A Personal Transfer: From Shell International to Bits of Freedom

Bits of Freedom

Bits of Freedom

About 4.5 years ago I wrote about me going to work for Shell. Now I am changing employer again. Starting today I will be the director of Bits of Freedom, a Dutch organization focusing on privacy and freedom of communication in the digital age.

I’ve had a wonderful time at Shell: a steep learning curve, many opportunities for doing interesting projects in the learning technology and disruptive innovation fields, smart colleagues and enough scale and budget to try out big things. I wasn’t looking to leave, but couldn’t let this chance pass by.

If you know me even a little, then you will understand that going to work for Bits of Freedom is very much a passionate choice. As somebody who understands and appreciates the positive potential of technology, I am deeply worried about the technology-mediated future we are currently creating for ourselves. I want to make an impact and change that for the better. I can’t imagine a place in the Netherlands that is more at the forefront on issues like surveillance, the EU privacy directive or net neutrality than Bits of Freedom. I am honoured that I get to work there for the next few years.

This will likely also mean a change in course for this blog. Future digital rights related posts will go up in Dutch on the Bits of Freedom blog (Creative Commons-licensed naturally). I will have less time to focus on the world of learning, but will put some thinking into privacy of learners, data ownership and learning analytics in the next few months. Let’s see what gets posted here going forward…

An Innovation Manifesto

Innovation

Over the last few weeks I collaborated with a few people to write an innovation manifesto for an IT function. I think the following statements are a pretty good starting point to becoming more innovative:


We prefer outside-in over inside-out
You can start by looking what issues we have internally and then find solutions for those issues. You can also look at what issues are worked on externally and try to bring solutions to those issues inside. Organization will continue to be good at doing the former, that is why we prefer to focus on the latter.

We share the responsibility
We are all responsible for innovation. Each of us tries to work on their own discovery skills (associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking) and the discovery skills of others in the team.

There is always business involvement
For each experiment (proof of concept) that we do, we will have somebody in the business working with us. We don’t innovate by ourselves and realize that innovation requires multiple businesses and functions to collaborate.

We shape expectations
We build informal coalitions of people who work on an opportunity. Together we explore where the value lies. We encourage ambition without creating expectations that can’t be met.

We are user-centered, not technology-focused
The user does not care about the intricacies of IT, they just want things to work well. We take a user-centered perspective when looking at problems and solutions and regularly sit next to our end-users. We recognize that technology is not always the innovative solution in all cases.

We have a bias to “yes”
Saying “no” to ideas and plans is easy. We aim to say “yes, let’s investigate” and then work on trying to make it happen in a way that is cost-efficient and addresses any risks.

We focus on the achievable
Everything we do should have a do-able plan and sit within our sphere of influence. Organizations are good at big strategic initiatives already. Our efforts are nimble and have a shorter timeline, while keeping the bigger plan in mind.

We leverage what is already there
We reuse what has been done elsewhere in the business. We allow our suppliers and vendors to help us use their products better. We are good citizens in their customer communities.

We are experts in our domain
Our knowledge in our domain is deep and extends from internal processes and technology to the external market in all its dimensions. We invest heavily in our own expertise.

We accept and embrace change
Innovation starts with a willingness to accept change.


I am sure many innovation gurus wouldn’t agree with all the points above. Some people would argue for example that expertise can be a hindrance to innovation or that you should aim for what isn’t currently achievable. I am very curious to hear your thoughts.

The Books I Read in 2012

Inspired by Tony Haile I have decided to write a yearly post in which I list the books that I have read for the year. This year I managed to read 57 books (still 18 books short on my seemingly unattainable goal of reading 75 books a year. Please note that the categories are quite arbitrary, but mean something for me. Having a Goodreads account really helped me with this exercise.

Some people ask me how I manage to read this much. I’ll give away my secret recipe: don’t have children, do not watch any TV (or use Facebook) and make sure you commute by train (45+ minutes in each direction) every day. That is all there is to it.

Covers of the books I read

Covers of the books I read

Innovation

Doorley’s book showed me how simple changes in the physical space can change people’s behavior and Dyer showed how being innovative is just a set of behaviour. I will put those two together in the next year. Checklist have stopped me forgetting things after reading Gawande’s book.

  • Make Space: How To Set The Stage For Creative Collaboration – Scott Doorley (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators – Jeff Dyer (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sustainism Is The New Modernism – Michiel Schwarz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think – Peter H. Diamandis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley – Victor W. Hwang (Goodreads/Amazon)

Philosophy

French has showed me that corporations are the best positioned lifeforms to show sustained moral behaviour. Illich was truly enlightening, I expect to read more of him in 2013 (Deschooling Society!). I will continue to explore McLuhan’s thinking with a reading group on Understanding Media. Sandel’s book on the moral limits of market is chockfull of incredible examples of things that can be gotten with money nowadays (e.g. prison cell upgrades). The three weirdest books I’ve read this year are also in this category: Stone, Burrell and Goertzel, all thanks to Daniel Erasmus. The book which made me think the most per page must have been Eagleman’s.

  • Corporate Ethics – Peter A. French (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Tools For Conviviality – Ivan Illich (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets – Michael J. Sandel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Medium Is the Massage : An Inventory of Effects – Marshall McLuhan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age – Sandy Stone (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pandemonium: Towards a Retro-Organization Theory – Gibson Burrell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Cosmist Manifesto – Ben Goertzel (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • In Praise Of Love – Alain Badiou (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives – David Eagleman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • You Kant Make It Up!: Strange Ideas from History’s Great Philosophers – Gary Hayden (Goodreads/Amazon)

Technology

The anthology edited by Zerzan was probably my favourite book of the year and I was amazed to see how relevant the Cluetrain Manifesto is, 12 years after it has been written.

  • Questioning Technology: A Critical Anthology – John Zerzan (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual – Rick Levine (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency – Micah Sifry (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software – Scott Rosenberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom – Rebecca MacKinnon (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age – Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (Goodreads/Amazon)

Learning

Postman’s book was full of provocative thinking. It made me wonder why we don’t seem to have this kind of insight into education nowadays (and are being put up with Ken Robinson).

  • Teaching As a Subversive Activity – Neil Postman (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning – Sugata Mitra (Goodreads/Amazon)

Business/Management

I will use Osterwalder’s canvas in an upcoming workshop on business models for learning. Rodgers defies management orthodoxy by showing how we need (mostly informal) conversation to do sensemaking in this complex world.

  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers – Alexander Osterwalder (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public – Lynn Stout (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Informal Coalitions: Mastering the Hidden Dynamics of Organizational Change – Chris Rodgers (Goodreads/Amazon)

Lifehacking/Self-Improvement

Berkun’s book on speaking is probably the most useful on the topic that I’ve come across. Zinsser is a well deserved classic. The Pomodoro technique has increased my productivity tremendously and has given me an idea of being in control of the work that I do.

  • On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction – William Knowlton Zinsser (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Pomodoro Technique Illustrated: Can You Focus – Really Focus – for 25 Minutes? – Staffan Noteberg (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Pomodoro Technique – Francesco Cirillo (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Verslaafd aan liefde – Jan Geurtz (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun (Goodreads/Amazon)

B00kc7ub 4 N3rd5

Together with four other nerds I started a book club where we will read technology related books. Holiday’s book was irritating as hell but did lead to a great discusion. Expect ten books or so in this category next year.

  • Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator – Ryan Holiday (Goodreads/Amazon)

Fiction

I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year. Thompson was long overdue (and didn’t disappoint). Stephenson was a bit disappointing (although also mindblowing at times). I thought Scott Card was morally despicable.

Other

Some great books don’t fit in the above categories. DeKoven wrote down how I intuitively taught physical education a few years back. I had a wonderful few days with MacGregor. The picture in MacArthur’s book are the opposite of Doorley’s book in the innovation category. Laties made me want to quit my job and start a book store.

  • The Well-Played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness – Bernie DeKoven (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A History of the World in 100 Objects – Neil MacGregor (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Soccer War – Ryszard Kapuściński (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Richard Ross: Architecture of Authority – John F. MacArthur (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A General Theory of Love – Thomas Lewis (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want To Fight For From Free Speech To Buying Local To Building Communities – Andrew Laties (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • A Life with Books – Julian Barnes (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Bezeten: Ton Boot, de winnaar & het laatste seizoen – Igor Wijnker (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • the Science of Love and Betrayal – Robin Dunbar (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • How to Be Black – Baratunde R. Thurston (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory? – Paolo Soleri (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Radical Evolution – Joel Garreau (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media – Mizuko Ito (Goodreads/Amazon)
  • Don’t Tell Mum I Work On The Rigs: (She Thinks I’m A Piano Player In A Whorehouse) – Paul Carter (Goodreads/Amazon)

Hackathons: Innovations in Learning and Collaboration

Not just about the food

Not just about the food

Melodi Albert and Nancy McClary from Dominian Enterprises, a company with about 3400 employees, talked at Learning 2012 about how they used hackathons as a learning tool.

All of their hackathons are two-day long events. They have now organized four different ones for their developers, each focusing on a different API. One of their hackathons was focused on a product I hadn’t heard of before: the Learning Registry. The Learning Registry is:

creating a set of technical protocols as a platform for innovation by content authors and aggregators. Applications built to harness the power of harvesting and analyzing the Learning Registry data will allow educators to quickly find content specific to their unique needs. The Learning Registry will store more than traditional descriptive data (metadata)–it will also allow sharing of ratings, comments, downloads, standards alignment, etc.

Initially the hackathons were organized as a recruitment effort, but they found out that they are great learning events too: people can break out of their normal walls, they can learn from eachother and they can actually do something. It was a challenge to sell to management that developers could take two days out of their schedule to work on this, so the first one was on a (rainy) weekend. After the success it became easier to get the time. Outside of the opportunity costs these events are very cheap to run (about $75 per person for the two days).

The first hackathon was just for their own employees. Later on they opened up to the rest of the world with the code hosted on Github. They fill them up on a first- come-first-serve basis with developers, business leaders, designers and marketeers. Each of these types get their own colour, so that they are recognizable and can come together as mixed teams. The teams build something of their own choice and they present it at the end of the two days. During the two days the people are well cared for with nice food and usually some swag (e.g. a T-shirt with a logo).

There is a lot of return on investment for these events. Melodi literally said: “There isn’t any amount of money we could have paid to get the same level of learning as these events delivered”.

I think this is an interesting model to play with. Can this work in domains that aren’t about programming? Could we do a “hackathon” for developing a learning experience? I want to find out (and will start by reading this Wired article on the topic)!

Notes On a Full Day of Innovation

I was at a full day about innovation at Mediaplaza in Utrecht today. We used a room that had a stage in the center and chairs on four sides around it. This is a bit weird as the speaker has to look in four directions to be able to connect with the audience. The funny thing is that it actualy works (also because there are four screens on each wall): each of the speakers could do nothing else than be dynamic on the stage.

Below my public notes on a few of the presentations:

Gijs van der Hulst, Business Development Manager at Google

Gijs kicked off his presentation by showing this Project Glass demo:

The Wall Street Journal has done some research and found out that there has been an increase of 65% in how often top 500 companies mention the word “innovation” in their public documents in the last five years. Unfortunately the business practices of these companies have not really changed. How can you really effect change?

Google has nine “rules for innovation”:

  1. Innovation, not instant perfection. Another way of saying this is “launch and iterate”: first push it to the market and then see if it is working.
  2. Ideas come from everywhere. They can come from employees, but also from acquisitions or from outsiders.
  3. A licence to pursue your dreams. An example of a 20% project that was very succesful is Gmail. This was started by somebody who didn’t like how email was working at the time.
  4. Morph projects – don’t kill them. Google’s failed social efforts (Buzz, Wave) has taught it valuable lessons for its current effort: Google+
  5. Share as much information as you can. This is very different from most companies. The default for documents within the company is to share with everyone.
  6. Users, users, users. At Google they innovate on the basis what users want, not on profit.
  7. Data is apolitical. Opinions are less important than the data that supports them. They always seek evidence in the data to support their ideas. Personal note from me: Really? Really?? You cannot be serious!
  8. Creativity love constraints. Their obsession with speed (with hard criteria for how quickly the interface has to react to user input) is an example of an enabler for many of their innovations.
  9. You’re brilliant? We’re hiring. In the end it is about people and Google puts a lot of effort into making sure they have the right people on board.

Larger companies are more bureaucratic than smaller companies. Google is now more bureaucratic than it used to be. One of the ways this can be battled is by reorganizing which is exactly what Google has done recently.

Sean Gourley, Co-founder and CTO of Quid

Sean talked about our eye as an incredible machine with an incredible range. We enhanced our sight through microscopy and telescopy which opened up views towards the very small and the very big. We have yet to develop something that helps us see the very complex. He calls that “macroscopy”. For macroscopy you need:

  • big data
  • algorithms
  • visualization

He used this framing for his PhD work on understanding war. His team used publicly available information to analyze the war. When wikileaks leaked the US sig event database they could validate their data set and found that they had 81% coverage. His work was published in Science and in Nature. He decided to take it further though as he really wanted to understand complex systems. They needed to go from 300K in funding and 6 people towards an ambition level of about $100M and a 1000 people. He sought venture capital and had Peter Thiel as his first funder for Quid.

Sean then demoed the Quid software analyzing the term “big data”. Quid allows you to interactively play with the information. They extract entities from the information. So for example there are about 1500 companies involved in the big data space which can be put into different themes allowing you to see the connections between them while also sizing them for influence. Next was a fractal zoom into American Express where they looked at their patents portfolio and explored their IP creating a cognitive map of what it is that American Express does.

In 1997 Deep Blue changed the way we discussed artificial intelligence. We were beaten in chess by brute horsepower. As a reaction Kasparov started a new way of playing chess where you are allowed to bring anything you want to the chess table. The combination of human and machine turned out to be the best one. Gourley sees that as a metaphor for what he is trying to do with Quid: enhancing human cognitive capacity with machines, augmenting our ability to perceive this complex world.

Sean also talked about the adjacent possible: the way that the world could be if we used the pieces that are on the table right in front of you (e.g. the Apollo 13 Air Filter and duct tape).

His research on insurgents has taught him that some of them are successful and when they are, it is because of the following reasons:

  1. Many groups
  2. Internal Competition
  3. Long Distance Connections
  4. Reinforce Success
  5. Fail
  6. Shatter
  7. Redistribute

Polly Summer, Chief Adoption Officer at Salesforce

Salesforce was recently recognized by Forbes as the most innovative company in the world. According to Polly the tech industry has significant innovations every 10 years. For each of these ten-year cycles the industry has 10 times more users.

The ingredients for continueous innovation at Salesforce are: Alignment & Collaboration, “A Beginners Mind”, Agility, Listen to customers and Think big.

Polly talked about how she used their social platform called Chatter to collaborate in a completely “flat” way. They now even use Chatter as a means to make the worldwide management offsite meeting radically transparent. The next step in the Chatter platform is to “gamify” it and let the individual contributors rise and recognize their contributions (they’ve acquired Rypple for example).

Agile is about maintaining innovation velocity and delivering at speed. The “prioritize, create, deliver, get feedback, iterate”-cycle needs to be sped up. One way of doing this is by listening to your customers as they are all a natural source for ideas. She showed a couple of examples from Starbucks and KLM:

Polly then shared an example of where Salesforce made a mistake: they announced a premium service that they wanted to charge extra for. Customers complained loudly on social media and within 24 hours they reversed their decision.

In 2000 they asked themselves the questions: Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com? Right now in 2011 they asked themselves a different question: Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook? She would consider 2011 the year of Social Revolution. Salesforce’s vision is that of a social enterprise: allowing the employee social network and the customer social network to connect (preferably in a single social profile).

Bjarte Bogsnes, VP Performance Management Development for Statoil, chairman of Beyond Budgeting Roundtable Europe

On Fortune 500 Statoil rates first on social responsibility and seventh on Innovation.

Bjarte discussed the problems with traditional management. He used my favourite metaphor, traffic, comparing traffic lights to roundabouts. Roundabouts are more efficient, but also more difficult to navigate. A roundabout is values-based and a traffic light is rules-based. Roundabouts are self-regulating and this is what we need in management models too. He then touched on Theory X and Theory Y.

When you combine Theory X with a perception of a stable business environment you get traditional management (rigid, detailed and annual, rules-based micromanagement, centralised command and control, secrecy, sticks and carrots). If you perceive the business environment as stable and you have Theory Y your management is based on values, autonomy, transparency (can be an alternative control mechanism) and internal motivation. If you combine Theory X with a dynamic business environment you get relative and directional goals, dynamic planning, forecasting and resource allocation and holistic performance evaluation.

Finally, if you combine Theory Y with a dynamic business environment you get Beyond Budgeting.

Beyond Budgeting has a set of twelve principles (it isn’t a recipe, but more of an idea or a philosophy):

Governance and transparency

  • Values: Bind people to a common cause; not a central plan
  • Governance: Govern through shared values and sound judgement; not detailed rules and regulations
  • Transparency Make information open and transparent; don’t restrict and control it

Accountable teams

  • Teams: Organize around a seamless network of accountable teams; not centralized functions
  • Trust: Trust teams to regulate their performance; don’t micro-manage them
  • Accountability: Base accountability on holistic criteria and peer reviews; not on hierarchical relationships

Goals and rewards

  • Goals: Set ambitious medium-term goals; not short-term fixed targets
  • Rewards: Base rewards on relative performance; not on meeting fixed targets

Planning and controls

  • Planning: Make planning a continuous and inclusive process; not a top-down annual event
  • Coordination: Coordinate interactions dynamically; not through annual budgets
  • Resources: Make resources available just-in-time; not just-in-case
  • Controls: Base controls on fast, frequent feedback; not budget variances

Most companies use budgeting for three different things:

  • Setting targets
  • Forecasting
  • Resource allocation

When we combine these three things in a single number then we might run into its conflicting purposes. So the first step towards Beyond Budgeting is separating these three things. So for example the target is what you want to happen and the forecast is what you think will happen. The next step is to become more event driven rather than calendar driven.

Statoil has a programme called “Ambition to Action”:

  • Performance is ultimately about performing better than those we compare ourselves with.
  • Do the right thing in the actual situation, guided by the Statoil book, your Ambition to action, decision criteria & authorities and sound business judgement.
  • Within this framework, resources are made available or allocated case-by-case.
  • Business follow up is forward looking* and action oriented.
  • Performance evaluation is a holistic assessment of delivery and behaviour.

From strategic ambitions to KPIs (“Nothing happens just because you measure: you don’t lose weight by weighing yourself.”) and then into actions/forecasts and finally into individual or team goals.