Have an approach where x marks the spot


Click here to read my first post on Pirate Leadership “What is your digital vision?”

In my first post on what we can learn about digital technology from pirates, we looked at the need for leaders to have awareness and vision when it comes to technology. They need  a strong sense of where they are going before expecting anyone else to follow them. If having somewhere to go is the first requirement of leadership, then having a way to get there is the second.

Ultimately leadership is a relationship of influence that the follower enters into voluntarily. Even on a pirate ship where disobedience might be punished with a flogging, the decision by the crew to follow the captain and not mutiny is still a voluntary one.

[tweetthis]Having an approach to get you to your destination is second most important.[/tweetthis]

Although having a destination is the biggest requirement of leadership, having an approach that will get you there comes in a close second. And not all approaches are created equal. A good approach will have a suitable level of detail (and even a suitable level of ambiguity) and will provide guidance on where energy and activity should be focused. There is a big difference between telling your pirate crew “Thar be scurvy pirate treasure buried on as island a few days sail in that general direction,” and having a map where x marks the spot.

When it comes to digital technology, most people don’t have much of a clear approach either for themselves or for their organisation. They have no map for getting to where we want to go. At an organisational level, we might call this a strategy, but at a personal level, it is perhaps something less structured.

If we are travelling without a suitable map we cannot know if we are adequately prepared, whether we have the right tools and skills to execute and how we are tracking towards our destination.

Ultimately having a map where x marks the spot still doesn’t eliminate the uncertainty. Weather conditions might change, the navy might arrive or other pirates might get there first. But with a map you at least have a chance.

What is your digital vision?

I think that we can learn a lot about leadership from pirates. One of my friends and fellow thought leaders, Dr Jason Fox, has just started his year of the pirate and I honestly think that pirates can provide a treasure trove of useful leadership tips (so to speak). Over the next few blog posts I am going to explore some thoughts on pirate leadership and try and answer the question ‘What would a pirate do?’


Just for a moment, imagine you are the captain of a pirate ship and you are about to set off on a long and dangerous voyage into an uncertain and, perhaps, even unknown environment. You need the complete allegiance of your crew, the ability to get to your destination, and ultimately your very survival depends on them. How would you motivate them to join you?

Aye, me hearties! Who’s up for a wee sail on me boat?”

[tweetthis url=”http://bit.ly/1BJVPHJ”]The defining characteristic of leadership is having somewhere you want to go.[/tweetthis]

Perhaps the defining characteristic of leadership is having somewhere you want to go. If you don’t have clarity on the destination then it is incredibly difficult  to convince others that you should take them there. When it comes to digital technology, I often find that leaders have a complete lack of vision – both for their organisations and for themselves.

The problem is that without having a clear destination to guide us we don’t know if we are getting there. We don’t have a barometer to judge whether our use of technology is appropriate and purposeful. Instead of clarity we have uncertainty.

The reality is that going for a wee sail on a boat is unlikely to motivate either yourself or your pirate crew. Instead, you need to have a vision that is both clear and aligned with something bigger than the technology itself.

“Aye, me hearties! We are going to plunder some treasure. I know o’ a Spanish galleon so full o’ gold that her decks be almost underwater. You will have wealth beyond your wildest dreams. You will have be able t’ afford t’ finest clothes, a full belly and never have t’ go t’ sea again!”

Have you got a vision for your technology use or are you just going for a wee sail on your boat?

Click here to read my second post on Pirate Leadership “Have an approach where x marks the spot.”

Why so many SMEs avoid digital technology

three problems with digital technology

There are three common challenges faced by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that have led to a sense of apathy towards digital technology.

Challenge 1: Digital projects under perform

Technology has a history of underperformance. Research conducted by McKinsey and Oxford University suggests that on large scale IT projects (greater than $15 million) the average cost overrun is 45%, time over run is 7% and benefit shortfall is 56%+. As a result it is often challenging to justify the investment of limited time and financial resources for new technology projects.

Challenge 2: Expertise is hard to come by

For small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources the IT department may consist of one or two employees focused on maintaining the existing systems. In some businesses IT may be outsourced all together. As a result many CEOs don’t have access to the independent digital expertise to help the identify, assess and implement against digital opportunities.

In fact, according to research conducted in 2013, three in five Australian SMEs claim that low digital literacy is preventing them from running their business more efficiently yet only half have done anything to try and improve their digital literacy++.

Challenge 3: The digital landscape is changing too fast

Over the last decade or so we have quickly shifted from a digital desert with limited technology choices to a digital rainforest where the variety of options is often overwhelming. Both the variety of options and the rate of technology change can be paralysing. It is often difficult to justify the investment in new technology today when it may be obsolete within two years.

The outcome

The result of this is that amongst SMEs there is often limited adoption of new technology, or in some cases active avoidance. Instead of engaging with new technology as it emerges and identifying new opportunities SMEs are instead waiting for a perfect solution that may never come.

Unfortunately this approach is leaving many organisations open to disruption. The power of digital technology continues to increase at an exponential rate and businesses that adopt digital technology have a distinct advantage in regards to speed, cost and the ease of business. 

If you want to move from digital disruption to digital disruptor you might want to start by download my new white paper ‘Be Digital Ready’. It includes details on the nine key activities to move your business up the disruption spectrum.


+ http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/business_technology/delivering_large-scale_it_projects_on_time_on_budget_and_on_value
++ Digital Literacy Among Small Businesses in Australia – www.paypal-media.com/assets/pdf/fact_sheet/PayPalResearch_DigitalLiteracyAmongSMBsinAustralia.pdf

Our survival depends on how we respond

Sydney Hobart 2004

From both an individual and organisational perspective our ability to respond effectively to our environment defines our future relevance and ultimately our survival. When talking about responsiveness I often use the story of the 2004 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The race stands out as one of the most challenging on record and only half of the fleet making it to the finish line. The difference between the boats that finished and the boats that didn’t was largely about how they responded to the difficult conditions and there is a great lesson somewhere in here for how businesses need to start thinking about digital technology.

There are four defining characteristics of responsiveness: awareness, intention, function and action. When it comes to awareness it is well excepted that the conditions will be variable. As a result, most boats in the race have invested heavily in awareness. Technology has allowed navigators to track changes to wind, wave and other weather conditions in near real time.

The second characteristic of the successful boats was having the right intention. The intention of some skippers was overwhelmingly about winning the race. This included two of the pre-race favourites, Skandia and Konica Minolta, both of which failed to finish because of structural damage to their vessels. For others winning was secondary to the safety of their vessel and crew, I was lucky enough to be on one of these boats instead.

The third characteristic of successful boats was function. This is about having the right gear and maintaining it in the right condition. The boat I was sailing on was built by a commercial boat builder as his personal boat. As a result it’s hull was nearly twice as thick as other boats of a similar size. We may have sacrificed some speed but we had the right boat for unexpected conditions.

The final characteristic of the successful boats was action. The experience and ability of the crew to act in accordance with the skippers intention and within the functionality of the boat. Our crew consisted of young and old, experienced and novices.We had three ex-professional fishermen aboard and the oldest woman to ever compete in the Sydney Hobart (Norma turned 80 days before the race). The watches were structured so that there was always an experienced crew member available to mentor and support the novice ones.

So what does this got to do with digital technology in business? Firstly, many organisations are unaware of the exponential impact of technology in business. The operating environment is changing fast and many organisations are not aware. Many still operate under a false mantra of stability and have invested little in understanding the opportunities and challenges of digital technologies.

[tweetthis]Our survival depends on how well we harness digital tools to weather difficulties.[/tweetthis]

Secondly, most don’t realise that in business there is no winning or losing, just survival, and survival ultimately means working to your conditions. We are operating in a knowledge and information economy and our future relevance is going to mean engaging our organisations in digital tools sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, we need to equip our people with the right tools. We need to be looking how we can digitise our information and knowledge flows so that our people can find the right information wherever and whenever they need it. We need to be investing in mobile and we need to be investing in cloud.

Finally we need to make sure that our people are guided and trained to act. They need to know the digital imperative and have the skills to act appropriately. We also need to identify the digital masters and digital leaders in our organisations and provide them with the resources to train and guide others. And we need to do these things as if our organisations survival depended on it. Because ultimately it does.

Does my organisation need iPad training?

Has your organisation deployed tablets yet no one seems to be really sure what they are meant to use them for? I have had two recent clients that have undertaken quite large scale tablet deployments and more than 12 months after deploying the majority of the devices are just sitting on their staff’s desks.

This seems to be a result of the following

  • Enterprise mobility projects being undertaken in and ad-hoc manner without a clear vision of what the tablets are meant to be used for
  • The general assumption that if you know how to use a computer you know how to use an iPad or Android tablet
  • Tablet deployments being undertaken by IT departments that don’t have a mandate (or budget) for training and development
  • Organisational development teams who do have a mandate for training don’t know what training is required and where to source it from

Without focused training the result tends to be an ‘organic’ learning approach that creates unnecessary data security risks (as users play around with different apps) and which delays any potential return on investment from your enterprise mobility project (due to lack of use).

If you want to a valuable and safe tablet deployment you need to provide training for your users on

  • How their various devices are different and what tasks are best suited to what device.
  • The risks of mobile technology and how to mange them effectively
  • The apps that can help them meet their objectives and how they work

Tablet deployments can be expensive exercises and it is right to expect a return on your investment. This is only achieved when users start using their devices. If you are struggling to get engagement with your tablet deployment perhaps it’s time to invest in some training.

Mobial presents at the Knowledge Management Leadership Forum

Simon Waller presenting on knowledge management and mobile technology

Photo courtesy of @NickyHW

On Wednesday 26 June, Mobial presented at Melbourne’s Knowledge Management Leadership Forum (KMLF). The KMLF is a face-to-face education and networking forum, run by Knowledge Management practitioners for Knowledge Management practitioners and attracts a diverse audience from across the public and private sectors.

The focus of the presentation was the use of mobile technology as a personal knowledge management tool to compliment an organisations existing knowledge management systems. You can follow some of the conversations on the Mobility in the Workplace Storify by Nicky Hayward-Wright

Thanks to Nicky Hayward-Wright, Luke Grange and the rest of the KMLF team for organising the event.

Tablets in business are inevitable: Only training and support will keep information safe

The other day I presented to the Knowledge Management Roundtable Victoria whose members includes  knowledge managers from across the public and private sector. The presentation was on the inevitability of mobile technology such as iPads and tablets in workplace and the opportunity that they offer in supporting ‘personal knowledge management’.

From the discussion it was clear that many organisations have been holding off on implementing a tablet strategy until there is a suitable enterprise grade solution that will let them control the information on the device. Although I understand why organisations are taking this approach I think it might be a risky strategy and based on some unsound assumptions.

The first assumption is that people need IT to deliver a ‘personal knowledge management’ solution and that they are willing to wait until IT is ready to deliver it. The second assumption is that unless organisations have an enterprise level of control over tablet devices information will be less unsecured

Reality Check 1: People don’t need IT to deliver personal knowledge management solutions

There are already countless consumer grade solutions that are allowing people to use their iPads to be more effective in business. Individuals who are willing to supply their own device no longer need an IT department to deliver a solution you can visit the App Store and set this up for less that $50. Unless your mobile policy is so strict that people are not allowed to bring devices onto the premises then there is a good chance that this is already happening.

Reality Check 2: Organisational information is already unsecured, you just don’t have any visibility over it

The majority of the information that people capture on their tablets would normally be captured on paper. This means there is actually a massive opportunity to increase information security, even without an enterprise solution.

In general employees do not set out to steal or maliciously share information (and if this is there intent Wikileaks has shown that even the US army can’t stop this happening). Most often information leakage (such as people emailing documents to their personal email accounts) is a result of a lack of understanding or training. What’s more, for most individuals the desire to be more effective in their work will override any small concerns they have about information security (because they get rewarded for being more effective).

I believe that the way forward has to be for organisations to accept the inevitability of people using tablets in the workplace and take a proactive approach to making the people more effective, and in doing so keeping information safer. If organisations don’t take a proactive approach, you can guarantee that people will take it upon themselves to deliver their own personal knowledge management solution.

The infographic below helps illustrate the inevitability of people using tablets in business