Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

(Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

Dangerous cuts

There is an element of truth to the argument that when asked to make something better it is just as viable to remove something as it is to add more. Albeit harder.

Having said that you need to be careful when you remove something and perhaps even cut back in the process:

First of all you’re relying on your teams ability to change habits and remove the same processes or elements as you suggest. Habits are a tough thing to change so don’t count on it being super easy.

Second, you’re banking on an increased ability to focus on what matters while leaving everything else aside. It is a bit tied to the above, but it still says something about the mental state of your team once you have made the change. It needs to be the right one and persist.

Third, by cutting you’re also in a way removing future options. You’re banking on making the right cuts in order to where you need to go from here. What if the underlying assumptions are wrong and you need to move in a different direction again? Will you be able to?

The above is not so say that it’s a bad idea to innovate by cutting. You just need to be fully aware that if you go down that right, the decision to do the cutting will be by far the easiest part of the transition.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Re-imagining the office

If you ever had to re-imagine the office post-Covid-19, how would you do it?

Personally, I think a very interesting opportunity lies in getting the answer right to the above question. And I am pretty sure, it won’t be easy.

Look at it this way;

Many companies have already stated that their going to offer work-from-home as an option going forward and as a result are letting go of office space. Some companies have even abandoned the office altogether.

At the other end of the spectrum, many people are reeling from being socially secluded and not being able to have in person interactions with colleagues and co-workers. While distance is great for some, closeness and togetherness is life’s salt for others.

Then add in the pre-pandemic office and it’s rather mundane interior design and commodity perks (fussball tables, Friday bar etc) seeming rather dated and boring by now and ready for the total revamp.

And then – and then – potentially add in some nifty new tech.

What you have is a super interesting cocktail of ingredients that could potentially make up a very interesting and tasty recipe for the Future of (On Premise) Work.

And my gut feeling is that the ones who get this right – probably from starting all over reimagining the experience, function and most important feeling of the future office – will have a golden opportunity.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Deadly theater

Time and time again I hear from and meet startups who are eager to follow the corporate partnership route to gain traction in the market for their startup.

Sometimes it works out well. Most often – I would argue – it doesn’t.

I know this from my own prior experience from the corporate side. Yes, I have been one of the ‘fools’ trying to introduce startups to the corporate world as tomorrows fix on todays problems only to find that the organization had no intention of being ‘fixed’, let alone by a startup.

I can’t count the times I have engaged with promising startups with some great products and services under their belt and spent a ton of time on building the case and getting them introduced to the company – only for everything to come off the rails once the handover needed to happen.

Undoubtedly, I have a lot of the blame myself, as I should have spent more time and energy on facilitating the internal relationships necessary to enable a great collaboration – to enable my peers and colleagues to ‘see the light’ so to say. I naively thought it was rather self-explanatory.

It wasn’t.

Anyways, there are still a lot of startups out there who seems to think that pilots projects and strategic initiatives with big corporations are the best path towards fame and fortune.

If you are one of those, I highly recommend, you get yourself a copy of “Death By Innovation Theater: 10 Corporate Innovation Lessons Learned by a Startup” by Søren Nielsen, former CEO of now closed down FinTech startup Ernit.

Apart from being very well-written and with a lot of great references, the book is a tale of why all those aspiring promises in corporate partnerships never really amount to anything for startups.

In the close to 100 pages, Søren walks you through his own largely miserable experiences banking – sorry – and counting on corporate partnerships to work only to find out that he and his team was never more than an afterthought at best and entertainment at worst.

When you read it, you might believe it. Or you might think that that won’t happen to you. Don’t delude yourself. There is every chance that it will. Take it from me as a representative of the ‘innovation fools’ in the corporate domain – we’re not that different from each other.

Should you completely forgo any opportunities to do partnerships with corporates? Absolutely not.

But as Søren Nielsen also states make damn sure, you’re absolutely sure about what you’re doing and what you and your startup are getting out of it, before you dive in and spend too much time.

After all, you don’t want to die on the stage, do you?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The essential Clubhouse question

Why didn’t you build it?

Audio online is nothing new.

Talks with subject matter experts is nothing new.

Social networking is nothing new.

Refer-a-friend schemes are nothing new.

And so on.

All the elements are already out there and have been so for a long time.

So why didn’t you come up with this idea, build it and reap the rewards?

That’s the really interesting 1B USD question about Clubhouse.

(Photo: Screenshot)

Zuck versus Murdoch

So, Facebook decided to pull the plug on links from Australian news organizations in response to a suggested new law that will force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for links to content.

Good. For. Them.

Facebook, I mean.

Now, I am by no means a Facebook fan, but I think there are so many inherent flaws in the arguments for paying for links that I jump to the other side of the table on this one.

First of all links and linking is an integral part of the web and a key component to the very infrastructure that supports perhaps the most impactful – for better and for worse – invention we have seen since WWII: The internet.

Links is such a crucial underpinning that they need to be free. Free to show that is. What then happens when you click the link is another matter, and that may be arbitraged at will based on the business model of the place, where the link is being clicked.

But just showing the link?

FREE. Period.

Second, what the proposed legislation really does is that it differentiates. It says that some links are worth money, the rest of them are not. It puts rules in place for determining when a link has value that warrants payment, and those rules are such that only a very few get to profit from it.

Who are those few? The biggest Australian news organizations. Who owns a lot of them? Yes, one Rupert Murdoch.

So Rupert Murdoch, whose record on effectively undermining democracy through the use of opinionated media in major countries is…I don’t even know where to begin, is a chief beneficiary. That alone should make you want to kick this particular piece of legislation to the curb.

Because let’s make no mistake about it: This legislation is not born out of concern for democracy. It is born out of intense lobbying by the news media associations, which is taking place every single day all over the world, and where they have so far happened to be most successful in moving the needle in Australia.

This is not about freedom of speech or protecting democracy. This is a Hail Mary pass for failed news executives who have over at least the past two decades failed miserably to meet the challenge posed by the emergence of the internet and innovate their products and business models to keep up with the times and changes in user behaviour and preferences.

Everybody and his uncle knows that when it comes to politics, motivation for action and legislation should not always be taken at face value. There is a reason why there is a term called ‘special interests’. Legislation becomes tainted, skewed and formed to fit individual special interests every day, and to a large extend that is fine. But let us at least call it what it is.

So following on from that, here is what the proposed Australian legislation is: It is a protection money-scheme with the “Pay us or else…” not explicitly stated but with no one in doubt as to who should be kept in a ‘friendly’ mood.

Even in this day and age politicians fear ending up on the front page.

Add to that that the core argument doesn’t really make logical sense:

You need to pay us for showing links that are effectively advertising driving users and traffic to our own properties. We want your dollars AND your traffic.

And you’re just going “WTF?!”

It’s mind-numbing.

In fact it is so inexcusably stupid that Facebook is well within its right to just pull the plug on Australian news organizations. It’s a private company – not a public utility – and they are free to define their policies as they see fit within the law. And if the law works against them they are entirely free to just pull out.

I hope that they do. Australia is the perfect case: It is isolated to a corner of the world, the legislation benefits someone who very few people are true fans of, and the argument just doesn’t make sense.

So if the fight has to be taken, this is the time and place to take it.

And for the sheer stupidity of the underlying media argument and for the demonstration of yet another epic fail to innovate and look forward, I – in this one case – hope Facebook wins.

Media in general and Rupert Murdoch in particular certainly doesn’t deserve to.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The rocket fuel of purpose

Recently I wrote about the 3 problems of purpose. It is thus only fair that I also offer a few words on how a deep-felt purpose can serve as rocket fuel for your business.

Lets start by taking a step back:

More often than not you know what and your company does and how to do it will. You might experts, market leaders within your field even. And by focusing on what you do – your core – you’re able to make it incrementally better, more powerful and/or valuable on a consistent basis.

But what happens when you have done everything you can, and your product is perfect (if such a state ever exists, but I am sure you get my point)? What then? What’s next?

This is where a deep felt purpose can come in handy for your business:

If you look at what you’re trying to achieve, the change you’re trying to foster rather than the products and services you deliver per se, then you can define a purpose that could effectively serve as a kickstarter for your ‘next big thing’.

Everybody who has ever had to come up with something new knows that the worst thing is the blank sheet of paper – it can be so daunting to start working and actually get something down, you can start working on.

With a solid deep-felt purpose you don’t have a blank sheet of paper anymore. You have a context; something to set your creative juices flowing. Something to get your ideas started and start thinking in new and/or complimentary products and services.

Because you have a deep-felt sense of what it is you’re trying to affect and the impact you could potentially have, if you succeed. And that is potentially rocket fuel for any venture.

But of course you need to have a legitimate deep-felt purpose. A fake or forlorn one won’t work.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Muscle is not enough

Ever since I spent a week at a business modelling bootcamp together with – among others – a couple of quite secretive NSA employees, I have been fascinated by lean innovation within the military.

Why? Because I can’t think of a much bigger – pardon me – clash of philosophies; one is nimble, lean and mean, the other is cumbersome, big, complex and – ok – mean too (albeit in a very different way).

For that reason it is also worth reading Lean Startup guru Steve Blanks reflections on lessons for the new administration on technology, innovation and modern war. It is a fascinating read of two ‘worlds’ colliding but still trying to find a common path forward.

The most jaw dropping nugget for me was the fact that US military has for decades relied on being at the front of tech innovation to an extend that as they developed new technologies, they could also work on countermeasures and thus play both sides at the same time; offence and defence.

That ability has been lost as more and more innovation has moved to the private sector. And it has profound consequences in more aspects than one.

Not only does it say a lot about the US potential to come out of a potential future conflict as the victor. It is no longer guaranteed, although I would still think the US has the upper hand.

It also says a lot about the interconnectivity between government, private enterprise and innovation. That one relies on the other and no chain is stronger than the weakest link. It seems like a lot of new uncertainties have arisen that we now all have to be aware of and deal with.

But the most important point I think is the notion that you can really do more with less. It is no longer the biggest budgets that determines who will prevail. Everybody has a – so to say – fighting – chance, and to some extend it’s more a matter of creativity, skill and ingenuity than brute force.

It can be frightening for sure. But outside the realm of defence it should also serve as a huge inspiration to all those with smaller budgets, less ressources and objectively less muscle:

There is a chance you might come out on top even if the odds and conventional wisdom are stacked against you.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)