Thoughts

Learning to fall

Wandering along the river at the weekend we saw a small boy take a spill on his bike.

It was enough of a fall to draw a sharp intake of breath from both my wife and me but no real damage was done.

The boy instinctively dusted off his hands and winced at the bits of gravel embedded in the palms of his hands.

His Dad, walking behind us shouted, “That’s alright. Just dust yourself off. It won’t hurt as much if you ride on the grass.”

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My mum insisted my brother and I learn how to fall when we were little, “Tuck your elbow in and land on your hip and shoulder”. Good advice for adventurous boys.

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Over the years, I’ve introduced a handful of people to rock climbing; encouraging them as they take their first nervous steps up from the safety of the ground into the unknown.

The pattern of a first climb is pretty common: grip tightly to the holds, head up using mostly arm not leg strength, get to the top, clutch onto the largest object at the top, look down nervously, eventually release death-grip on the wall to be lowered down, grip the rope tightly on descent, kiss the floor with relief/sense of achievement, stare with wonder at forearms which appear to be pumped and burning, realise that you arms are now too tired to climb again for a long time.

Falling

Until you reach the top of the climb and release your weight onto the rope, you haven’t tested the system. You have no real trust in it. No experience of how it feels to sit in the harness, deliberately or otherwise, until you are in an exposed position.

So why not learn to fall when the stakes aren’t as high?

That’s how I teach. On terra firma I tie the person into their harness, show them the basics of my belay device, take up the slack in the rope, then I just fall down into my harness next to them. “I trust the system”, I’m saying. “You can too.”

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I’ve laboured the analogy; forgive me.

My point is that being comfortable and familiar with falling allows us to ride and climb better. We’ve reduced the cost of failure.

This doesn’t just apply to the great outdoors.  Learning to fall in our personal and work lives gives us the confidence to push our experimentation & creativity further.

So why isn’t learning to fall an integral part of every new undertaking?

 

Don’t blame the process

This MQ article on decision-making raises the recurring theme of ‘process’ as a pejorative term:

The word “process”

It’s boring.

It immediately conjures up images of bureaucracy and slowness and decisions by committee—all things associated with bad management.

This reminds me of a recent experience at a startup. “Let me know if there’s anything you need”, said the founder.

I nearly didn’t ask. My corporate conditioning had taught me to expect a stifling blanket of paperwork, admin, discussions, meetings and general hassle. A horrible process.

red tape

These guys should be different, I thought.  I’ll give it a go…

“I need a Balsamiq licence” (a nifty piece of software for creating low-fi wireframe sketches of user interfaces)

Ten minutes later and I’m knocking up wireframes in Balsamiq. I couldn’t believe it. Zero bureaucracy. So refreshing.

What multiples of the fee ($79 for an annual single-user licence) would the average corporate have incurred in labour costs for the time of those making this decision?

‘Process’ gets a bad rap. It’s really just poor thinking and process design that’s to blame.

My tiny little mind

You know I’m a big fan of Hugh MacLeod:

I star­ted doing my “Car­toons drawn on the back of busi­ness cards” in Decem­ber, 1997, it took me a few months to really get into it…

At first, I thought I should just do a few dozen of them for kicks and gig­gles, then move on to something else.

That I’d still be doing them 15 years later, didn’t even cross my tiny little mind. But then it took on a life of its own. Its mea­ning, pur­pose and scope snow­ba­lled slowly over time.

August last year I decided to Try something new for 30 days. I picked doodling. That was six months ago today. Like Hugh it didn’t even cross my tiny little mind that I’d keep it up this long and now have 182 dreadfuldailydoodles.

brain

Amazing the body of work that accumulates over time. And how a quick glance at each doodle brings back a thought.

The project morphed into a kind of visual diary and I:

  • Made some people laugh
  • Became (a little bit) better at drawing
  • Inspired someone to use more images in their presentations
  • Encouraged others to take up a new daily habit
  • Learned a bit about visual cues – what matters and what doesn’t
  • Became better at noticing shape and form

It’s a long way to the “10,000 hours” required for mastery but I reckon I’ve formed a habit that will stick. We’ll see. Thanks Hugh.

 

Punk dogs and purple cows

Purple Cow

I got excited today. The supermarket had restocked my new favourite beer. I know; simple pleasures.

So what’s the story? Isn’t it just water, hops, malt and yeast? Yes and no..

The lads at Brewdog in Scotland understand Seth Godin’s purple cow; finding a way to stand out, to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.

Brewdog stand out through both product and marketing.

Their Punk IPA has an almost ridiculous amount of hops in it. It slaps you in the face when you try it. Masses of bitterness and a grapefruity finish. Delicious. Not unlike Thornbridge Jaipur.

Then comes the marketing. Check out the bottle label.

 

BrewDog2
This is not a lowest common denominator beer.
This is an assertive beer.
We don’t care if you don’t like it.

The website is littered with swearing and jabs at, “the corporate beer whores crazy for power and world domination.”

It’s a bit much for some but that’s the point. “We don’t care if you don’t like it” is a refreshing stance in an industry dominated by high-volume, appeal-to-the-masses brands.

When your product becomes a commodity, you have nothing left to compete on except price. As Seth says, the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win.

Photo 12-01-2013 17 16 37

So Brewdog have chosen to say “no thank you” to a large part of their potential market. Or have they? Maybe it was never their market anyway. These guys aren’t institutional shareholders of BigBrewingCo plc trying to squeeze an extra 0.5% profit. They are Martin and James, two guys in their twenties who are really into craft beer.

In focusing on others who love craft beer and mocking the rest they strengthen the identity and loyalty of their fans. Sound familiar?

I convinced the wife to stop into their Glasgow bar one evening last September as we were passing.  If Willy Wonka did beer!  Silly names, innovative mixtures, and spot-on execution: from the oak-aged 18.2% Tokyo stout to the 1.1% Nanny State.

The barman had exceptional product knowledge, talked us through loads of free samples, and was a genuine enthusiast. And we weren’t beaten up for being English.

Now that’s a purple cow.

Purple Cow

 

The law of two feet

If at any time you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing – use your two feet and move to some place more to your liking.

law of two feet

The idea comes from the “Open Space” approach to meetings pioneered by Harrison Owen in the 80s.  Informed by the thinking on self-organising systems and teams, Open Space meetings have no formal agendas and principles such as “Whoever comes is the right people” and “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have“.

Fascinating stuff. Many of the ideas are used in unconferences today. Do check it out in Owen’s own words (Warning: no white space or pictures here).

The law is stated explicitly to meeting attendees at the beginning of a session. How does it work?

The law simply acknowledges what people are going to do anyhow. If there is any substantive contribution derived from either principles or law, it is merely to eliminate all the guilt. After all, people are going to exercise the law of two feet, mentally if not physically, but now they do not have to feel badly about it.

How grown up and insightful.

The law places the responsibility for maximising learning and contribution with us, the individual. Funny how we seem to need permission to do this. Social conditioning perhaps?

…such a place might be another group, or even outside into the sunshine. No matter what, don’t sit there feeling miserable. The law, as stated, may sound like rank hedonism, but even hedonism has its place, reminding us that unhappy people are unlikely to be productive people.

So the next time you find yourself not learning or contributing in a meeting (or elsewhere) think about the law of two feet. What’s the worst that could happen?

Digital redistribution

(Photo Credit BreS via Flickr)
(Photo credit: BreS via Flickr)

They are dropping like flies.

First Blockbuster and Kodak. Now Comet, Jessops, and HMV in quick succession. Who next?

Businesses are having a hard time adjusting to the new rules of the digital era and today’s economy is unforgiving.

Part of me is nostalgic for these businesses; the job loss stats are frightening and I’m old enough to remember the failed “Use it or lose it” campaign of our village post office in the 80s.  The other part of me knows that these businesses were designed for an era that no longer exists. They’ve served their time. Under better economic conditions they might struggle on but deep down we know they are better off in business heaven.

So the privilege to turn a profit on the distribution of music, film, cameras, and consumer electricals is redistributed to a first wave of businesses designed for the emerging digital age. Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, Lovefilm, Netflix etc haven’t had to convert themselves from analogue; they weren’t anchored to legacy business models, infrastructure and thinking. They had a blank piece of paper, the courage to try something new, and a healthy dose of luck.

(Photo credit: Todd Robinson via Tumblr)
(Drawing credit: Todd Robinson via Tumblr)

To blame the likes of Amazon and Apple for the demise of HMV and Co is to deceive ourselves. We consumers killed these companies through our purchasing choices. By showrooming to handle a camera at Jessops and pick the brain of the sales agent before going home to think about it buy it on Amazon. We’ve all done it. By giving 30% of our money for iTunes songs and apps directly to Apple instead of shopping in HMV. By buying Amazon gift vouchers. There’s no judgement here; that’s just how it is.

The New Year brought some financial housekeeping to the Tatman household. Our bank statements reveal the extent and spread of our digital reliance through subscriptions and online shopping receipts. Specialist sports retailer Wiggle won last month’s battle but Amazon will no doubt reign supreme again this month.

Such specialists have some hope for survival in the digital era. Wiggle can sell me a commodity item like a mass-market bike pedal far cheaper than my local cycle shop. But if I want expert tailored advice on fitting and usage then local specialist wins every time (AthleteService in Henley). Wiggle can’t watch me pedal and give me adjustment guidance via Skype. This service hasn’t been digitised. Yet.

So the music and video incumbents have been displaced as the medium becomes purely digital. What products and services will be next? For other industries the patterns and warnings are there to learn from.

One predictable thing about change is its unpredictability. It’s early days for the digital era so I expect plenty more digital redistribution along the way as business models are tested and today’s winners are disrupted. This cycle of creative disruption, of births and deaths in business is nothing new; it’s survival of the fittest out there and always has been.

Exciting times.