Workshop Slide Deck (guided): Lifecycles in products, companies, and careers

Introduction

This is a workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included for other educators to reference).

Here’s the Slideshare version, although this annotated one is far better of course 😉


I created this as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises, it was about 40 mins in duration, and can easily run up to 2 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

Lifecycles

This session is all about lifecycles – mainly in building products, services, and businesses, but also in careers and life.

Let’s jump straight in.

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Navigating Uncertainty: Climbing the Ladder, Going out to Sea

When we are learning something new there are usually some guardrails in place.

We’re learning how to DJ in the safety of our bedroom, not headlining Barclays Center.

We’re committing our code into a test environment, not straight into the App Store.

Our Spanish conversation practice is with a peer in the local coffee shop, not a televised interview with Alfonso Cuaron.

Sure, things can go wrong, but we can fall back onto the patterns and techniques we already know, refer to the guidebook, or ask our teacher.

It’s the Ladder of Certainty.

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It’s hard to tell other people’s stories

You’ve probably heard that person at the bar, telling a story that isn’t theirs.

It’s still funny, or touching, or tense, but something doesn’t quite sit right. You can sense it.

Telling other peoples’ stories isn’t easy.

On the face of it this doesn’t seem especially important.

But stories are everywhere – not just anecdotes we share with friends over a beer.

Careers are stories. Confidence is a story. Even a curriculum is a story [1].

If you’re teaching something it can be hard to teach a curriculum that isn’t yours.

Sometimes you can add little embellishments or flourishes of your own but it isn’t easy to do this convincingly on the fly. Push it just a notch too far and the entire story can unravel surprisingly quickly. 

Tell that other person’s story without something of your own and the audience will know something’s not right. It’s hollow. You’ll lose them.

It’s a fine balance.

Actors tell other people’s stories all of course.

One of the ways they get good at doing it is to observe and absorb the story first. 

Read the book, learn about the author, watch the play, meet the characters in real life, try out the alternative adaptation. 

This needs a lot more time, energy and application than just telling someone else’s story.

But if you believe in the story, it’s worth it.

[1] Marc Lewis at School of Communication Arts takes this to the next level – his entire 1 year curriculum is a story he designs from scratch. Find out more on the Tickets podcast.

Beyond The Happy Meal: products to transcend generations

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of the author and broadcaster Steven Johnson.

I also admit I’m rarely an early adopter (as frustrating as this can sometimes be), and in Johnson’s case I only discovered his work via his TV series How We Got To Now which was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK a couple of years ago.

As I tweeted from our sofa how much I loved the show, my (now) wife could only look on with bemusement when I gesticulated in wonder 10 seconds later. The show’s host had retweeted me to his 1.5m followers. It was magic, until I sheepishly realised the programme had of course been recorded months before. He was probably at home having a cup of tea.

Something else with a bit of magic is the kids’ version of the How We Got to Now book which launched a few months ago.

It got me thinking about other products, ideas and creations that either transcend age gaps or can be repurposed wonderfully for those much older or younger than the intended audience.

Here are a few of my favourites.


Arts & Raps

This series from Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital takes the TV interview format and flips it into today’s youth culture (hiphop stars, young hosts, and YouTube). 

I like the blend of education and entertainment – the show touches on some tough topics that are important for young people to understand, without feeling like a public service announcement. And watching rappers squirm as they try to explain their lyrics to the young hosts is entertaining for adults too.

This path has been trodden before through shows like Kids Say The Darndest Things (the hook is the “out of the mouths of babes” cliche)  – but as Derek Thompson suggests in his book Hit Makers, a key ingredient to making something popular is often about New Wine aged on Old Oak.


Kano

The London-based computer company ostensibly exist to support kids in becoming developers, but their products are used enthusiastically by people of all ages.

As the company say, billions of us use computers, but only 1% of 1% of us can take them apart and change them. Kano’s mission is to drastically increase that number.

Musicians are creating weird and wonderful new instruments, street artists are creating code-driven installations, and teachers are teaching other teachers how to code.

I interviewed Kano co-founder Alex Klein on the Tickets podcast – check it out:


Netflix’s Sex Education

Netflix snapped up this UK comedy-drama in late 2017, and the first season was made available at the beginning of this year. Its combination of dry British humour, US-style college campus setting and superbly curated cast have made it a sleeper hit. 

I assume the show is aimed at the same demographic as its stars (14-18), but whether you’re going through the tribulations of puberty, have just cleared some of those hurdles, or wince at the memory of your own school days in decades past, Sex Education hits the spot on the number of levels. And it’s binge-worthy: my wife and I watched the whole series over this past weekend.

But the extra element that really makes it really stand out for me is that the unpacking and understanding of difficult topics are woven into the plot in a way that offers a guiding, but still optional, torchlight, rather than feeling like sitting through 6 hours of traditional sex education.


Kids’ fashion styles

Have you ever noticed how stylish some young kids’ clothing lines are? 

Notwithstanding a few premium designer brands, why is it that beyond the age of 8 so much fashion (especially for men) defaults to black, white, grey or a little bit of navy?

I’m constantly astounded at the get-ups my wife and I have bought for our now 3 and a half-year-old nephew.

The search for something suitable in my size continues…


Pornhub’s sex education

From one style of sex education to another.

This one is more strongly aligned to edutainment than necessarily crossing generations, but given Pornhub’s traffic levels it’s fair to assume a few different age groups are using their service.

Note: This Quartz article that delved into Pornhub’s incredible data capabilities is well worth a read.

Partnering with Dr Laurie Betito, Pornhub’s Sexual Wellness Center is a knowledge base of responsible advice, Q&As and other content.

At the time of writing the site has been up for about 18 months. Given Pornhub’s undoubted financial resources it seems a bit of a half-hearted effort thus far, especially as there’s such a big opportunity for brands of all types to create valuable educational content.

Still, it’s a good idea – could Pornhub content even be on the school curriculum one day?

Inclusive Apparel

Sneakers are big business.

NBA star Steph Curry has released a number of signature shoes with sports brand Under Armour. The latest is the Curry 5.

They’ve been a big hit – until one young female fan discovered the shoes weren’t available for girls. She wrote to her hero telling him so.

A little embarrassing for Curry as he’s been outspoken about gender equality in sports, and has hosted a girls’ basketball camp in the past.

His response on Twitter helped clear things up:

There are a couple of things going on here.

First, it turns out sneakers for girls are no different in shape or production than the ones for boys, it’s just design/branding that shifts. This makes the Curry 5 omission even worse.

Second, this episode shines another light on big sports brands still having issues with inclusivity, particularly at a corporate level. Nike and Under Armour have both come under fire on this

This lack of inclusivity is a big missed opportunity for these companies.

It sets them back on attracting great talent, connecting with new audiences, developing a better internal culture, empowering the athlete in everyone (as Nike to like to say), and yes, selling more shoes.

It’ll be interesting to see what the apparel brands do next on this front.


Of course, alternate versions or fully cross-generational products have been around for decades – from the McDonalds Happy Meal to The Simpsons.

What’s so interesting now is the increased generational fluidity across products – and more broadly than just toys, fast food or entertainment.

These are just a few examples of what’s happening.

What else can be taken from adults to kids, or visa versa?


Trend Spotting: How to identify what’s coming next

A workshop session I designed and facilitated in Summer 2018 (annotated and abbreviated version, with some classroom exercises and notes included)

Yes, it’s that time again – I’m back with another of my annotated slide deck adventures.

This time we’re diving into Trends.

I created this short session as part of the growth & change management module of the AMP NYC accelerator program which ran here in New York City over the summer of 2018. Including the exercises it was about 45 mins in duration, and can easily run to 2-3 hours if you want to dive deeper into certain parts of the content.

At the time I ran this session there were a few blank faces in the room upon seeing this first slide up on the screen, and not just because it was another of my bad puns.

I realised this movie is now 24 years old; pretty close to the age of the younger attendees in our cohort.

It’s also, despite its international success, still very Scottish and even as a native British English speaker I still can’t decipher all the local Glaswegian parlance.

So that’s the last we’ll be seeing of Begbie, Renton and Sick Boy (for this session at least) – time to get into some Trend Spotting.

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Concealing the Clues: Lessons from TV & film writers

The British crime drama series Broadchurch is one of the most critically-acclaimed TV shows of the past 10 years.

First arriving on UK screens in 2013, its 3 seasons and 24 episodes focused on the fictional town of Broadchurch and two of its police detectives.

Broadchurch is a classic whodunnit story. 

While the overall arc of the story is compelling, it’s the gradual reveals, shifting sense of suspicion, and carefully placed clues, decoys and questions that really keep the viewer guessing.

Creator Chris Chibnall spent a lot of time white boarding all the routes and paths before putting pen to paper.

He didn’t even know the identity of the killer until a few episodes in, and decided to rewrite elements based on what was happening during the production.

This method is very powerful when done well: concealing the clues, diverting attention at particular times, and tapping into natural human instincts of wanting to solve problems and also holding biases.

It begs the question of where else we could apply the best of Broadchurch and other innovative and compelling storytelling styles [1].

Is it in education? Tiago Forte writes about this on Twitter:

I’m excited about applying these ideas in what I’m doing here, as regular readers will be aware.

But what about other art forms? Or in hospitality? Even retail?

The question is no longer whodunnit? but who will do it, and how

Bottom Line: Stories are powerful, and when combined with other elements that influence people there are all kinds of new and improved experiences that can be created

[1] This post doesn’t even touch on the likes of Bandersnatch or Steven Soderburgh’s Mosaic project. That’s for next time…

Be the person you needed when you were younger

Brad Montague of Montague Workshop.

A couple of months after we moved to New York it was time for our first trip outside the city. For that Thanksgiving weekend we flew out to rural Kentucky.

After a few days of bourbon, turkey, southern hospitality and some insights into American culture beyond the bi-coastal bubble, it was time to head back to NYC.

As the evening drew in on a sleepy flight home and the sky rolled from bright blue to deep pink and then dark grey, I noticed the glow of a laptop a couple of rows in front of me.

On the screen was what looked like a social media post being prepared. You know the type – a beautiful stock photo overlaid with a motivational quote in a mid-weight font.

The image could have been anything – it didn’t stick with me at all.

The text is still completely clear in my mind.

Be the person you needed when you were younger.

Not a bad mantra.

And unlike the social media feeds it ephemerally dissolved into, I’ve kept it pinned on my desktop ever since.

As a new year begins to unfold I’m still aiming to be the person I needed when I, and maybe a few others like me, were younger.

Who was the person you needed when you were younger?

It’s a question worth asking.


Note: The quote originally comes from Ayesha Siddiqui.

Build, Buy, Borrow, or…

A few weeks ago I was teaching a course at the HQ of one of the biggest and well-storied companies in the US. 

During the lunch break I started chatting to one of their senior HR execs. Within a few minutes we’d got into everything from Chinese innovation to the EU working directive and NYC’s freelance scene.

All these subjects touched on the 3 key components he considered when  building and extending the organization’s talent capabilities:

Build: Level up the existing workforce. 

Buy: Hire more full time employees. Resource reliability, but top talent will keep getting more expensive.

Borrow: Bring in freelancers, consultants, agencies, or other service providers. There’s expertise ready to be put to work, and lower overheads to go with it, but when they’re done a big chunk of knowledge leaves with them.

But while before there were 3, now there are 4. And this fourth element has created a new whole new set of questions, considerations, and conversations, and affects the existing 3 pillars as well.

You probably know what it is.

Bot.

Automate. Use machine learning. Remove humans. 

The question he is now asked most often about talent development is how machines can be used.

A question asked far less often: Why?

And more specifically, why they should be used at all.

There’s plenty we can do, but far less we should do.

Whenever the conversation shifts to Build, Buy, Borrow or Bot – it’s better to go back and start with Why.

From Code School to Podcast School

Think back a decade or so.

How many kids did you see coding computers or hardware devices for fun?

Maybe you happened to be around a passionate engineering community, or instilled this curiosity in your own children at a young age, but chances are it was a pretty rare sight.

There were IT classes at school of course, but a lot of the focus was on learning how to use Microsoft Office, or perhaps writing some Perl or PHP script.

For the majority of young people, this was mandatory stuff to be done in their early teens. Something to tick off on the list of subjects to be studied and the grade to be acquired. Miles away from Final Fantasy and Football Manager.

And the barriers to owning your own computer were still pretty high.

Now it’s different.

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The rise of Edutainment

Education as business development (and beyond), teachers becoming more than just the new DJs, and the foundations of a big shift that’s here to stay.

 

At the start of 2018 I drafted an article entitled ‘Education is the new business development’.

It sat in my draft posts folder for way too long (this post explains why).

Here’s a taster of what I put together:

 

Media publishers can no longer rely on display ads, and a brand are less interested in just the media buy.

As a B2B sales software startup you can spend months trying to explain the benefits of your offering succinctly, let alone closing a deal.

If you’re tasked with heading up innovative ideas in a large company, a significant part of your workload is putting together information for internal teams to understand just what you’re up to and why they should care.

It’s tiring.

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