Business Poison

The Poison of Presumed Influence

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Back in 2011, Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote an article in the New York Times entitled “Got Twitter? What’s Your Influence Score?”. Here is the opening text:

“Imagine a world in which we are assigned a number that indicates how influential we are. This number would help determine whether you receive a job, a hotel-room upgrade or free samples at the supermarket. If your influence score is low, you don’t get the promotion, the suite or the complimentary cookies. This is not science fiction. It’s happening to millions of social network users. If you have a Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account, you are already being judged — or will be soon.”

For those of you in the advertising and marketing industry the above is relatively old news. However, I feel it represents a fundamental poison of modern world business that lives on to this day. This is The Poison Of Presumed Influence.

From an advertising and marketing perspective, there are three types of media. Owned media (e.g. company owned websites), bought media (e.g. search engine terms) and earned media (e.g. external conversations about your brand). Within this triumvirate it is commonly thought that the public value assigned is lowest in owned media and highest in earned media, with bought media in between.

This makes logical sense. After all, conversations that people have can affect the attitudes and behaviours of others, especially when people trust the opinion or advice of the person speaking with them. However, this is very different to how companies often talk at people, hence people tending to prefer personal conversations over propaganda.

Even though the logic may follow that finding those with influence socially are those who are most powerful at spreading brand messages, identifying some online influencers is only a minor part of accessing the power of earned media. The majority part is what you do next. I have observed the common mistakes organisations make are:

1. Treating the influencers like any other consumer and speaking at them rather than with them

2. Offering influencers incentives that are seen as bribes which does more damage than good

3. Doing nothing other than monitoring the influencers, hoping they advocate and don’t turn negative

To properly enter into the world of earned media, an organisation needs to zoom out of the ‘social media’, ‘digital’ and ‘online’ buzz word landscape and address fundamental strategic and organisational paradigm shifts. This includes elements such as assessing the level of porosity your organisation has, accessing and extrapolating the level of ultimate trust in public, creating and implementing engagement protocols, agreeing and testing sign-off processes, authoring and applying crisis management systems, formulating integration into sales conversion, raising staff awareness and infiltrating behaviour mandates, managing the linkage into performance indicators, and so on. This is a brief selection of modern business hygiene factors. There are many more.

My point is, you can start with monitoring and analysis, provided you understand that monitoring and analysis is less than a single percentage of the actual requirement – and even then, as we will see below, it is as far removed from the holy grail as you could possibly imagine. Much of what we’re currently fascinated by in terms of ‘influence’ is ultimately a warm-up act. A sideshow of persistent inaccuracy.

Imagine I publish a public status update that suggests that a particular device is worth buying and someone else gives a similar recommendation at a conference, offline, on stage. Let’s say the same recipient of influence who reads my status update is in the audience at that conference. They see my update and hear a recommendation from someone else at the same time. If they proceed to buy the device, who is credited as the influencer?

In another, simpler scenario, imagine I am amongst several influencers but I was the one who pushed the recipient into conversion. However, the conversion happened offline, totally unconnected with online behaviour or activity.

In the first scenario, I would be the prime influencer as the offline influence at the conference falls outside the remit of online influence. In the second the influence is invisible and the retail strategy may take the credit.

Ask yourself: what would it take for both scenarios to be accurately attributed to the genesis of behavioural change into conversion?

Azeem Azhar, CEO of PeerIndex recognises this, calling it “the Clay Shirky problem,” referring to the writer and theorist who doesn’t use Twitter much. “He’s obviously massively influential,” Mr. Azhar said, “and right now he has a terrible PeerIndex.” Azhar is suggesting this is Clay’s problem and I wonder whether Clay is concerned?

My point is this: if the thing I discuss online, or Clay discusses offline, is converted offline, the only way of tracking influence is to have data sensors on absolutely all physical touch points, linked to absolutely all virtual touch points. This, in addition to CCTV and audio recording devices on every square mile on earth.

Frankly, if those who would like to exploit influence were able to act without regulation and legislation, the ultimate win would be to have sensors inside everybody. Microchips that linked our thought, word and deed. Tracking our every move to place exact accountability on everything. There’s a road map for that. However, there are two significant threats to the effective maturation of this industry:

1. Regulation and legislation may get in the way by limiting what is allowed to be ‘mined’ for various reasons – one of which could be human rights, another could be the terms and conditions inherent to certain platforms

2. People may decide to restrict access to their information and thus dilute the completeness of the surveyed data

Either threat would significantly distort the data but the second threat resonates strongest for me as I personally believe the noise about how all this gorgeous data contains the “black gold of the 21st century”, is fundamentally missing the point that the owners of the goldmines are the general public. Not the companies. The companies would need to petition for the spades, without any pre-existing rights.

By applying this holistic view to today, with every single influence and credibility tool around, if you make several of your online profiles private, you will have low scores and be seen as non-influential. Even if you are influential. The poison lives on.

Many years ago the music industry decided to run a survey to see which guitars were most popular by region in terms of distribution and sales. To be included in the survey each manufacturer had to permissively share their unit sales. One particular manufacturer refused to do so, and that was Fender. The problem was, without Fender in the survey the rest of the data was immediately unrepresentative as Fender had a massive impact on the trend analysis.

I feel the online influence industry is destined to be a partial component in a fuller picture. Currently the buzz is loud enough to skim over the cracks, but take either of the scenarios above and the cracks are poison canyons.

The question then is: What is the maximum level of incompleteness that accuracy can suffer? After all, companies that are seeking to identify influencers surely aren’t willing to discount chunks of real-life influence? Surely they aren’t taking what happens on a handful of channels and assuming that’s anything more than a micro-fraction of the picture?

No, I’d imagine that once the dust settles and the cool, funky technology has become yesterday’s spiky haircut, the proper companies will address this game from an unsiloed strategic place, rather than an online-only viewpoint that tactically assumes what happens digitally is in some way more important or relevant than what happens in total.

Accessing the power of influencers and nurturing armies of fans is mission critical in today’s business environment. However the technologist methodology belies the psychological requirements of modern assessment and engagement. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail – and when you make software, everything can be answered in a programme. Life, however, does not work like that.

There is simply no brand and no system, however cool, that can beat the physiological and sociological realities of how people relate, decide and act. Yes, tools can provide us with some information, but I implore you to see that incompleteness for what it is. Some isn’t necessarily all. Online influence isn’t necessarily all influence. No data gathering equals all actionable insight without addressing points that are seldom related to digital environments alone.

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison of Omnipotence

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Sometime around 500AD, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite asked whether it was possible for God to “deny himself”. The question was arguably the first emergence of what is called ‘The Omnipotence Paradox’ which states that:

“If a being can perform any action, then it should be able to create a task it is unable to perform, and hence, it cannot perform all actions. Yet, on the other hand, if it cannot create a task it is unable to perform, then there exists something it cannot do.”

Whilst it may be enjoyable to venture into a debate on whether or not it is possible to ever be omnipotent, the fact is, it’s tremendously attractive to imagine having unlimited, universal power. Not just as a person but as a business too.

I see numerous companies express monstrous capabilities to appear more competitive. Check out some of the halls at pretty much any exhibition and you will see stand after stand of slogans and tag lines including terms like ‘end-to-end’, ‘360º’ and ‘total’. I see products launched that, allegedly, are super-powered. I see services launched that, allegedly, will solve even the most challenging needs.

I wonder how much pressure comes from potential customers who, especially in new concepts, seek companies who ‘do everything’, citing economies of scale and efficiency as justification. I wonder how much pressure comes from competitors who claim omnipotence thereby forcing you to do the same to stay competitive. The whole thing feeds itself. Bigger and bigger claims, mostly based on sand.

Numerous agencies in the advertising world claim to be the ‘world’s greatest’ this or that. The ‘home of’ something or other. The writers of such statements often believe the words to be true, even if nobody else does. One could argue that such expressed omnipotence is an internal communication tactic, making staff feel as if they are in the right place to work. Here’s the deal:

I feel there is no long-term benefit of outputting claims of ultimate power or capability. In fact, claiming this is a very bad idea in many ways, and I call this The Poison Of Omnipotence. Of a cast of thousands, here are the three biggest disaster zones with this poison:

1. Over-promising. This is perpetually linked to under-delivery. Even if a deal gets won by some whizz-bang claims of extreme ability, the execution stage will be ever more painful. This is very pertinent in the current world of new advertising formats where minimum revenue guarantees are requested by potential customers who, frankly, should know better, and providers who, frankly, should do too.

2. Believability. In new areas where customers may not know what would be possible, you would think you could get away with seeming to be omnipotent. However, once levels of awareness and understanding increase, it’s only a matter of time until the parameters are better known. Then you are in big trouble.

3. Trust and Integrity. This is totally impossible when the first two minefields come into play. Trust can only come from positive interactions, augmented by consistency and honesty, which builds integrity: the mother of all goals in reputation. In the long run, it would be better to have trust and integrity than to live in the hope you never get found out for not being the omnipotent force you seemed to be. You may do less business, but you won’t be hated, derided and unable to function in the business world.

So, what is the antidote to this poison?

1. Leave it. I truly believe it’s best to leave your competitors to kill themselves off, suffering from the three areas outlined above. Then you will still exist and have a clearer market.

2. Differentiate. Do this by not claiming to be omnipotent. Focus on what you are fantastic at. This isn’t to say you should limit yourself, but only market competencies if you actually have them. If you think you need them to compete, then learn or buy them – but don’t claim you have them if you don’t.

3. Change perspective. Most companies follow competition. Markets are defined by this. This is why we so often are in a race to the bottom, trading in lowest common denominators, blindly competing for prizes that are evaporating. Just because the market seems to be going one way, that doesn’t justify you following it.

One final thought: If you actually are omnipotent, or do have ultimate capability in your space, then the competitive advantage you have will express itself, through people. By telling everyone you have superpowers, you will simply look like all the others who say they do too. Leave them to make the claims, and you can get on with being fabulous.

The truth will eventually come out.

All you are is what you are.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation

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On November 16th 2010 an article appeared in Harvard Business Review (HBR), written by James Allworth, about Google’s strategy. The gist of the piece can be gained from these two enclosing sentences; the first from the start, the second from the end:

1. “…But Google may regret the strategic choices that have led to this victory over Apple.”

2. “The Android operating system is, as Google initially intended, untethered to any particular partner. This was a smart way of fighting the opening battles of the smartphone wars against Apple.”

Basically the author is saying that mobile handsets with Google’s Android mobile operating system are out-shipping Apple’s iPhone due to Google’s free distribution through what is called the Open Handset Alliance, yet this openness means there is no control over third parties choosing non-Google services instead, thus diminishing Google’s competitive position.

In my opinion this critique of Google’s supposed competitive strategy is entirely dependent on a context of traditional and centralised business practice. I believe this context is fundamentally questionable. For it to be the case, Google would be displaying certain personalities of traditional centralisation, such as the need to control distribution or directly attack competitors, for example.

When things are centralised, ownership and enclosed resilience is vital; as what you have to hand defines your central unit of power. If Google traded in such a way, the HBR article would be contextually accurate and the opinion based on a valid conceptual construct.
However, Google is not a fully centralised business and their practice is fundamentally unlike many of the companies that commentators would seem eager to pitch it against. Allow me to clarify.

There are three types of organic business structures:

1. Centralised businesses (just as centralised organisms in nature) have a core hub and externally dependent spokes like a spider does. All behaviour, including competitive behaviour, is focussed on increasing the power of the core hub and decreasing the risk of the core hub being destroyed, which would end everything as all vital parts are within the core.

2. Decentralised businesses (just as decentralised organisms in nature) have all vital parts distributed throughout like a starfish does. There is no dependency of any part on any other. In fact, the further distributed it is (like when you cut off a starfish leg), the more the organism continues to grow. The starfish grows another leg, and the cut-off leg grows into a starfish. It’s like Agent Smith in The Matrix. Remember?

3. Hybrid businesses are, unsurprisingly, a combination of centralised and decentralised architecture. In Google’s case, as a hybrid business, there is centralised decision-making and decentralised execution. It is the decentralised execution that positions Google in a different way from their most obvious competitors (who tend to be extremely centralised – Apple for example).

Due to the common misinterpretation of their organic structure that leads to what I believe to be fundamentally inaccurate assessments of competition strategy and risk, I feel compelled to illustrate a different reality than portrayed in the original HBR article, and by doing so, address what I call The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation.

In 1943 Peter Drucker was commissioned by General Motors (GM) to investigate and interpret the secrets of their success. For 18 months Drucker probed and questioned all parts of the organisation and finally published his findings, as agreed he would, in a book called ‘Concept of the Corporation’.

Due to the findings GM were very angry and Drucker was very surprised at this reaction. After all, in his book, Drucker had praised GM for their way of working, even likening them to the US Government’s ‘Federal Decentralisation’.

Drucker said: “In Federal Decentralisation a company is organised in a number of autonomous businesses.” Just as the US Government ceded power to the states, GM let go of central power to autonomous, decentralised divisions. Drucker’s advice was for GM as a hybrid organisation to become even more decentralised. He claimed their success was primarily due to the level of decentralisation. Drucker suggested such measures as hard-coding customer feedback into deep strategy.

But no. GM hated it.

Their response was, in essence, “We are at the top of the game so why should we change?”

By the way, the Japanese car manufacturers took a far more proactive approach to Drucker’s advice and the rest, as they say, is history.

Around this time, Drucker spoke of an organisational position that is often referred to as ‘the sweet spot’. The place where organisations or offerings are centralised enough for control and commercial reality, yet decentralised enough for mass adoption and agility.
Google, with their decentralised execution, currently resides in a sweet spot of openness and pervasiveness.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for the supposed ‘risk’ of other players. In fact, the concentration is on creating tools for competitors to be empowered.

Did Google arm their competitors? Absolutely. On purpose.

Decentralised execution cares nothing for ‘market share’ of specific technology. Instead, the concentration is on becoming invisible, yet always there. The point of the story of GM and Drucker isn’t about the reaction. It’s about the empirical competitive advantage of decentralisation.

Despite unarguable evidence, the most common thought is that businesses are similarly structured with selfish centricity. The presumption by most commentators, including those in respected publications, is that companies are as centralised as spiders and compete accordingly. This is pure poison and shows an ignorance of business structure and market dynamics.

The poison is, however, extremely common. In the (absolutely vital) book, ‘The Starfish and The Spider’ by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, the second principle of decentralisation is: “It’s easy to mistake starfish as spiders.”

The frequency of commentators and competitors mistaking decentralisation for centralisation actually helps the decentralised compete. Put another way: The more that people misinterpret and treat decentralised companies as centralised, the bigger the threat. This is one of the main reasons that decentralised companies will rarely, if ever, correct a commentator or competitor who mistakenly uses centralised constructs in their reasoning. It is better for a starfish that others think it’s a spider.

Despite this reality, The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation can be found everywhere. Another example can be found in an article called ‘The Truth About Google’s So-Called Simplicity’. In this, the commentator writes of confusion over Google’s product range:

“A long time ago, 1968 to be precise, a wise person named Conway wrote: ‘Organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations.’ So true: I can see this in products from many a company. Except with Google, there appears to be no organizational structure of the product. Hmm.”

The poison lives on healthily, demanding a level of naivety to exist.

In closing, and to be fair to the HBR article, one thing I would like to raise is what Google’s strategy would be if they actually felt under attack. To quote again from Brafman and Beckstrom, the first principle of decentralisation is: “When attacked, a decentralised organisation becomes even more open and decentralised.”

The message therefore is clear. Not only can we predict less predictability in competitive moves under attack, we can be assured that The Poison Of Presumed Centralisation will continue to empower the hybrid and decentralised. Faced with this reality, who would you bet on to win?

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Can’t

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The fact is, we can’t breathe underwater, unaided. We can’t fly either. In fact, there are a number of things we simply cannot do. However, I suspect that most of our usage of the word ‘can’t’ isn’t actually related to things we literally cannot do.

This presents the inaccurate use of the word can’t as a poison, a misconception based on incorrect reasoning.

The main problem is that when we say, “Oh I can’t do that”, the thing we are speaking about gets compartmentalised in our brain, adjacent to being able to breathe underwater, unaided. Happy bedfellows, languishing in the vortex of the un-doable. Our mental filing system then requires extraordinary effort to switch folders from ‘things I can’t do’ to ‘things I possibly can do’, which is why, after being told by someone that they can’t do something, the work is so tremendously difficult in changing their opinion.

The Poison Of Can’t is a nightmare to deal with.

Of all the poisons, this is one that has the most extreme effect on progress, development and innovation. Stuff that makes people and organisations grow. The C word (as I sometimes call it – just to be on the safe side) is built into our language so deeply that we say it without realising and then the poison gremlin takes over. It sits waiting for you to say things like “I can’t” or “We can’t”, then simply opens a mental drawer and plops the thing that you are talking about into it. Job done. It takes a nanosecond to do, and sometimes a lifetime to undo, if at all. If you’re lucky, the folder system you have in your head has weak locks, meaning it’s easier to re-file. But remember, weak locks are bad at keeping things in or out of anywhere, so you may be more susceptible to self-doubt.

When I was totally and utterly screwed over in business, losing pretty much everything in the process, I said, “I can’t fix this. I can’t make things better.” But, over an arduous five-year period, I realised that I could. And I did. So how can one move from a can’t to a can? Here’s a quick and dirty checklist to combat The Poison Of Can’t:

1. You need to define exactly what the thing is that you may or may not be able to do. Define it in exact terms. For me it was, on a human level, to be able to house, feed and support my family whilst not losing my mind in anxiety, stress and/or depression in the process. On a business level, it was to create an even better organisation than I had ever done before. On a moralistic level, it was to enable others to also reach their own potential.

2. Forget the tactics, forget the ways and means – first address a cold, hard question: “Is it humanly possible to do this thing?”. If the answer is no, your challenge changes from one of struggle to one of acceptance and adaptation. If the answer is yes, your journey begins, but it may be a 2000 or 20,000 day journey.

3. Now you’ve established what the thing is and whether it is possible, it’s now time to map out the separate steps you would need to take so you can start your journey. These steps should be achievable but you may find there are several sub-steps or dependencies. Then, you just have to get busy. If you have a barrier, refresh your answers to the points above. Remember, provided what you are trying to achieve is literally possible, it is down to you how successful you are.

For me, the above was my antidote for The Poison Of Can’t. Whatever level of this poison you experience, in others or yourself, try and avoid the C word wherever possible. It produces zero net benefit for anyone. Life is too short to eliminate the possible.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Expectation

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Have you ever been on public transport and seen someone eating a really pungent snack that made the entire area smell? Recently I sat opposite a guy who had a burger that embodied that description. He evidently thought it was appropriate to bring a stinking, greasy burger onto a packed commuter train. Would you ever dream of doing such a thing? Me neither.

Our expectation of what is reasonable frames our opinion of other people’s actions. In our intrinsic desire ultimately for the world to work within the confines of our perspective, we spend a considerable amount of time frustrated at other people, other environments and other versions that do not fit our standards. This is The Poison Of Expectation.

We judge all the time. Someone isn’t driving well enough. We could drive much better. Someone is walking too slowly. We always know when to walk slow or fast. Someone’s house is way too messy. Ours is never that messy. We would never let it get into that state. Taking a smelly burger onto a packed train? Disgraceful, we would never do that. And now, assuming all citizens have the right to their own opinion, perhaps the people, who are accused in the above, also have an expectation of us that isn’t being matched. We’re too busy judging to know that, of course.

Maybe burger man thinks it’s fine if others do as he does? Common courtesy is fine so long as you can define what common is and what courtesy is? These are subjective terms. Your personal hygiene standards may not necessarily be the same as the person sitting next to you on a 13-hour flight to the other side of the world. I have found.

But why is expectation a poison? After all, we’re allowed to expect certain things, right? Well, the poison isn’t about having personal aspiration; it is assuming that everyone would do what you do. The poison gets to work when we simply can’t understand how someone has done something against our expectations, as we are basing our opinion solely on our own standards. This narrow lens creates an almost guaranteed level of confusion in our heads.

The Poison Of Expectation creates toxic fumes so we get more frustrated. It designs itself to move our focus from what matters. Even when we try to pull away and think objectively, the poison knows you will ultimately base your judgment on your own opinion, and by doing so, you keep feeding the poison.

The antidote to this is a tough one as it takes reasoning of other people’s actions to disable the poison. Chuck D from Public Enemy once said, “If you can’t change the people around you, change the people around you”. Chuck’s advice suggests two things:

1. To try and change the people around you (by educating, advising, helping or setting a different example)

2. To literally change the people you are around (by moving away from those you are unable to do the above with)

So, if burger man disgusts you, move carriages. If Captain Slow refuses to drive differently, change route. If our adjacent passenger isn’t aware of the concept of washing, switch seats, use nose plugs or, (if you’re brave), offer them your deodorant. Whatever you do, the one thing that leads to an endless negative vortex is to allow The Poison Of Expectation to eat you up inside. People are different. It’s rare anyone will have the exact same standards as you.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Protectionism

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Over time I have published a number of ideas that, one day, may come to life – with or without my personal involvement. These were my ideas that I have no protection over in terms of trademark or patents. You may wonder why I so openly published these ideas, especially in an environment where people are so protective over their concepts. As it happens, I worked out that for these ideas to take flight, they would require external help. So I could either:

1. Speak to people I know, in addition to some they recommend, then get a confidentiality agreement signed and create a working group.

2. Keep the ideas to myself and try to execute them myself as the sole owner.

3. Share the ideas openly with others and see whether anyone other than me would like to make them come to life.

The risk of option 1 is that the people I find on my own may not ultimately be the best people for the ideas. Plus, I don’t see a great deal of value in a confidentiality agreement when it is very hard, if not impossible, to prove that someone did or didn’t have an idea first. The approach also assumes that the idea is totally unique, which quite honestly is rarely the case.

The risk of option 2 is that it’s improbable only you can make everything happen. Omnipotence is an equally vicious poison. However hard you try there still isn’t a way of stretching 24 hours into 25 and even if you multi-task your head off, focus is diluted from the moment you start the second most important thing, let alone the third.

The risk of option 3 is that others ‘steal’ the idea and run with it. This is why so many people don’t share with others and produces the worst cases of The Poison Of Protectionism.

However, I’d like to propose a different logic as an antidote to this poison. This is what I call ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’:

1. It is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique. The chances are that someone, somewhere, is already working on it and they may have a greater resource than you, let alone some trademark or patent applications in process. This doesn’t mean your idea is less worthy or has less potential, but it does mean you are in good company and maybe the market is already setting its own scene in preparation for your version of the idea to take life.

2. Not everyone is inspired by the same thing. People who happen to hear you speaking about an idea are exceedingly unlikely to stop whatever they were doing and start a whole new project/company/whatever on the basis of hearing you speak. It’s not that your idea isn’t incredible – I’m sure it is – but people are into different things. Most inventions are too nuanced to be replicable.

3. It’s not actually down to the quality of the idea; it’s the execution of it. Sure you need a brilliant concept but when it comes down to it, success isn’t based on an idea itself. Profit isn’t based on the idea itself. Fame isn’t based on the idea itself. The way you execute it determines all those factors – whichever one you prefer as your metric of success. If you look at this in the context of the 1st principle (it is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique), you could have numerous people with the same idea but the ultimate winner will still be the one who executes best.

4. Talent creates and genius borrows. As it happens, originality can be a pain. It’s harder to prove a business case. It’s harder to convince people to invest. It’s harder to show people you aren’t crazy and ultimately, it’s harder to know how the hell to execute as nobody has done so before. As it turns out, many of the ideas around today that have turned into established businesses are based on older ideas, but done better. Google wasn’t the first search engine, iTunes wasn’t the first music player and Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Oh and by the way, I would place money on none of them being the last of their kind, despite being market leaders at the time of writing.

Despite these 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention, there is an extreme level of protectionism in most industries, especially from people who haven’t been in business for a lengthy period. Often, people who are starting up on their own, take a view that the business world is some blood-sucking, evil, idea-grabbing monster which preys upon the young and innocent. Well, from experience, the business world can be like that, but it also exists in the realities of the four principles I outlined above. The truth is that the business world doesn’t normally listen to newcomers, especially those with potentially disruptive ideas. If they did, the reality is they mostly wouldn’t care a great deal.

My advice to those suffering from The Poison Of Protectionism is this:

1. Find something that exists and better it, radically. I’d wager there isn’t anything that cannot be bettered. Plus, this way you can always tell people what you are working on because what you are bettering already exists. One caveat is that it is often counter-productive to follow competition. It is far better to create your own playing field, even if you take the ball (and maybe some of the players) from the old one.

2. If you have something you think is totally original and world changing, decide what your ultimate goal is. If your goal is for the world to benefit from the idea being a reality, don’t fear others ‘stealing it’. Share it openly and if someone does ‘steal it’ let’s hope they either make it real, or even see the genius you are and invite you to join in. If your goal is to become super-rich and famous for being such a stunning entrepreneur, then either form a secret team or do it yourself in secret. Personally I believe you could get the same result from sharing openly but that requires a certain level of faith and a specific clarity in what your ultimate goal is.

3. Learn ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’. These will sanity check your thoughts along the way and who knows, maybe it will make the difference between something being great and a non-launched pipe-dream that you never got round to?

Good luck.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Technology That Can

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When I was younger, the ‘cool’ stuff was created by large, faceless organisations with brilliant logos and jingles. I imagined they sat in massive offices, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and dreaming up incredible solutions to problems we hadn’t realised we had. Growing up, I found this wasn’t too far from the truth – although the non-smoking policy in many buildings diluted the reality.

Let me place down my cards straight away: I love new technology, I’m a geek, and I will pretty much buy anything with some form of wireless transmitter, or trial pretty much any software that increases my productivity.

But equally, I will only keep using stuff that makes my life easier or better… and this is why I have drawers full of useless crap that probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But that’s what eBay is for, right?

When speaking with numerous inventors or creators (of whom most were technologists), I realised a while ago, there is a distinct divide in motivation that leads to invention. Without meaning to be too binary, and purely for illustrative purposes, the divide I see is:

Those who create or invent due to an existing problem that needs to be solved
Those who create or invent due to a technological capability, without addressing an existing problem
The justification of the second type tends to be that the technological capability will address a future problem that, maybe, people haven’t even realised yet. Actually, most people retrospectively state they are in the first camp – the key word here being retrospectively.

If we look closely at the genesis of ideas, there are multitudes of instances where “doing something really clever with technology” is actually the driver, rather than “doing something that will help or add fundamental value to the end user”.

I see it time and time again – the ‘adding value’ part is appended to the end of a ream of technological wizardry and often, people accept the rhetoric if the powerpoint presentation is cool enough.

In reality I see these as solutions looking for a problem, and, whilst we’re on the catchphrases; when you’re a hammer, everything looks like nail.

Worse still, if we work for a company or organisation with a strong technological bias, we may well be pre-programmemed to dream up a ‘use case’ or ‘user journey’ after the technology has already been created (or, at least conceived).

However we arrive at it, these circumstances are symptoms of an exceedingly popular poison known as The Poison Of Technology That Can.

The problem is that the technology around us presents so many opportunities to do ‘stuff’; it’s very tempting just to go ahead and do it.

We can be driven by the desire for money, the desire for fame, or the desire to fulfil a mandate from our bosses. We can invent stories of demand, which actually are based on an assumption that we represent the mass market.

Rooms of people in corporate suits, earning big money, carrying three smartphones, assuming that the girl on the reception desk truly cares about the latest 3.542v processor that enables something that only those in corporate suits can pronounce, but none are brave enough to describe, in case they get it wrong.

“No, you’ve misjudged us Jonathan,” they say. “The 3.542v isn’t for people like her, we are going for the biggest market opportunity, and that is people just like us.”

Then I say, “…but, with respect, you may not actually be representative of the biggest market.”

Then they say, “No, we are! Everyone I know is like me.”

Then I say, “So why are you putting out an advertising campaign aimed at people like the girl on reception?”

Then they say, “Because people like that aspire to be just like us!”

Then I shut my big mouth.

The Poison Of Technology That Can is a terrible virus. It’s everywhere you look. Want to test it? Ask someone who has created something, how they came up with the idea. Here are some potential answers:

“We noticed our competitors getting into the space of…”

“We read a report that this market was going to…”

“We were instructed by our CEO that we had to use our tech capability to…”

If the answer starts with phrases like these, it is quite likely they have been infected by The Poison Of Technology That Can.

The evil beauty of this poison is that you can hide it really easily with key messages and marketing communications.

In fact, even people within organisations can believe they are making real people’s lives better, simply because they have been told they are.

The poison is so damn clever, it sometimes results in successes, thus justifying future creations based on the same approach of technology first, external purpose second. The poison is also intelligent. It is the big brother of post-rationalisation that continues the viral mutation. So – what’s the antidote?

It’s as easy and as hard as having the vision, ethical merit and bravery to continually question “how can we make people’s lives better?” or “how can we add more value to people’s experiences?”

Then, having the courage to invest in fulfilling the external purpose rather than a) following competitors, or b) taking the easy road of doing what’s possible, rather than what’s valuable.

Sounds easy to say, doesn’t it?

Sadly, it really isn’t…

However – if you ever wanted a competitive edge, if you ever wanted to tear apart the marketplace you’re in, or, most importantly, if you ever wanted to attract loyal and loving fans, my advice is to avoid The Poison Of Technology That Can like the plague.

In fact, Technology That Can will almost guarantee you will be left with a Bank Manager That Can’t… and People Who Ignore.

What could be worse?

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle:

The Poison Of Certainty

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he more I look for it, the more I seem to find instances of people stating, with absolute certainty, what will or won’t ‘ever’ happen.

Look at TV companies stating that there will “always be TV” or music companies stating that there will “always be record labels”. How about that there will “always be vinyl records” or that people will “always read paper books”?

These statements assume total knowledge of all future scenarios.

Actually I suspect the correct interpretation is, “I cannot imagine a time when…” or “I have no reason to believe that…” But people like certainties, explanations and tangibles.

People like to speak and listen to assured advice. It’s far easier to accept things if they are compartmentalised and well presented. The unpredictable is often seen as dangerous and threatening although I believe the main danger and threat is any level of assumptive certainty. That’s the killer – that’s the risk.

The next time you hear someone state that something will always exist, or never change; ask yourself how on earth they could know the future with such certainty? The past and the present have nothing to do with it. So what can you go on? Intuition? Luck? Guesswork? Yes, it’s awkward to do business without assured futures, so keeping sensory agility is critical.

I’m certain it always will be.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: