see change, no it won’t be as painful or as radical as some believe.

To pinch an idea from one of the comments on Andrew McAfee’s post – a lot of things that define the Millennials are just a result of being young.

The other thing I wonder about is whether the current downturn will have an effect upon the general mindset and birth a new type of generation? Speaking as someone who’s formative years included the impact of the last downturn I suspect that it will.

Why is IT changing? Why does it have to change?

One of the topics I repeatedly come back to on this site is that of change.

A Walk Aroud WrayPeople love it and hate it all at the same time, it all depends upon what the change is and where it’s come from. There are many people within the IT industry who regard it’s current construct – servers in data-centres – as being set in stone. But there are huge changes undergoing across the industry, changes that are so significant that it will radically change the way that we think about IT provision.

Some people predict change by applying well known trends and lifecycles to an existing situation. That’s exactly what Simon Wardley has done. If you really want to know what is driving change in the IT industry you should watch this video, but more than that, you should think about all of the other situations where these principles apply.

Having been in the position where people have wanted to drive an innovation process at me on more than one occasion I can definitely relate to the situations that Simon describes.

And, like Simon, I don’t see this change reducing the need for IT skills, or of making things cheaper. It’s just different – different skills, different cost profile. There is so much latent demand in every business that cost is still going to be a significant issue.

If that has got you thinking, perhaps you’d like to give some thought to the concept of Shadow ITthey already exist somewhere in your organisation. Are they a problem, or are they an opportunity?

Relationship is power

Once upon a time man roamed the earth looking for food in those days the ability to find food was power.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictThen we learned how to cultivate crops and farm animals. Land became power.

As the land became used up we needed to protect our land so weapons became power.

Then the industrial revolution happened making facilities and factories power.

Then we saw the dawn of the Information Age and facilities became less important because we didn’t need them to process information. Information became power.

Then an interesting thing happened – information became FREE. If information is free it can’t be power.

All along people were connecting with people, making deals, giving the inside track, offering advice, ignoring organisational structures, giving and receiving favours, dining together. People were making relationships.

Then along came the start of something new, it got fancy new names like “social media”,“social networking” and even “business networking”, but really it was just another way of making relationships.

It’s those relationships that make things happen. Relationship is power.

Concept of the Day: Cognitive Surplus

Today I watched Clay Shirky presenting at TED (via their excellent podcasts). Clay outlines a number of challenges to the way that we imagine people’s motivation. He explodes the premise that we all love to be “couch potatoes” and highlight a number of examples that demonstrate that as he says:

We like to create and like to share

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictPeople don’t just contribute when there is payment at the end, they contribute when they are creating, and with the currently available technology the opportunities for creating are becoming ever broader.

This effect creates a global surplus of cognitive ability of “a trillion hours a year”. There’s a lot you can do with a trillion hours of creativity if only we treat it in the right way. he calls this Cognitive Surplus.

Not only is this concept a huge challenge to the way we approach social projects, but it’s also a challenge to the way we approach business projects.

My perception of many business projects is that they are constructed with the assumption that people won’t want the change, and hence a stick is required to get them to change. If people truly do" “like to create and like to share” then engaging people in a creative constructing way in the change process will turn them from blockers to enablers. It might even get them to invest some of their own cognitive surplus.

The latest example of this, for me, is the location tagging of a Glastonbury picture that is underway. Thousands of people are tagging themselves in a picture taken at Glastonbury. The reward for this is little more than the feeling that you have been part of something. They’re all using their cognitive surplus to create a shared experience.

Coming to think of it – why is it that I write this blog?