Scaffolding Digital Projects

In my last post I talked about the legacy of Zoom and how, suddenly, most of our customers, suppliers and colleagues are feeling quite au fait with video conferencing. But, as I pointed out, Zoom is just one step in the journey of video. Once your organisation has mastered Zoom there are so many other, bigger, and more valuable video-driven opportunities to consider. But what are these opportunities and how do we get there?

Let’s look at this in two parts. First, I’d like to give you an example of a bigger opportunity. Second, we’ll talk a little about how we can build towards it.

So first, here’s a concrete example of a ‘sophisticated’ video project I was recently involved in.

A couple of weeks back I was involved in the delivery of an online event with the crew from Pirate TV (Dave and Mykel Dixon) for RCSA (the Recruitment and Casual Staffing Association of Australia and New Zealand). ‘ReForm’ was a live streamed online event that attracted nearly 500 (paid) attendees, 25 presenters and over five hours of live content (approximately 10% of the content was prerecorded). Although it’s challenging to quantify the value of marketing and promotion, it’s likely the event created more than $100,000 in value between ticket sales and sponsorship opportunities.

But how do you go from a Zoom call to delivering a $100,000 event? The answer is scaffolding.

In no particular order these are the other projects that the Pirate TV team have previously delivered to build the skills and knowledge required for the ReForm event.

  • Videoconferencing internally (Zoom)Videoconferencing with clients
  • Recording our own promotional videos
  • Recording promotional videos for clients
  • Setting up a personal studio
  • Setting up a studio for clients
  • Designing and running own events
  • Designing and running events for clients
  • Designing and running an online event
  • Designing and running own conference (physical)
  • Designing and running a conference for a client (physical)
  • Hosting our own events
  • Hosting events for clients
  • Speaking at client events
  • Live-streaming own physical events
  • Running a distributed online event for ourselves
  • Running a distributed online event for clients
  • Producing a TV show for ourselves
  • Running ReForm

A couple of things to note. First, I didn’t do all these projects myself, some were done by the other members of Pirate TV. Second, most of these were done before COVID. In fact, the only projects that we delivered entirely after COVID were the last four – running distributed online events for ourselves and others (where all the speakers and production crew are in different physical locations), producing a TV show for ourselves and then we ran ReForm.

In many cases, the next project was only incrementally more difficult than the one before. Even still, I imagine this list might feel a little overwhelming. But before you lose heart, the truth is, the ~$100,000 value of ReForm is DWARFED by the value that was generated in getting there. The power of scaffolding is that you don’t need to wait until the end to create value, you can create value along the way. In fact, the power of scaffolding is that you get paid to learn. Each project not only delivers value, it delivers learning and the learning then illuminates the path ahead.

If you want help in scaffolding your video projects in a way that can deliver immediate value, arrange a time to talk about the Digital Champions Club…and if you’d rather just jump to the end and want to deliver an extraordinary online event but without all the time and effort, please get in touch to discuss Pirate TV.

A New Golden Age of Experimentation

Let’s all start by taking a deep breath.

[insert 20 second pause here]

Things have gotten a little crazy of late. Like many of you, a big chunk of my business has taken a nose dive. Last year I spoke at more than 20 conferences and was already booked to speak at another dozen or so this year. Now most of those events have been cancelled or postponed. And in my day job running the Digital Champions Club, many of my clients are in absolute turmoil, suddenly needing to re-imagine their products and services as digital first offerings. And layered on top of this there is the personal anxiety and uncertainty that Coronavirus has brought with it.

With all that’s going on, is it wrong that I feel super excited right now? I mean genuinely excited! Pumped! It feels like in every Zoom call (or even on my old school mobile phone) I end up turning into this bubbly fountain of energy and enthusiasm. 

And why so much excitement?

We are currently experiencing the greatest opportunity for experimentation, growth and learning most of us are likely to see in our lifetime.

Business as Usual (and even Life as Usual) is currently on a respirator in an overcrowded Italian hospital. The question is, do we really want it to recover? And if that seems a little cruel…if it does recover, are there some permanent changes we’d like to see?

For instance, now that we’ve had to trust so many people to work from home could we perhaps give them the opportunity to work from home more often? Or provide greater trust by default? Or, now that we’ve found great ways to connect with people over video conference, could we continue to do so and save a bucket load of time, money and emissions on unnecessary air travel? Or now that we’ve temporarily been invited into people’s homes, met their kids and their pets, perhaps we can allow people to be a little more human in the workplace?

For me though, the number one thing I’d like to change about Business as Usual is our approach to experimentation (and it’s good friend innovation). The ‘We’ve always done it that way’ mindset is an age old barrier to innovation. But right now this statement is almost meaningless. First, we can no longer do it the way we’ve always done it and second, we have ample new examples of how doing things different can have massive benefits.

But when this is all over BAU will come back to rule again. We will feel relieved and be desperate for some stability and normality (whatever that is) and want a break from all this change. So while we have the momentum let’s not waste it. Let’s experiment our little hearts out in the knowledge that right now it’s OK to do something different and try something new.

We are in a golden age of experimentation and discovery but who knows how long it will last.

Some things I’m working on

Helping clients to host epic online events
I’ve started a new venture called ‘& Now Events’ with the incredibly talented conference speaker and MC Mykel Dixon and his film maker brother Dave Dixon. It started as a way to help our existing clients create meaningful and genuinely engaging online events but then some other people found out about it and we’re now running events every week. If you’re thinking of taking your event online (or worse, thinking of postponing your event until next year) I’d be happy to spare a little time to run through the alternatives.

Delivering online keynotes that don’t suck
There are lots of keynote speakers who will tell you they can do online but it’s disappointing that most end up looking a lot like a webinar. I’m just putting the finishing touches to my home studio so I can deliver a virtual version of the same live mixed audio visual experience that I used to deliver in real life. In fact I’d argue that the virtual version offers some cool new opportunities that were hard in real life. In a keynote I did this week I had Mykel Dixon do a cameo performance half way through the event all without from his home studio in Geelong…insane!

Some guest appearances I’ve made

Ticker TV
I had the privilege of being the first guest on David Banger’s new Change Lab show on Ticker TV…and even my dog gets a gig doing some voice over work.

https://www.davidbanger.com/change-lab?wix-vod-video-id=47a2cb5827644423a2616841f9680189&wix-vod-comp-id=comp-k89zzvuk

The Business of Experience Podcast
I joined customer experience guru Rodney Hobbs on his new podcast to explore the ‘experience of change’. This was recorded right as the Coronavirus pandemic was just about to hit.

https://anchor.fm/rodney-hobbs/episodes/Episode-Three—Change-Experience-Digital-Transformation-with-Simon-Waller-ecd7vp

Altruism is dead. Long live altruism.

There’s not a lot I remember from my first year of university but one thing that stuck is our inability to prove altruism. Altruism is the idea we could do something that is completely selfless. Yet when we act selflessly there is almost always a potential benefit that flows back to us, whether it be reputation, respect or just the release of brain chemicals that make us feel good about ourselves.

I most recently experienced this at an event I was speaking at last week in Vietnam. The Genesys CX Leaders Council event had C Suite executives fly in from across the Asia Pacific region to share stories and ideas on how to create great customer experience. Yet the whole afternoon on the first day of the event was spent working on community based CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities. These activities had delegates either constructing play equipment and painting at a nearby children’s community centre or building bicycles to be donated to a local charity that supported children saved from human trafficking. Participating in these activities felt great and provided a nice change from the normal ‘action packed’ conferences I speak at.

Although their generosity is not to be understated, it is also true that Genesys doesn’t run these activities for completely altruistic reasons. These activities provide delegates the chance to talk and build relationships in a way that most conferences don’t provide. In doing so, they provide the opportunity for more open and valuable business conversations to take place, which in turn resulted in value to delegates. The value to delegates ultimately reflects well on Genesys who enabled all this to take place. Although perhaps not intended to be altruistic, Genesys’s approach highlights that we can do well by doing good.

A little closer to home, I have seen a similar pattern play out with the Digital Champions Club scholarships we launched last year. Initially intended as a way of providing help and support to Not-For-Profits and other values-driven organisations, the scholarships have also resulted in significant benefit to the rest of the digital champions community. I think the whole community has wanted to see the scholarships recipients succeed and in turn the recipients have sought to provide value and energy back to the community. Without a doubt, the energy and culture within the program is the best it’s ever been.

Applications for the 2020 scholarships open next week and I’d encourage you to help out deserving organisations by sharing this with your network. Not for altruistic reasons obviously, but because we are all selfish, self-centred scoundrels who only do things that benefit ourselves.

Now click share and feel that oxytocin hit kick in!

Get your copy of the 2020 Scholarship Information Pack by signing up at www.digitalchampionsclub.com.au/scholarship and learn more details to guide you through your application process.

Exploring your unknowns

I recently returned from an incredible adventure with my two girls sailing in the Kimberley region of the Western area. It is so remote that it took us nearly five days of sailing to get there and another five days to get home again. In between, we had some truly unique and special experiences that I have no doubt we will look back on for the rest of our lives.

We live in a world where genuine adventures seem to be harder and harder to come by. This is because a real sense of adventure requires certain elements to be present. First, there needs to be a sense of discovery, the ability to explore something unknown or experience something unfamiliar. Second, real adventure must contain an element of risk.

The challenge is that the unknown and the unfamiliar have become increasingly rare commodities in our world. Finding places that are truly off the beaten track has become harder as roads and transportation links have gotten better and information more freely available. We also live in an increasingly risk-averse society. Even if we go to visit a previously unexplored part of the world (or at least unexplored by us) we can pre-arrange accommodation and transfers, read reviews or book an all inclusive 10-day tour. Now I appreciate that there are a select few out there who shun such comforts but my feeling is that this has become very much the norm.

So in planning and preparing for this trip, and faced with this uncertainty, it was interesting to see how my girls responded. But perhaps what was most interesting was seeing an incredible parallel between how they responded and how people in business respond to the unfamiliar as well.

The first part of the response is an over-analysis and over-statement of risk. In our early family conversations there was a lot of concern about crocodiles, getting sea sick, falling over the side of the boat, getting sun burnt and even being bored on such a long trip. Some of these were genuine concerns and there was value in ensuring that high impact risks were adequately managed but it was also true that these risks were given significantly more air play that they ultimately warranted.

The second part of the response is to understate the benefits. Did we really need to go to such a remote and inhospitable place? Is it really THAT special? Wouldn’t they have just as much fun going camping? Again, some of these are reasonable questions to ask but the reality is without personal experience we generally struggle to imagine something dramatically different from what we already know.

The combination of these two responses is that by systematically overstating the risks and underestimating the benefits of doing things differently, we subtly reinforce the status quo. In fact ‘risk’ has increasingly become a rational for inaction even when the risks of inaction may in fact be higher than risks associated with well considered change.

I’ve written before about the trade off between execution risk and strategic risk. Change projects unavoidably carry with them a certain level of execution risk: the risk involved in moving from one way of doing things to another. But generally these types of risks can be contained and managed and as we do more change projects we get better at them and the risk reduces over time. On the other hand, the strategic risk associated with not changing –  the risk that our organisation becomes increasingly out of sync with its operating environment and no longer either provides the goods and services or operated in a way that the market values – is always going to be large and always going to be difficult to manage.

For me, this is the difference between improvement projects which involves small execution risks, and transformation project which involve large strategic risks. In fact research by McKinsey suggests that the strategic risks of transformation projects are so high that only 16% of them result in sustained change over the long term.

The truth is that although it might be more adventurous than most holidays, my sailing trip through the Kimberleys was not a trip into the complete unknown. I had been there once before myself, we were with my parents who had done the trip at least half a dozen times and while we were there we saw at least a dozen other boats go in and out of the King George River. In fact this reminds me of the quote by William Gibson ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’. Although this was an adventure into the unknown for my two girls, it was something that many had already experienced (and survived) before them.

As I said, real adventure is hard to come by, but we don’t need to BASE jump into an active volcano to grow and learn as people and we don’t need to completely restructure our organisations to maintain our market relevance. We just need to be willing to continually push ourselves to take calculated risks and continue to explore our unknowns.

Whether you’re looking for one-off short courses or longer term support within a community of like-minded organisations, the Digital Champions Club is committed to helping its clients maximise the returns and avoid the risks of digital transformation.

I’ll be facilitating immersive two-day intensives on the dates listed below. In this insanely practical two-day program, you will not only learn the framework and a suite of simple tools for use back in your organisation, you will leave with a real world, value-adding project to complete over the next couple of months. 


Digital Champions Two-Day Intensive

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

How trust helps us overcome fear

This weekend I’m setting off with my two girls on an incredible adventure. On Saturday we fly from Melbourne up to Darwin where we meet up with my parents aboard their yacht Natsumi. After a night on-board in the safety of the harbour, we will set off on a three-week adventure that will take us across the Bonaparte Gulf into the Kimberley region of Western Australia. We will sail up incredible gorges, shower under waterfalls, swim in waterholes, and have the opportunity to view ancient aboriginal rock art that perhaps only a few hundred westerners have ever seen.

I had the incredible opportunity to do a similar voyage through the Kimberleys when I was 16 years old and I still hold amazing memories from that trip. More than anything, I can’t wait to share these memories with my two girls…

…but unfortunately they are far less excited about the trip than I am. 

Actually, it is not so much that they aren’t excited, it’s more so that their excitement is tempered by worry and fear. They are worried about being away from their Mum for three weeks (the longest they’ve ever been apart), they are worried about crocodiles, but perhaps more than anything there is a huge fear of the unknown. 

It was really important to me that they made their own choice to come on the trip so we have talked about it extensively as a family. I think ultimately their trust in myself and their grandparents means that their excitement exceeds their fear. As a result, they are nervously looking forward to going. 

I actually think this equation, that the excitement (or perceived benefit) needs to exceed the fear (the perceived cost and risk) needs to be true for any major change to be successful. And given that both the benefits and the costs are not always well understood by each individual, we often need to place trust in others. In effect, trust is the lubricant that makes change easier.

At our last Digital Champions Club Bootcamp a couple of weeks ago, the focus was on personal leadership and the role that digital champions play in supporting change for others. In our group discussions the themes of integrity and trust came up over and over again. The rapidly changing nature of technology and its history of redefining industries and replacing jobs means there’s often a large amount of fear when it comes to technology projects. More than ever before we need peer experts in our organisations that can be trusted to lead projects that are in the best interests of not just the organisation but also the people in it. 

A question to consider is whether the person who leads technology projects in your organisation has trust and integrity in the eyes of end users? Are they helping people overcome their fears or is a lack of trust potentially fueling them?

The Digital Champions Club will be having a series of two-day intensives starting August. This is the course to attend if you want a structured approach to improving efficiency and driving competitiveness by using technology better in your organisation.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets. 


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY


Click here for information and tickets

Between the suggestion box and shadow IT

What is your organisation’s approach to identifying technology opportunities? One common approach is some form of suggestion box. Just pop your idea (somewhat ironically) onto a piece of paper and drop it in the box. At some later undefined date, an ‘expert’ will assess the idea and determine whether it is valid (often with little understanding of the person or job that it relates to) and affordable (often including an assessment of cost but rarely an assessment of value).

Then, assuming it meets the required criteria it will then be added to the backlog of other projects that the under-staffed IT team is currently trying to wade through. When it finally gets to the front of the queue, it will then take another indeterminate amount of time to write and approve a requirements document and scope of work which is the precursor to getting something done.

Unfortunately this approach is slow, opaque and full of friction. This in turn results in people not bothering to use it, even if they have genuinely good and easy to implement opportunities. In fact, the friction of the suggestion box method is a major contributor to another method, commonly referred to as ‘shadow IT’.

Shadow IT is when technology products are procured and deployed without the knowledge of the IT department. It involves individuals identifying a problem themselves and then playing around with a few different apps to see if one can help fix it. After signing up for half a dozen free trials and testing each of the apps with potentially sensitive corporate data, they then select their preferred solution, enter in their credit card details and the work is done…unless of course they didn’t test their requirements completely and they then find out the app didn’t work as they hoped.

Clearly, this approach also has its shortcomings. Not only is there no real consideration for information security, there is also a complete lack of rigour. These issues mean that most organisations don’t generally condone the shadow IT approach.

So what sits between the suggestion box and shadow IT? Could we add a little rigour and process to the shadow IT approach or potentially improve the speed, transparency and effectiveness of the suggestion box? Could we perhaps bring those two things together and get the best of both worlds?

The Digital Champions Framework provides a way for your citizen experts (those people in your organisation who are digitally savvy but sit outside the IT team) to identify, investigate and deliver simple yet valuable technology improvements. Not only does the development of internal digital champions facilitate the delivery of technology improvements without unnecessary burden on already stretched IT resources, it also creates ‘bottom up’ support for larger digital transformation projects.

To find out more about the Digital Champions Framework my Digital Champions Club is running a series of two-day intensives in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney. I will also be running an introductory breakfast event in Sydney at the end of this month where you can find out more about the framework and how to implement it successfully.

*Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

No alt text provided for this image

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE

15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets

Announcing the first ever Digital Champions short courses

Is your organisation struggling to deliver technology improvements consistently and effectively? Perhaps there’s a lack of engagement between IT and operational staff. Or maybe you’re getting push back on larger digital transformation efforts as a result of fear or resentment around technology-driven change.

Then, check out the Digital Champions Club’s first ever short courses. These two-day intensives have been created to teach the fundamentals of the Digital Champions Framework and how it can be successfully implemented in your organisation. Over the course of two days, we will take your champions through the process of identifying, investigating and delivering technology improvements in a way that engages end users and effectively balances simplicity and rigour. Check out the link below to find out more about the workshops.

Up until the 30th June you can also use the promo code EOFY20 to get a 20% discount on tickets.


Digital Champion’s Two-Day Intensive Upcoming Dates

No alt text provided for this image

14 – 15 AUGUST | PERTH

4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE

15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY

Click here for information and tickets


3


Three indicators your current approach to technology isn’t working

‘We operate in a conservative industry and suddenly it became really fast paced. We knew we needed to use technology to drive efficiencies and be competitive but we didn’t know where to start. We didn’t know what to do.’

The above quote comes from one of my clients. We were having a conversation recently and this is how he responded when I asked him why he joined the Digital Champions Club. I’m not sure he realised it at the time but in just a couple of short sentences he identified three excellent indicators of whether an organisation’s current digital transformation approach is serving them.

In fact, if any one of these things is true for you, it’s probably time to step back and make sure your approach is keeping you on track.

Things are getting faster, faster than you are

This particular client runs an accounting and business advisory practice. Accounting is not one of those industries that you’d generally describe as dynamic. Yet over the last few years, a combination of cloud and mobile technology, outsourcing and, more recently, A.I. has started to dramatically change the way the industry operates. If you’d describe your industry as generally conservative and yet you’re finding that things around you are starting to move faster than you are, it’s probably a sign you’re not keeping up with technological changes.

Your margins are being squeezed and you’re facing more competition

Two of the biggest benefits that organisations achieve from successful technology projects are improvements in quality and increased efficiency. Both of these have the potential to dramatically shift an organisation’s value proposition. In addition, the shift of work away from individual premises and onto the cloud is removing geography as a barrier to competition.

You don’t know which technology project to do next

Often not knowing what to do next is not because you can’t identify opportunities but rather because you have more opportunity than you can possibly manage and you may also lack the internal expertise to manage the projects well. This is particularly the case for small and medium sized organisations who don’t have the scale to justify a full time Chief Digital Officer or other technology innovation type role. Instead, often relying on a more traditional IT function whose primary focus is to ‘keep the lights on’ and lacks the expertise in innovation and change management to identify, prioritise and implement new technology solutions.

I have four events coming up where I will be talking through my game plan for successful digital projects. If you’d like to find out more check out the links below.

__________

Next week I will be presenting two events in Perth. If you’re available on either the 9th of April for 5:30pm or 11th or April from 7:30am you might like to come along and find out about my Game Plan for Successful Digital Projects.

  • Use the promo code ISUBSCRIBE to get half price tickets

I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the Getting Sh!t Done Club on the 11th June in Canberra and again on the 13 June in Melbourne. Tickets won’t be released until after Easter but if you’d like to be one of the first to know, send us a message and we’ll keep you up to date.

Is the consulting model broken?

The Digital Champions Club recently celebrated its third birthday. At our most recent bootcamp, I shared with members the story of how the program came to be. Prior to starting the Digital Champions Club, I had spent a few years working as a consultant. I would go into organisations and work with them to map their internal processes and information flows. From this we would identify improvement opportunities where technology could create a competitive advantage. On the back of the process mapping, I would then often get asked to come back and help implement solutions.

But somewhere around three and a half years ago I became increasingly disenchanted with the approach I was taking. Although I would always enter into a consulting relationship with the best of intentions, I realised there were systemic issues with the approach that would always stop me from creating the best outcomes.

My goals weren’t necessarily aligned with the client’s goals
The client was looking for long-term sustainable change, but as a consultant I was generally paid a fixed price to deliver short term outcomes (either the mapping process, a report, or ‘implementation’). As it is difficult (and often unappealing) to structure consulting arrangements with long term incentives (consultants don’t like being tied to outcomes they have little control over and businesses generally don’t like paying consultants to do more work than absolutely necessary) the structure of most consulting agreements encourages consultants to do ‘just enough to be invited back’ rather than ‘everything they can’.

I left and my expertise left with me
One of the biggest challenges with consulting relationships is that at the end of the agreement the consultant leaves, and when they leave most of their expertise leaves with them. But perhaps even more perversely the consulting model incentives consultants to keep their intellectual property secret. The more they share the less the consultant is required next time.

As a result, it makes little sense to hire consultants for work that is critical to long-term success and enduring in nature (consultants are most suited to providing specific expertise in small amounts over short periods). For critical, enduring work we are better off employing someone directly or developing the skills internally. Given the increasingly significant role that technology plays in organisations, I felt the identification and implementation work really needed to be managed internally (even if I might be needed for some technology-specific expertise).

I didn’t know the organisations intimately
As an outsider there was always much information and many people I didn’t know. This meant I was generally guessing when I gave someone a proposal. It was an educated guess based on what had mostly worked for similar organisations in the past but it was a guess none the less. You could quite accurately describe this as a ‘cookie cutter’ solution.

The nature of the relationship also meant I had a vested interest in diagnosing a ‘problem’ and recommending a ’solution’ that aligns with my expertise, even if it wasn’t the primary problem the client was facing. This was not something that was done unethically but the limits of my expertise would have undoubtedly blinded me to alternative ideas.

Finally, a lack of intimacy would always negatively impact implementation. Without a deep understanding of an organisation’s systems, how they were used, and the people who used them, it was always difficult to know where to focus change efforts and to do them in a way that stuck.

From consulting to coaching
This was the catalyst of moving from consulting to coaching. I realised that all these three issues could be addressed by working with my clients to develop internal champions to do the work that I had previously been doing. Much like the software as a service model where you pay for software on a monthly basis (and stop paying if you stop getting value) coaching resulted in a longer term engagement that better aligned my goals with the goals of the client.

This approach also ensured that expertise was developed and retained internally. Not only did this provide clients with a certain peace of mind, it also meant that change happened continuously and, as a result, became easier. The coaching model also solved the problem of intimacy. By training up internal experts who already had knowledge of the organisation’s systems and the trust of their colleagues it meant that the right opportunities were identified and individual needs could be better understood and addressed.

I think the idea of coaching to develop internal experts over hiring consultants makes sense intuitively. It’s perhaps why all three of the clients I was consulting to when I launched the Digital Champions Club were all willing to make the move to a coaching approach.

This is not to say we should have a world without consultants. There are undoubtedly situations where access to short-term specialist expertise is required (in fact members of the Digital Champions Club are often encouraged to engage them on specific projects). But rather it is reminder to understand the limitations of the consulting model and appreciate there are other approaches that have the potential to offer better value and greater long term success.

This blog post has been syndicated to www.digitalchampionsclub.com.au. For comments or ideas, head over to this page.

Find out what makes you common, not what makes you unique

We live in a society that values individuality both in our personal and professional lives. Personal Branding and Unique Selling Propositions are all the rage, but there is at least one area where we are better off seeking out what we have in common with others – rather than what makes us special.

 
Technology.
 
If we look at most of the good apps and software available to us, they generally do one thing really well: Dropbox excels at making it easy to share files with others, Gmail allows us easily receive, manage and send messages, and although I’m not a huge fan, Microsoft Word does a good job of dividing up information into A4 size chunks and sharing them in a way that most other people will be able to access and open.
 
This is in no way an accident. The value proposition for software developers relies on identifying a task their software can do better than others, charge a very small amount of money for it (and probably throw in a free option), and do it a million times over with low marginal costs. The value proposition for almost every software or app developer on the planet is reliant on scale, and therefore commonality. In fact, the general rule for startups is that unless you can have 10,000 active users (which means 10,000 people who all want to do exactly the same thing) then you don’t have something worth investing in.
 
The benefits of commonality and using off the shelf solutions are numerous. 
 
  1. If you find a problem for which there’s already an established solution, then it’s likely you have an actual problem rather than an assumed problem.
  2. The time and cost of developing a solution is greatly reduced if someone has already gone ahead and done it for you. This in turn means that you can solve the problem and generate a return faster.
  3. The competition amongst developers within a particular specialisation means that they have thought far more about required functionality and usability than you have.
  4. The cost of maintaining the solution is greatly reduced because you’re sharing development costs across all users instead of just one.
  5. You can learn from the experience of other users before you. If you’re unique, then you will be making all the mistakes yourself. When you seek out commonality, you can learn from all the mistakes that everyone else has already made. This greatly reduces the risk of implementation and dramatically improves the value proposition.
 
So how is it that we reconcile our uniqueness with the need for commonality?
At a strategic level we need to be able to understand what differentiates our organisation from others. Delivering against our strategy is generally achieved through a series of objectives. Those objectives will consist of multiple activities and we can break down activities into a collection of tasks. It is not at the strategic level, but rather at the task level we should be seeking commonality with others.
 
The ability to find commonality with other organisations and identifying mutual technology opportunities is key to the value proposition of the Digital Champions Club. It allows members to identify new opportunities, reduces risk and leads to faster and more successful implementation. Members of the program explicitly commit to sharing the projects they’re working on and as a result, we now have a shared library of over 100 projects that have been investigated and/or implemented by members of the program. And perhaps 70% or more of those are ones where they could (or have) be copied by another organisation in a different industry with completely different objectives.
 
That’s the power of finding out what makes you common.