Are you ready to fail in 2019?

Are you ready to fail in 2019?

The beginning of January is a magical time of year. It’s the one time where we get to look forward to all the possibility and not have to deal with any of the failures. If you’re anything like me your social media feeds and email inbox will have been flooded with tips on how to achieve your goals to “Make [insert year] the best year ever”. More than any other month of the year, January is a time of immense optimism.

So it’s going to be a bit of a downer when I tell you that most of the plans you are making for this year will fail. In fact research suggests that organisations fail to execute 90% of the plans they make. And if you think this is just about organisations failing you’d be wrong. All over the place people are betting big on yours and other people’s failures.

One notable example is the gym and fitness industry that preys on people’s failed New Year’s resolutions to get in shape. Gyms lock people into long term contracts of 12 or 18 months that clients are expected to pay for even if they never end up going. Research by Finder.com.au suggests that unused or under-utilised gym memberships costs Australian’s $1.8 billion each year.

So to help you plan better for 2019 I’m not going to provide some rah rah advice on how to achieve your goals, but rather some practical advice on how to ensure that when you fail to achieve your goals or complete your projects that at least you do it well.

1. Make your failures small
Small failures are much more palatable than big ones. Using the analogy of a gym membership, it makes more sense to not use a one month gym membership than a 12 month one. Smaller projects (and shorter memberships) might be relatively more expensive but until you know you can achieve your goals it makes sense to make small bets first.

2. Make your failures unique
There is no point failing for exactly the same reasons as everyone else. Spend a little time finding out why other people have failed on similar projects and then build in contingencies for this from the beginning. This will not completely eliminate the risk of failure, but at least you won’t fail for reasons that could have been easily avoided.

3. Fail early
If you’re going to fail then ideally you want to fail before you’ve made a substantial investment of time, money and resources. To achieve this you need to try and identify the unknowns of your project and likely failure points so you can test them as quickly as possible. Once again, this won’t stop you failing but it will greatly reduce the financial, emotional or chronological cost of doing so.

4. Fail often
I’m not suggesting that you actively seek out failure but rather you should regularly put yourself in a position where failure is an option. In some ways failure is a game of odds: the more projects you start, the more improvements you attempt to make, the more likely it is that you will encounter failure. So rather than try and avoid failure all together, see that it’s an unavoidable outcome of creating valuable change.

All the best for your failures in 2019. May they be your best failures yet!

…and if some of the projects you’re looking to deliver this year are technology related, and you’re interested in doing them more successfully (and perhaps even failing a few of them really well) we are currently recruiting new members for the Digital Champions Club. The Digital Champions Club is a digital transformation program for small and medium sized organisations that develops the internal experts you need to deliver value adding technology projects. If you’d like to find out more about the program or to get some free advice on how to avoid projects failing, get in touch to book a free 25-minute consultation with me.

…oh and if you haven’t already seen it, you might be interested in downloading my latest white paper ‘When Technology Fails to Deliver’.

How to get adults to act like kids (in the best possible way)

On the weekend I took my seven and ten year old girls to their first ever music festival. Now, anyone who has regularly attended music festivals such as (the now defunct) Big Day Out, Falls Festival or even more adult orientated events such as A Day on the Green may question whether taking children to a music festival is such a good idea. Mainly because when adults attend music festivals, most of them or many of them end up acting like kids…and when I say this I mean it in the worst possible way. 

At their worst, kids act selfishly and without any real sense of responsibility. They lack the awareness to understand what’s going on around them and fail to acknowledge the impact their actions are having on those around them.  Fuelled by music, alcohol (and other illicit substances) and without social norms of their day-to-day environment to constrain them. This is how many adults behave at music festivals.

But this was a very different type of music festival. Created by the founder of Falls Festival, The Lost Lands has been built from the ground up as a festival for families. There were still big name music acts but these were interspersed with performances and other activities for kids. There were comedy shows, acrobatic performances, dance classes, a movie night and even a giant ferris wheel. Not only did the festival create an incredibly safe space for children, it also encouraged many of the adults to act more like kids…and this time I mean it in the best way possible.

At their best, kids are caring, trusting and generous. They aren’t hampered by cynicism or past baggage. Instead, they are filled with wonder, open to learning and want to explore and try new things. And this was how I saw every single adult behaving at The Lost Lands. They spent their time moving between the acts that they already knew about and the performances that interested their children. They tested their skills on games made out of old bicycle parts, got their face painted. At the same time the adults acted more like adults than at an 18+ event: they were thoughtful, helpful and incredibly respectful of giving others around them, especially children, space to dance and enjoy themselves.

There is a quote by Dennis Bakke that goes “If you treat people like adults they will act like adults, but if you treat them like children they will act like children.” But what if you want them to act like both? What if you want adults to act with the maturity of adults but with the openness and wonder of children?

And at this point we’re going to segue to from how organisers plan music festivals to how organisations approach technology (I’m approaching this from the perspective of technology change because that’s what I do, but I think this analogy is relevant to many facets of organisational life).

The traditional approach to IT was to treat people like children…and when I say this I mean it in the worst possible way. They weren’t to be trusted, couldn’t make decisions for themselves and just needed to do what they were told and eat whatever was put in front of them. Of course they generally just pushed their technology around the plate with a fork, they became stubborn about trying new things even if it was ‘good for them’. Some rebelled, started sneakily using new technology without asking permission, or if things got really bad they chucked a tantrum and left the organisation. Treating them like kids got them to act like kids at their worst.

But what if we could get people to act like kids at their best? To be inquisitive about new technology and new ideas, to play and explore, to share and collaborate with their friends in a thoughtful, caring and respectful way? How could we get our end users to see the wonder and get genuinely excited about technological change and create a culture that celebrates learning and growth? 

Much has been written about the difference between the leading and the laggard organisations when it comes to technology. But I believe even these organisations could learn something from The Lost Lands. And although the following list is not exhaustive, it provides some ideas as to how we can encourage people to better understand the role technology plays in our work and our lives by getting lost in the wonder of technology for a while. 

  1. Make it fun – If technology always involves change, effort or more work then it will always be challenging to get engagement.
  2. Provide enough time – People are busy. We need to give the gift of time if we want people to explore new ideas and understand their application.
  3. Provide a safe space – We don’t need to celebrate failure so much as acknowledging that failure is a necessary part of innovation. If we want people to innovate we need to provide a safe space, away from customer and client facing work, to test and potentially fail in.
  4. Give guidance – Make sure there are always people around who can provide encouragement, direction, advice and support. 
  5. Limit the rules – Not only do rules limit everyone to the standard set by the lowest common denominator, they imply a lack of trust and discourage a critical understanding of positive and negative behaviours. 
  6. Encourage diversity (in everything) – A diversity of technology, people and ideas means that you will be be exposed to new ideas, just by standing still.
  7. Be full of surprises – Constantly give people a reason to wonder (and wander)

 

Scholarship applications close in 48 hours

A few weeks back we launched the inaugural scholarships for the Digital Champions Club and now there is just a little over 48 hours before applications close. The scholarships are for not-for-profit and for-purpose organisations who want to access the support, accountability and a community of like minded organisations to help them implement their technology projects.
To spread the word and help make sure that this opportunity finds the right organisations we have been playing a game called #passiton. All that we ask is that you pass on this message to three people that you think might benefit from being a part of the Digital Champions Club. With so little time left this is perhaps our last opportunity to get the word out there. So if you haven’t already done so, please take moment to think about the charities, causes and other initiatives you would like to succeed and pass this along.
All the information about the scholarships can be found at digitalchampionsclub.com/scholarships
Thanks for sharing
Simon

The challenge of explaining what you do

I had an awkward moment with a close friend recently. I’ve known Harsha for more than a decade and she’s someone I’ve leaned on every now and then for marketing advice around the various programs I offer. The awkward moment arose because, after five years of telling Harsha about the Digital Champions Club, she still had to ask me what it was exactly that I do.

At the time I found it quite disheartening, that someone who is clearly switched on, someone who genuinely cares about me and what I do, someone who I’ve spent hours talking to about my work still didn’t have any real clarity about what the Digital Champions Club is or why it exists.

My initial response was a sense of frustration — initially directed outwards at Harsha’s failure to listen, and then directed inwards at my own inability to clearly articulate my proposition. So why is it that we struggle to convey things clearly?

I think firstly it’s because it’s hard to get out of our own heads. What I mean by this is it’s hard to explain things without the context of a whole bunch of other stuff that may also need explaining but that you aren’t aware enough to realise. As a result, the explanations which sound whole and well rounded to us are hollow and incomplete to others.

Second, I think the packaging can get in the way of the product. Our desire to create things that are unique, memorable and exciting brings us to use language that is unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow. Unless it’s meant to be a genuine surprise, perhaps it’s best that we dispense with some of the gift wrapping.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I feel like a bit of a dick talking about myself. Which means I generally don’t do it, and therefore when I do it’s all a little off the cuff and just kind of sounds a bit awkward, which in turn makes me feel like a bit of a dick…and the cycle continues.

So Harsha set me a challenge: articulate the Digital Champions Club in a way that people could actually understand and then share it with all the other people who, like her, are currently unsure of what it is I do.

I’ve been procrastinating on this for a couple of weeks because, apart from the dislike of talking about myself, it feels a little awkward to be openly broadcasting my inherent uncertainty and lack of clarity in a world where ‘experts’ are meant to have endless reserves of both.

Yet perhaps in a small way this is a form of therapy, so Harsha, after hours of struggle and refinement here it goes….

I support small and medium-sized organisations who are struggling to build momentum in the delivery of their technology projects (sometimes referred to as digital transformation). I do this through a combination of monthly coaching (to provide support and accountability), one day workshops (for deep learning) and peer-to-peer sharing (to reduce risk). Collectively, these are delivered as a technology-focused, continuous improvement program called the Digital Champions Club.

So how did I do? No, honestly, I’d genuinely like to know…and it really does still sound hollow and incomplete (or even if it doesn’t) feel free to download it my latest white paper “When Technology Fails to Deliver” which explains a whole bunch of the other stuff that goes around in my head.

P.S. I’ve already been back into LinkedIn to edit this…twice.

Why our fear of technology is greater than our fear of death

In 2015 Chapman University in the United States undertook researchers to find out what Americans feared. 1,500 participants ranked 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). So, what did they find?



It turns out people (or American people at least) are more afraid of technology than they are of death.

​Of the top five fears in the survey, three were technology related. Cyberterrorism came in at number two, corporate tracking of personal data came in at number three and Government tracking of personal data came in at number five. In fact, robots replacing the workforce (25), trusting artificial intelligence to do work (34), robots (38) and artificial intelligence (40) all ranked above ‘death’ which didn’t make an appearance until position 43.

​So why are so many people more scared of technology than they are of death?

​In general, the things we fear have three common characteristics:

​Firstly, the outcomes are undesirable. People who suffer from acrophobia, or a fear of heights, don’t fear heights per se, they fear what would happen if they were to fall. We are more likely to fear things where the outcome would be to either lose something we already value or miss out on something that we really want.

​Secondly, the outcome is somewhat uncontrollable. Galeophobia, or a fear of sharks is compounded by the fact shark behaviour appears unpredictable, they are much faster swimmers than humans are…and it’s hard to see them coming. To assert control people with galeophobia are likely to avoid going in the water altogether (and for extreme sufferers this might extend to avoiding inland lakes and rivers even though there is no possible risk of sharks being present).

​Thirdly, the outcomes feel unavoidable. Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears because in our day to day lives spiders are so hard to avoid. You might argue that people with galeophobia can avoid their fear by avoiding swimming at the beach, but as soon as they go near a large body of water, even an inland lake with no possibility of sharks, their fear once again comes to the surface.

​At this point it is also worth defining the subtle difference between fear and anxiety. Although closely linked, one way of understanding the difference between the two is familiarity. Fear is a based on genuine, well understood threat whereas anxiety is a mostly unfounded feeling of concern. From this perspective a fear of heights, sharks and spiders can be seen as quite legitimate, on other hand, very few people are familiar enough or informed enough about artificial intelligence to be genuinely fearful. It is more likely that they are suffering from a bout of digital anxiety.

​Now back to our comparison between the fear of death and our fear (or anxiety) around technology.

​It is fair to say that both technology and death can create undesirable outcomes (though death perhaps more so) and in our current reality both technology and death are unavoidable. The real difference between the two is that we have a greater sense of control over death than we do over cyberterrorism, artificial intelligence and robots. This is not to say that we can cheat death over the long term but on a daily basis we have a fairly well tuned sense of how to avoid it happening prematurely (such as looking before we cross the road and not drinking paint stripper).

​But it’s not just at a societal level that these anxieties about technology are being experienced, they are just as likely to occur within organisations. Some of the fears identified in the survey can be directly linked to the workplace (robots replacing the workforce, trusting artificial intelligence to do work). In addition, there are also more immediate issues that people are dealing with such as how to use the new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system or who might read what I write on Slack/Yammer/Microsoft Teams.

​It is perhaps unsurprising that in the current era of organisational digitisation (or digital transformation) has seen an escalation on technology related anxiety. The desire to roll out multiple technology solutions quickly means that people are being given less time and less support to build familiarity with the technology they are expected to use. This lack of familiarity means people are both less likely to see the opportunity that such systems offer but also, they are more likely to catastrophise the outcomes of getting it wrong. This in turn leads to them exerting what limited control they feel that they have over technology, they take every opportunity to avoid it. As a result, organisations are experiencing an increased sense of ‘push back’ on technology deployment.

​This anxiety around new technology is not new. We have most recently experienced concerns about WIFI frying our brains, prior to that it was the risks associated with sitting too close to the TV, before that it was concerns about telephones being the communication device of the devil (and this was prior to the inception of telemarketing) and earlier than that again was a belief that the speed of steam powered train travel would make our bodies explode.

​In each case people have eventually managed to overcome these anxieties and as a result take advantage of the opportunity that each of these technologies represented. Eventually our experience of artificial intelligence, robotics and CRM will be no different. The question is, are we willing to wait for this anxiety to dissipate naturally over time (in which case we forgo the short-term benefit that such technologies bring) or do we intervene to help people overcome these anxieties sooner?

​A successful intervention is fundamentally based on helping people building familiarity. To build familiarity we need to provide users a safe and supported environment in which to experiment and test out new technology, and if we want people to start actively experimenting we first need them to believe that doing so is worth their time. What this means is that ultimately, if we want people to overcome their anxieties and adopt new technology we first need to help them identify what’s in it for them, not necessarily what’s in it for us.

​Most technology decisions are so often made by a small handful of people for benefit of the organisation. This approach is based on the premise that employees have no choice as to what technology they use but this is not true at all. People always have a choice, they have a choice to avoid, a choice to subvert, or more drastically, they have a choice to leave.

​If we want our digital transformation programs to succeed, if we want people to adopt and use the technology solutions that are being deployed, if we want to build an innovative culture that helps us retain our best talent, then we will first need a rethink on how we engage with, understand and support our people to use the incredible technology that is now available to them. 

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The power of choice

The power of giving people a choice lies in what their decision tells us. If we insist that people use a particular piece of software or work in a particular way, we may find out that there are better ways for things to be done.

The PC era of technology was defined by the standard operating system. Computers would be preinstalled with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. People were largely expected to do their work with just a handful of solutions, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook. This used to make a lot of sense, firstly because there weren’t that many other options to choose from and secondly, end users mostly lacked the knowledge and skills to identify other options and use other options.

But we are now operating in a new era where much of the software we need is now web based and can be purchased on a subscription basis. There is now an incredible number of options that can be accessed cheaply and easily, and from any device we choose to use. But most organisations provide little or no opportunity for people to have a say in the technology they use.

Now we could pretend that people don’t have a choice. That, as employees being paid a salary, they should be expected to use whatever technology and tools they are given, but the truth is people always have a choice. The first, the smallest, and perhaps most common choice they have is to abstain, to actively find ways to avoid using the solution they’ve been given. The second, medium sized choice is to go and source an alternative (and in a world of web based software that you can purchase with a credit card this is not all that difficult). And although it seems a rather drastic response, the third possible choice is to resign. In fact research shows that when high performers don’t get the technology they need to do their best work they are twice as likely to leave the organisation.

Once we accept that people always have a choice, the next question is ‘how can structuring these choices help provide meaningful feedback to the business?’ Providing people a certain level of choice as to what technology they use (or even whether they use the technology or not) helps organisations understand whether the tools being provided are what people want and need. Clearly, if our people adopt and actively use the technology solutions they are provided then we are doing a pretty ace job. But each of the alternatives: abstinence, seeking alternatives and abandonment give insight into what might be wrong.

Abstinence suggests that either the espoused or actual value proposition for the end user doesn’t stack up. If someone is unwilling to try the solution at all, or tries it and then discards it soon afterwards, then we need to accept that for whatever reason, it doesn’t appear to be a good use of their time.

If someone is seeking alternatives then it reflects a belief that there are better, more useful or usable solutions available than the one that’s been provided….and if they are also unwilling to tell you about their proposed alternate it also implies that they don’t trust the IT department to work in their best interest.

Perhaps the most worrying of all is resignation or abandonment. We generally abandon something if it has no perceived value now, or in the future. The decision to resign implies that not only is the current technology inadequate but there is little hope that this will be addressed in the immediate future.

We are in an era of rapid digitisation. In many cases organisations are rolling out multiple large technology solutions that have the potential to provide incredible value to the organisation…if they are used effectively. On the other hand, if these solutions are not embraced or are not used effectively the benefits will go unrealised and all that the organisation will be left with is the cost.

People always have a choice and the success of our digital transformation projects ultimately rests on what people choose to do. Once we acknowledge this then clearly the best course of action is to help our people make better, more informed choices…whatever the outcome of those choices might be.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

The divide between IT and…well, everyone else in your business

Back in around 2007, I spent a few a few years working for Rio Tinto. It was my first and only proper corporate job…and it came with a proper corporate IT team. When I started there the IT team was located just a couple of floors below me, but even then I only remember meeting one member of the IT team face to face. His name was George. Unlike the rest of the IT team that stayed at their desks, George use to walk each of 20 odd floors of Rio Tinto employees every couple of weeks. He would drop by each desk, identifying problems people were having, and showing them simple tips and tricks with their laptop or Blackberry (it was 2007 after all).

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

…That was until the Helpdesk function got outsourced to India and then I never saw George again, or anyone else from IT for that matter. Getting IT issues fixed ended up being a lot harder and often it was just seemed easier to leave them broken.

Many would find this a rather typical experience of corporate IT. The commoditisation of IT services and the pursuit of lower costs have seen many IT functions either outsourced or rationalised out of existence. But the impact of this is much bigger than the pain and frustration of end users not being able to get simple computer issues fixed. The big cost is in the unrealised potential of new technology solutions to be applied within an organisation.

There is little doubt that some of the biggest opportunities in modern business are being driven by innovations in technology. Yet if the people who understand the technology aren’t (or can’t) effectively engaging with people in the operational side of the organisation, many of these opportunities will never be identified, investigated, or ultimately implemented.

This physical separation between people in IT and operations is just a facet of the IT-Operational Divide. In addition to the physical divide, there is often also a language divide (people in IT and operations use different words, abbreviations and terms), a role divide (people in IT and operations work in fundamentally different ways and don’t understand how or why that is the case) and potentially even a respect divide (IT professionals are often seen as a roadblock and struggle to get the respect of their peers).

As long as this continues, the impact on the bottom line has got little to do with what the cost of the IT function and a lot to do with the improvement opportunities that are never identified.

To proactively realise these opportunities, we ultimately need to overcome the IT-Operational divide…and somewhat ironically the best way to overcome the divide would be to get IT and operational people working together to realise some of these opportunities. But left to their own devices this is unlikely to occur (like mixing oil and water this may initially require a bit of shaking, or for the nerds out there the addition of an emulsifier). Instead organisations need to provide a structured ‘learn by doing’ approach that facilitates direct engagement and breaks down the physical, language, role, and respect barriers that are currently holding the organisation back.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

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Simon Waller is a author, speaker and trainer helping organisations get more out of their technology. He is also the founder of the Digital Champions Club, a program that develops internal digital experts who can identify, investigate, and implement the technology projects that matter.

An Unstoppable Force and an Immovable Object

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Ultimately, a lot of energy gets consumed for very little result. Of course most objects are not truly immovable and if we apply enough force we can get our way. But much of this energy is wasted and, if we’d used it elsewhere, it is likely we could have achieved so much more.

In the Digital Champions Club we try and avoid projects that require people to be coerced rather than be convinced. There are so many improvement opportunities out there. You can generally cherry pick ones where each and every stakeholder is a winner. When you find these projects, people that might have otherwise seemed immovable are suddenly anxious for the project to start, thankful when it has been completed and interested in whatever you propose next.

The best way to deal with immovable objects is not to apply more force, it’s to show them it’s in their own best interest to get out of the way.

This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Same methodology. Different delivery.

I’m not normally one for self promotion so please forgive me for the following email (or see the content as being of such significance that I was left with little choice). Following is the briefest of summaries, then feel free to read on, delete or (should the idea of self promotion be so unbearable to you) unsubscribe.

playground-of-champions_6x4

There has been much success.

New programs now available.

Read on?

Much of my work over the last 12 months has been focused on working with organisations to develop digital champions. This started with the Digital Champions Club, a process improvement program for SMEs using digital technology as a catalyst. It resulted in me writing a book called The Digital Champion: Connecting the Dots Between People, Work and Technology and has also seen me running the Breakfast of Champions and speaking at events around the country.

During that time I’ve had heaps of feedback on the digital champions approach (in summary – two people giving two hours each per week to deliver a $100,000 in value in a year), both from members who have been a part of it, and from outsiders who might like to join. As a result I am now launching two new ways for organisations to engage in the digital champions approach.

DCC Elements the smaller of SMEs

Some SMEs really wanted to be a part of the Digital Champions Club but didn’t feel they had the resources (financial or human) to fully commit to it. DCC Elements is the same methodology and contains all the same elements that have made the Digital Champions Club a success, but delivered through different channels and at a lower price.

Applications for the December bootcamp are now open. If you want to find out more about the Digital Champions Club and the different membership types, check out digitalchampions.com/memberships-and-pricing.

Digital Champions for Government

The other area where I’ve been doing a lot of work over the last 12 months has been in local government (mainly helping senior leaders cope with growing information pressure by adopting a digital first approach).

At the Municipal Association of Victoria’s Technology Conference in August, I gave a keynote called Why the IT Department Needs to Die that outlined the need for a new approach to digital within local government. Given it was a conference for IT professionals the feedback was surprisingly good and I am now talking to a number of local councils about Digital Champions for Government.

If you work in government and are interested in a rigorous, targeted and supported approach to improving process and building digital capabilities, you might want to check out digitalchampions.com/gov

That is all.

We need to improve before we innovate

Innovation might have been the buzzword of circa 2013 but for many organisations it is still preferable to talk about it rather than actually do it. Why?

Idle_6x4

Because the way most organisations approach innovation is painful at best and destructive at worst.

When we expect innovation to be game changing, future making or next generation we end up overlooking small regular improvements in our search for big, one-off transformations.

There is a mistaken belief that big one-off transformations are easier because we only have to do them once. But most people don’t like this type of change because

 it’s big
        and it’s irregular

IT’S ALL TOO MUCH.

The change doesn’t stick.

And we slowly slide back towards the status quo (at which point we then start planning our next big, one-off transformation).

Don’t get me wrong, people can handle change. In fact we do it all the time (and generally without the need for change managers to be involved). It’s just much easier to change a little every day than a lot now and then.

And it’s easier to innovate if you’ve already got a culture of improvement.


  1. Fancy a game of buzzword bingo?
  2. Innovation vs ingenuity: is it just semantics?
  3. Something I wrote about evolution, revolution and approaches to change
  4. At least 5 reasons why small projects are more successful than big ones