Tag Archives: life

Design to evolve

If you are ever asked to design any technological solution/product/service, here is a quick tip …

Assume that what you design is wrong.

That is not to say you are wrong.

You may design a great solution, but if it includes technology, it will be a solution for today; a solution designed with today’s mindset, today’s products and today’s expectations from services. The more technology included, the greater the risk of premature ageing.

Instead of defining a solution for today, think about how you can design for the future.

How can you design a solution that can be adapted, upgraded, changed, replaced?

The way to do this is to assume that things will change. If you had to replace or upgrade key parts, whether software or hardware could you easily and cost effectively do this?

Can users do this? Can end users modify the solution to improve it or do you want to maintain complete control?

If you can do this, you start to change the solution from a single standalone solution to a system. An upgradable, living system that can evolve. If you do that, you start to change the economics of the solution or product too. If you can extend the lifespan, you can positively impact the cost of ownership and start to potentially justify a higher price. More importantly you can quickly respond to competitive changes, avoid retooling factories for minor improvements  and ultimately and lower costs. If you can engage users, you can start to build a community of supporters who can create on top of your work and evolve from having a system into having an ecosystem and ultimately a platform.

Before you get carried away though, never lose sight of one vital question – how do you maintain quality? If your name is on the box, if you are taking the money and selling the service, then quality is your problem. So the decision is not simply about opening up everything, it is about allowing managed evolution. It is a balance between having inflexibility which you have ultimate control over (but which could be poor), or ultimate freedom, which could mean that you are left selling a product or solution that others are deriving the majority of the benefits from.

If in doubt over any area, one quick tip: Focus on human needs. Not sanitised artificial segmentations, but real human needs. These are the enduring attributes of people; their behaviours; their relationships; their wants; their loves. Though technology has changed, these attributes haven’t.






Freedom vs. debt and the dangers of financial heroin

You want freedom? Then have no debt.

It is that simple.

Your level of freedom is inversely linked to your level of debt. As one goes up, the other goes down.

Every time. No exceptions.

This applies for individuals, start-ups, big or small companies and countries.

Greece is losing control of its economy and its freedom because it has unmanageable debt.

People across the world are losing homes because they cannot pay their bills and their debts continue to grow.

Small businesses close daily as banks close credit lines, refuse loans and change credit terms at will.

The message is clear – all the time you are in debt you restrict your freedom.

High debt levels = less freedom, regardless of who or what you are.

Once the lender loses his confidence in your ability to pay (e.g. Greece) you have no choice to do what they want. You might think you do. You don’t. Defaulting on debt is the start of a ride down a very nasty razor-blade coated slide.

You do what they say or suffer the consequences. Pain either way.

Instead of teachings kids about buying things, supporting rabid consumerism and teaching about brands, we should teach about independence and personal security. We should teach why happiness is not buying lots of things but the opposite, buying what you need and buying what matters. I’m not going all Buddhist on you – as you may be happy with products bought on debt, but you will not be secure. If Maslow was right, then you need to get the security bit right before the buying a new TV bit right.

We should teach kids how finance works. How banks make money and how people lose their homes.

I don’t mean at 16, I mean at age 7. Get the basics in at the start.

We should teach teenagers why payday loans with APR rates in the thousands are pure evil. They are. There is no debate on this. They are predatory and evil. They are financial heroin. It may solve a gap in your life, provide some quick fix, but extended use will screw up your life.

We should teach business studies graduates to admire and respect stable businesses, with positive cash flows, able to suffer business cycles rather than go begging to bankers (or more likely go bust). Building business quickly is good, but there are different ways to do this. Borrowing money, whether from a bank, from Venture Capitalists (VC) or from your parents reduces your freedom to make decisions. Whilst a VC may take a less active role, they will often have a final decision on major choices that you have. This continues through to shareholders. Go public, get the cash, but lose control. You are no longer in control of the ship. Business schools teach the parable of the person who built his company, took it public only to be ousted. Look to Steve Jobs for a pretty recent case of this.

How did Steve avoid this when he returned?

He kept control and kept control of the cash. Sensible investment, never risking the security of himself or the company.

Whether you are a person, a business or a country, the message is the same:

The more you borrow, the less freedom you have.

Freedom may not matter in these terms, but if we use some other terms such as choice, liberty, security, then they should matter.

For a person, you may think this is restricting what you can buy. It isn’t. It is restricting you on being able to leave a job that you hate. It restricts you from taking that trip of a lifelime. It restricts you from retiring, from taking extended time off, from giving to what you care about. It is in these terms that we need to focus, not on new cars, big TVs and short extravagant holidays paid for on plastic.

The paradox of course is that the more you spend on these things paid for by debt, the less freedom you have.

Again, it is the same with businesses. Forced to deliver earnings to meet quarterly shareholder and analyst expectations, many companies are unable to make the changes, investments and shifts that would secure the long term future of their company. Just as the individual focusing on the short term risks their long term security, so does the company. Being beholden to shareholders who demand predictable and regular quarterly results is no more fun for the CEO than it is for the individual working in a job they hate to meet the credit card bills for the products they have long forgotten about, worn out or discarded.

So a piece of advice for the next time you want to buy something using debt, ask yourself.

‘What is the true price I am paying for this? Not the cost, but the price in terms of loss of freedom?’

This is Part 1 of a 2 part Series.

Part 2: Freedom, education and the failure of politicians

Consumer technology needs to enable human ambitions to be of enduring value

Consumer technology needs to enable and empower human actions and ambitions to be valuable.

If you cannot clearly articulate the human value proposition for any given technology go back to the drawing board because you have not designed useful technology but unnecessary junk. It may be functional, it may even be aesthetically pleasing, but it is still junk. If it has no clear human benefit, it is junk. The benefit may be fun, it may be practical, but it still needs to exist.

Every piece of enduring technology from the Braun alarm clock to the Hoover vacuum cleaner; from the biro pen to the iPod can be expressed in terms of human benefit.

When the value of a technology is expressed solely in self referential terms, with the product describing what has, not what it can do for people, there can be no judgement other than failure because it is unnecessary to the buyer.

Far too many technology companies set the bar too low and forget about the most important factor in the product, the person.

Not the buyer, not the user, not any one of a dozen personas, but the human.

Not a demographic, not a segment, not a persona, but a human.

They express the description in functional terms, list features and detail technical attributes.

Successful consumer products don’t focus on the function, they focus on the human value.

If you want to be successful at consumer product or service design, don’t start with what you can do, start with why someone will care.

5 rules for surviving Work 2.0

Seth Godin gets it spot on, again.

An article on Business Insider says it all …

If You’re An Average Worker, You’re Going Straight To The Bottom

Welcome to the New Reality. Welcome to Work 2.0.

Or perhaps, welcome back to Work 2.0, because we have been here before. We are here everytime economies tighten.

And for most people, it isn’t fun.

There are going to be two groups of people in most companies – stars and everyone else.

Guess which one you NEED to be in.

We have seen the Jack Welch 10/70/20 model around for a while and several companies are using this (with varying results), but what Seth points to is a more simple model. Star or not. You are either someone a company values, someone who is a key player or you are a hired hand.

Hired hands get utility pay (not average, you get what they can get away with paying you), no security, no perks and no enjoyment. You are a warm, living breathing machine. If the work could be automated cheaper than you, it will be.

Stars get perks. They have to work hard, probably harder than the average pool, but they get the benefits as well. And before you think about trading work/life balance, this is only a choice if you are a star. If you are Mr Average, in the everyone else pool, then you have no choice.

Doesn’t sound like fun, it isn’t. Review time will be painful, and you know that several of your colleagues will get the chop. That is the way the model works. Don’t expect fairness. Don’t expect respect. That is reserved for the stars.

So now you know how this works, you can do something about it.

So take control, get a plan, and WORK that plan:

5 tips … I could list hundreds, others have, so go find them. Start with ‘personal productivity’, ‘personal brand’, ‘blah blah blah’. You know the score here. The game is changing though and so are the rules. Some of the options are disappearing. So here are some ideas to help you get out of that average pool.

  1. Get seen. Don’t be anonymous. Think about your personal brand (Tom Peter’s has written loads on this, so go read it). Be the go-to guy for something. You can be a star janitor, a star cook, a star teacher. Stand out from the rest by being the best. Being average = being last. Nice? No, but this is the reality of Work 2.0. You decide where you set the bar. Set it high. Set it higher than everyone else. Yes this means more work, but that is life now. Do the work = keep the work.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the world to come to you. It won’t. Get out there. Network, go to meetings. Not invited? Be polite and ask to join.  Look for a group that shares your passion. If you reach a dead end, then volunteer your time to help others. Got an excuse for why you can’t? Write it down, then write 5/10/50 ways to get past this. Giving an excuse is like writing a sick note to yourself.
  3. Invest in yourself. Soak up knowledge. Know your domain better than anyone else. Have the answers, know how to get things done. Buy/borrow/download books AND READ THEM. Don’t just read blogs, read books. Understand the detail. Make sure you know what is happening in your domain. Don’t read content online aimlessly, CONTRIBUTE to it. Write your ideas down. This forces you to think through the logic of them and test with others. Find your voice. Writing helps you discover your passion, because no one wants to write about something they don’t care about. The world’s best teachers are online. Watch TED, go to local Universities to watch visiting speakers.
  4. Over-deliver. You know the maxim. Under-promise and over-deliver. Well here is the new one: Under-promise, over deliver, and do this before the next guy. This means that you need to focus. It probably means that you need to give up some of your free time, maybe work a bit extra on the weekend, in the evening. So do it.  Not for everything, but for the work that matters. Work/life balance will take a hit, but losing your job is a bigger hit. The same applies if you are self-employed. Go that extra mile, particularly when you are starting out and building a client base. And a quick tip. Work for the boss/client is your top priority. Always, no exceptions. Never, ever disappoint your boss/client. Good managers will remember this and support you, bad ones will take advantage. Don’t do it and lose the job/client. That is worse. When you have the boss wanting your work, the client demanding your time, then you get the power to negotiate – but not until that happens.
  5. Stay healthy. I know, you are looking at this and saying, ‘what’??? A health message. Yes. Absolutely. Work today is hard. I might like it to be different, but for every great employer with a gym, complimentary massages and free food there are a million average companies, but that is what it is. Get over it. In the current economic climate it isn’t going to change soon. Whether you work for someone else or yourself, hard work is the order of the day. So look after your most valuable asset – your body – both physically and mentally because if you don’t, you will get ill. If you get ill, you lose. Simple as that. Can’t work = no money, no business. So you need to stay healthy. Restrict TV time, limit online activity and make time for your body. Cook fresh food, don’t eat junk, only drink water (never soda/fizz). Keep the alcohol sensible. Walk/run/bike, whatever you want. Get the heart rate up and keep moving about.


So you read this and think, this Work 2.0 thing sucks. Absolutely. It does until you take control of it, get out of the average pool, and either become a star, or run your own business because the one thing you don’t want to be is average.


Don’t take your laptop on holiday, take your notepad

Going on holiday with your family?

One quick tip …

Leave work at work.

Leave your laptop, your iPhone, your Blackberry and all your other corporate shackles in a drawer at home.

Don’t take any device that can read corporate email, or chat with work colleagues.

Set your Out of Office assistant to tell people you are on holiday, then go on holiday. Direct people to an intelligent capable colleague, then switch off the kit. All of it. Power OFF. Trust the other person as you would want them to trust you.

Now go and buy a small Moleskin notepad (no bigger than A5) a new pen and a pencil. Whatever you prefer: biro, fibre-tip, fountain pen and a pencil. Don’t buy the cheapest one, but don’t spend a mint either. £20-30 is about right. And no eraser, no tip-ex.

And no, another pad will not do. BUY A MOLESKIN.

Why a pencil? Pens fail, pencils are more reliable. It is your backup.

Now back to the holiday.

The next few days will be a combination of relief and technology detox.

A combination of good and bad pain. You will crave email, you will crave connectivity.

You will get over it.

Your family will thank you.

You will find it harder than you think.

You will get stressed.

You will get over it.

But if you relax, allow yourself to recharge and let your mental energy increase you will start buzzing with ideas and a clarity of thought that was not there at work. Don’t lose this, write it down. Grab that Moleskin notepad and write. You can write lists, stories, anything, just get it out of your head and onto paper.

Then close the book and go back to your family.

Put ideas into the book, then close it again. Don’t do anything that could be seen as an action. It is a holiday.

Give your family the one thing that they want above anything else in life … your time.

When you get back, look through the book, before you switch on ANY kit, go through the notepad.

Think about it, talk about it, refine it, cross it out.

For each thing (action/thought/reflection) in there decide what YOU need to do next.

If there is nothing in there, then fine, you are rested. Job done.

I bet there are things in there that matter though.

If there is something in there that can be life-changing, then start the actions NOW.

Do this first. This is what happens when your mind is freed and set onto dealing with the most important things – your life, and that of your family

Give these the attention they deserve.

First things first.

Quickly the time will come to open the draw, to switch on the work kit, to reconnect and reengage. I’m not giving any advice about this. You are on your own now. If what is in the moleskin matters – then do it.

Simple as that.

It is doesn’t then put it in your case ready for next year.

Just don’t blame me if next year you realise the value of what you discovered a year earlier and did nothing about it.