When an entrepreneur dreams up a new product opportunity and launches their start-up, they are surrounded with advice on the steps to follow:
- Define the customer problem or job to be done
- Develop a minimum viable product as a solution
- Prove product-market fit by winning customer support
- Validate scalability, unit economics, etc…
While these steps are relevant and useful, they can create an unduly linear view of the path to success.
Success is never a simple straight line.
Discussing start-up and new product success in this way creates the impression that the path to market looks a little like this:
A relatively direct relationship between product and market might work for some simple product solutions, particularly those involved in offering a new product direct to consumers. However, lean start-up has reminded us that success takes loops of learning and iteration to find that match between product and market.
Help customers embrace change (despite resistance).
When you start to work on more complex solutions that involve systemic change or large changes in buyer behaviour, buyers can acknowledge the need and the value of the solution but still offer resistance. These buyers cannot simply buy the product. They must also decide to embrace disruptive change to long established ways of working. Disruptive business-to-business products require changes to systems, processes or jobs and have other implications for their target customers. Strong institutional forces will exist that are opposed to change. To realise the benefits, the customer needs to be prepared for a wider and more significant change.
Declining systems give way to new ways of working.
The Berkana Institute has a theory of change in large scale systems highlighting resistance will prevent straight-line adoption of new change. If the change threatens the current way things work, you won’t get direct adoption. Change under this approach may happen when the current system declines, giving way to a better system that will replace it. That new, better system is developed outside the current system as a small group of innovators name the need for change, connect in networks, nourish the new change and bring it forward as a new approach.
Disruption brings change and creates new markets.
The Berkana Two Loops model of change gives us a new way to look at the path for disruptive products that bring about major changes in organisational systems. If we consider the introduction of cloud computing technologies as the introduction of an alternative systemic approach to technology, we can map it against this model.
- At first, traditional technology organisations saw cloud services as a threat to their traditional model and particularly the end-to-end control of infrastructure.
- Cloud services grew with new and innovative organisations, in grey market IT and at the edges of organisations. This gave the new cloud services time to clarify the problems and use cases, develop the new approaches and connect the first customers. The communities of early customers helped the solutions to mature and foster the underpinning systems of delivery, management and support. Communities of practice grew up around these technologies and created a range of tools and processes that helped cloud computing become enterprise-ready.
- Eventually, a wide range of organisations are prepared to ‘leap the chasm’, seeing potential to migrate to these new cloud systems and embrace a very different way of working.
This approach of creating a new market for a new solution is why we commonly see disruptive technologies suddenly race into prominence. They have been long fostered by the communities of early innovators and have built the networks of partners, ecosystems and systems to propel rapid growth. They are examples of ‘seven-year overnight successes’.
Build a strong ‘ecosystem of relationships’ to bring about change.
At LanternPay, we have seen this scenario playing out. We have had strong support from our work with innovative early customers in plan management in the NDIS and in government payments with the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria and Lifetime Support Authority of South Australia. These relationships have helped us to develop strong growth in provider partnerships. Importantly, we have focused all along on the potential of an ecosystem of relationships to accelerate innovative change well beyond payments in our target systems of health care, aged care and disability. This approach has delivered us a rapidly growing pipeline of new payer relationships, a growing suite of integrations and a product roadmap across all our target markets. Each element helps make the change decision for a provider or a payer that much easier to make.
Simon Terry is consultant, speaker and start-up advisor who focuses on developing the strategy, leadership and collaboration to deliver complex innovation in organisations. He also puts these skills into practice delivering growth strategy for LanternPay, a claim payment platform for health care, aged care, disability and government payments.
One of the challenges in traditional management processes is that goal setting is a one-way process. The cascade of goals down through the silos of an organisation without feedback and adaptation inevitably results in misalignment.
Consider the implementation of a collaboration solution. The overall business goals that justify the project are likely to be high level, ranging from supporting cultural change to specific improvements in customer experience, innovation and efficiency. However in designing a project for implementation these goals end up becoming soloed. Technology has a launch date and costs. Employee communications end up with a goal of user adoption. All the other goals are either cascaded to people too busy to care or are assumed to flow. Not long after users start to wonder why all technology wants is to give them the solution and all employee communications seems to want is for them to use it. By defining the goals in terms of the technology, the business loses its original outcomes and users lose reasons to use the system.
The approach of division of outcomes mean that the business has little opportunity to adapt to change or new opportunities. Budgets are set. Goals are fixed and tied to employee performance. This often results in the situation where the goals of one silo, say a launch date & costs, conflict with the goals of another, say adoption. Because these goals are baked into unchangeable and undiscussable plans, people push ahead knowing they are doing the wrong thing. The strategy becomes ‘we’ll fix it later’, but the next plan rarely allows that.
Roger L Martin, a leading strategist and a former business school dean, has highlighted in a series of books that the best strategies are adaptive. They allow for conversations up and down the chain from goals to actions and adaptation based on the lessons from conversations and action. If you want to prevent your business strategy turning into soloed nonsense then allow two-way conversations about goals and approaches. Better yet, use your collaboration platform as a hub of this learning and adaptation.
Scrolling through social threads today, I came across a criticism than an action was virtue-signalling. At first the phrase slipped by without reflection. Virtue-signalling is one of those phrases that gets thrown around in politics, particularly the subdivision of politics that is the culture wars. In those dialogues, it lives with a range of phrases from the left and right of politics, like political correctness, cultural appropriation and so on, that often had a specific meaning, but are now widely used as criticisms with loose, if any definition. I was about to go on reading but then I stopped and asked myself “What does that mean? What is wrong with signalling virtues?”.
Virtues are demonstrations of high moral standards. Those standards are only standards and recognised as positives if they are shared in community. An effective civil society needs some foundation of shared virtues. Virtues aren’t virtues in theory. You might source your virtues from a religious text, an ancient philosopher or lived experience. They become societal virtues when they are shared with others. A society comes to share virtues as a result of actions in line with those virtues. Actions that help those virtues become shared may be demonstrations of those virtues publicly or they may be creating signals that the virtues are required and will be rewarded. Of course, as with anything human, this is not a perfect process. Some of those signals may be false, flawed or hypocritical. The signals still contribute to creating the community standard that underpins the virtue. In fact, some of the strongest signals are when people suffer consequences for false, flawed or hypocritical demonstration of virtues. The problem with the problem of virtue signalling is you don’t have virtues without signalling.
Even if we accept that virtue-signalling is problematic, are we next going to suggest that evil-condemnation is also morally complex? If people can be unworthy to signal virtue, surely they can be unworthy to condemn evil. While I haven’t yet seen anyone explicitly throw that term as a pejorative, there are plenty of examples in our discourse as a society where people have cast doubt on (a) someone’s right to condemn evil (b) whether the way evil was condemned is adequate, (c) whether the evil is truly evil in some narrower or broader context and finally (d) whether evil is truly evil if it there is doubt as to intent, to means or to consequence. When we look the criticism of virtue-signalling, we see the intent is often not to address the issue of how best to promote virtue or suppress evil. The issue is a desire to silence others. Nobody is perfect. We know that. If we demand perfection as the standard for comment or action. Nobody gets to meet the mark. Only those with the power to speak anyway will get to discuss the issue.
One thing we learn from totalitarianism and other systems that leverage propaganda is that they master the art of taking phrases emptying them of their actual meaning and then twisting them to the purposes of control and power. We have to continue to question any phrases, subject them to discussion and query their role as criticisms and barriers to people to engage in civil society. Civil society needs more real debate, not less.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” – George Orwell, 1984
Our organisations learn how to manage human behaviour to productive ends from many aspects of society. The history of management shows many examples where it has borrowed from coercive human relationships, such as the organisational structures of military, the practices of slavery or the corrections system, because of the shared themes of control and coping with the complexities of human relationships at scale. If we are to create workplaces that have the necessary degrees of freedom to enable people to address the complex challenges of digital networks and realise their human potential, we need to be aware of these influences and to challenge control for its own sake.
This post examines an example of how the influence runs in both directions. The tide in business press is running against the supposed productivity of open plan offices. At the same time we welcome an open plan prison.
Your Cubicle For Life
If anyone doubted the parallels between the modern office environment and a security state, the NSW Government just opened a new high security prison in Cessnock in the Hunter Valley. The facility has 400 beds in dormitory pods. The radical innovation of the new facility, which has been borrowed from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, is that it has done away with cell walls and with privacy. Anyone will recognise the formats of those pods as cubicle arrays in an open plan office.
Photo Credit: ABC News
As with any open plan office, the facility has no privacy and a focus on monitoring of behaviour.
Correctional officers monitor inmates around the clock from first-floor corridors overlooking the pods and with infra-red cameras for night monitoring; and Immediate Action Team officers are stationed within the facility to provide a 24/7 response to critical incidents. – Cessnock Advertiser
A key focus of the new facility is to use the new openness and flexible spaces to foster interaction and relationships between inmates. From sensory deprivation, the inmates will now need deal with an excess of human interaction
“For many that is culture change. The previous thinking has been minimal interaction with inmates.” – Newcastle Herald
The pitch is not that different from co-working giant, WeWork’s own residential facilities, WeLive. Of course, WeLive facilities have a colour scheme that includes colours other than grey.
From mailrooms and laundry rooms that double as bars and event spaces to communal kitchens, roof decks, and hot tubs, WeLive challenges traditional apartment living through physical spaces that foster meaningful relationships. Life is better when we are part of something greater than ourselves. Whether short term or long term, WeLive has flexible options designed to meet your needs.
Employee Engagement is the focus of the new office. Productive use of time will be carefully managed in this new open plan environment. Employees will be guaranteed 5 hours of productive work, which is more than most open plan environments:
The inmates’ days have been carefully structured in a way that focuses on intense participation and access to education, employment, programs and activities. – Cessnock Advertiser
Recruitment processes for this new office will also be intensive to ensure an appropriate cultural fit and to sustain the desired levels of engagement in a vibrant collaborative culture. Like any good employee fit process, those who fail the test are subject to exile but we won’t discuss where.
Mr Severin said inmates will be carefully screened – and if they don’t fit the profile, will be placed elsewhere. – Cessnock Advertiser
The real rationale for the new office appears to be its low cost and rapid construction. Never let real human relationships interfere with a low cost property strategy.
It is only a matter of time before the innovations in Cessnock cross back into our living and working. Expect to see technology giants leading the way removing flexible working, requiring their employees to use their working for greater productivity and to restore human relationships. Is it such a distant step to living facilities in a subtle elegant shade of metallic grey? or to WeWork’s laundry room bars? We will just need to remember that privacy terms and conditions apply and this lifestyle will be available to only approved applicants.
Simon Terry will be speaking at Disrupt Sydney 2018 to elaborate on these themes in his talk “If your company was a country, would you live there?”
A key issue for most digital workplace projects is a lack of connection between the goals of the project and the business needs of the organisation. Without specific goals and specific steps to realise them there is a temptation for professionals running these projects to rely on capitalised nouns like productivity, innovation, engagement, adoption and collaboration. Capitalised nouns do not make a strategy.
Why are we doing this again?
Whatever tool, platform or process you want employees to use in your digital workplace, they have the right and obligation to ask why. Employees lives are busy. They don’t need to do something for an abstract goal. They want to understand the specific benefits to the organisation and to them personally.
A capitalised noun won’t cut it to win discretionary employee effort or senior executive time. The best goals of any digital workplace are fulfilment of the business strategy of the organisation. Usually this can be measured on the simple dimensions of win customers, grow revenue, reduce cost, manage assets and reduce risk. Even those goals are so generic as to lack force. Every organisation should be able to describe what employers working better together will do. That’s what a strategy is.
From Business Needs to Specific Actions
The role of the team leading adoption of the digital workplace is to convert that goal to specific actions that employees should do using the workplace. These are the actions that become your use cases and are core to the communication and role modelling you need.
Beware of capitalised nouns creeping in to your use cases. Nobody ‘engages’ on a platform. You should be able to specify exactly what you want to see. That way you can measure the actions and the benefits.
The use case should be some combination of the key verbs in the model above. Ideally, more than one verb for bigger benefits. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who do I want to connect around some issue or process?
- What information will they share in that connection?
- What problems will they solve together?
- How will that result in change, improvements, new services, processes or products?
When you can answer these questions to the satisfaction of a disinterested executive you have the beginnings of a plan. Your engagement activities will then be based in how you create the scaffolding for people to learn to use the platform to deliver the goals that fulfil business strategy.
Slow down to ensure your productivity. There is such a thing as being too fast to be effective. There is also a danger that speed will mean you miss more important relationship signals.
Unsafe at Speed
I started a conversation on twitter this week with a reflection on how productivity is being sapped by a culture of continuous activity and the relentless pace of business.
As Harold Jarche points out reflection and learning are the first things to go as we get busy. I also find many people don’t have the time to do their jobs, engage with others or move projects forward because they are so tied to a daily schedule of meetings and activities.
The power of working in more agile ways is that it forces us to understand what done means for a piece of work. There are lots of meetings, documents and other busy activities that don’t advance a piece of work towards done. Going faster and doing more of these things is just destroying productivity.
Unsafe at Any Speed
Working without time for learning and reflection, is dangerous because it threatens our relationships, our productivity and the effectiveness of others. We don’t work alone. Lack of learning and reflection impacts those around us.
After that twitter post, I received a call in the middle of a busy day. I dove into discussing the presumed topic of the call. I was enthusiastic, keen to get the call done and talking quickly. After about 5 minutes of chatter, I paused for breath and that pause helped me to realise that the other person wasn’t particularly engaged. My enthusiasm seemed to be draining them. Worse still, I realised their tone of voice suggested something else was on their mind. I had been prattling on when clearly they had called to discuss a more difficult topic.
Reflection is one thing. The next step is also making the time to do something different with that insight. If we are too busy, we can put off implementing the insight until later, if ever.
When I stopped prattling, I asked then and there if they were OK. That simple question led to a much more meaningful and valuable conversation. We ended up discussing the challenges of modern work life, career struggles, motivation and the need to talk to others when you are struggling with symptoms of depression. If I hadn’t stopped my self-absorbed activity and reflected on the other participant in the conversation, then a valuable opportunity for us to help each other would have been missed.
Make the time in every interaction to check that others are OK
We need time for reflection and learning because we don’t work in networks of transactions with widgets. We work in networks of relationships with real complex and highly adaptive human beings. Being alert and allowing space for those relationships to develop enables our productivity and collective success.