Sometimes you trip over a word and it takes on a shape. It bugs you until you look at that shape and see something different. Something unusual.
That happened to me this morning. I received a note from a friend of mine who was talking about Elon Musk and his investor dilemma. Whilst typing back a reply, I said: “it’s the difference between an inventor and an investor”. And the shape of these two words hit me! They were so similar – and yet poles apart.
So, as is my wont (an old English word meaning habit or custom that spellcheckers highlight as a mistake, but it isn’t), I set to with the idea that an inveNtor and an inveStor are two opposing forces under tension in any business.
And whilst deciding that this was, indeed, a good analogy, it struck me that so many letters are shared between these two words. In fact, seven out of eight letters are not just the same – BUT THEY ARE IN EXACTLY THE SAME POSITION IN THE WORD! The only difference is the fifth letter – where one is an “N” and the other an “S”. How can two such similar words have such contrasting shapes positions in business, yet share so much at the same time?
To use the old analogy “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, it got me thinking about which planets would inveNtors and inveStors inhabit? I looked up this idea on an astrology website and found that Venus is the bringer of love, beauty and money. So that will do for the inveStor community (though I sometimes find it hard to see how those three words fit nicely into one sentence.
As for Mars – well that is a non-starter. We needed another planet. And so I typed-in “innovation” to find that Uranus represents technology, rebellion and innovation! That will do nicely!
So, inveStors are from Venus and inveNtors are from Uranus. There you go!
Yet that wasn’t enough. I further studied the two words to find that the only difference were the two letters: N and S – and suddenly it hit me! They are also polar opposites on the dial of a compass! I was so encouraged to find even more elegance down this particular rabbit-hole!
Further to discovering this chance pairing, I thought again. Whilst looking at the meanings behind the planets, I came across Mercury, the Messenger God who is know for communication, day-to-day expression and coordination. A vital and often missing ingredient when inveNtors and inveStors cannot see each other’s point of view. What other letter (in the same place as the N and S) could be a catalyst for change? What could be the Mercury that goes between Venus and Uranus (though I know full-well that is impossible in our particular solar system – but work with me on this!)
And so I came across the letter “R”. One of the few that makes sense and is a word. An inveRtor. It has a medical meaning, but I preferred the one used in electricity – which converts AC to DC current and back again. An inveRtor is a converter of energy from invention to investment. Perfect!
So, in summary, we need more inveRtors in business to go between the impossible stances that inveNtors and inveStors take when they stand-off in their own worlds of creativity and resolution. A few more inveRtors that will be comfortable in the space between what is impossible and what is possible. A few more inverRtors that will help inveNtors like Elon Musk save the planet with his fantastic ideas to make the world’s transportation system run on electricity without making all the inveStors run a mile!
As it was such a great rabbit hole to go down (and it is Thursday and I have not written Thursday Thoughts for a while), I thought I would write-up the story. More to follow soon!
Please do leave a comment below if you see any other strange or fantastic happenings on the road from invention to investment.
We all love them, don’t we? Whether it is the weather, election results or even horoscopes, the human psyche is intrigued by those who believe that they can predict the future.
Yet, in the past few of years, things that seemed to have been stable and predictable have had an uncanny knack of not being so! Brexit, the rise of Trump, global weather patterns, crazy valuations for Tech companies. Some trace this unpredictability back to the financial crisis of 2008. Others pin it to the rise of globalisation. Yet others believe that the real culprit – climate change – can be attributed as far back as the industrial revolution.
“Leaders of Hope” require a good dose of “back-to-front thinking” to inspire people to follow their vision of the future – only to become disillusioned and frustrated by the system. The pendulum swings and “Leaders of Fear” take over and simply look in the rear view mirror to say how things were great in the past and that “Back to the Future” is the answer.
With linear thinking, we tend to post-rationalise decisions and make them look logical after the event. Ever more so in large corporations and national governments. Steve Jobs put it so well when he talked about connecting the dots in his Stanford commencement speech:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
So we come to trusting the dots that will connect us to a positive future – and also trust in “gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever….” to get us there! That’s not very precise or scientific. Certainly not terribly rational and not very easy to measure either!
So, maybe all this objective setting stuff we strive for is baloney?
In my experience, Jobs was correct. Most decisions are made from spinning around looking at various alternatives and then having an intuitive hunch that things would be better if they lined up in a direction where you have a fuzzy idea of the target zone or outcome. As time progresses, things become clearer.
I call this the “White Javelin” approach. We have a Javelin that we can throw in any direction, but we choose to throw where the light shines brightly. Once we have thrown it, we move along to pick it up and then decide where to throw it next. It is better if you keep going in one particular direction. Otherwise, you keep going over old ground and spinning around like a dog chasing its tail!
Fulfilment becomes an intuitive sense of progress towards a fuzzy outcome, which needs to feel good before each throw.If your daily work does not give you the autonomy to decide the direction of throw or they give you a needle instead of a javelin, then I suggest you quit!
As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve also become increasingly aware that everything is connected. Literally. So the desired outcome in one country, system or domain will have undesired consequences in another. The current North Korean-US war of words is but a simple example.
So, with all the unpredictability and variability of system outcomes, maybe we need a new set of meta-objectives or meta-goals that we can start to organise ourselves around so we can work out best where we throw our white javelins.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals were a noble attempt to do this. Yet a global, top-down approach is probably only going to help fix a minor part of the problem. As Arnold Schwarzenegger stated in his message to Donald Trump on reneging the Paris climate agreement: “Like all the great movements in human history, our (clean) future starts with a grassroots movement in our communities, our cities and our states.”
It gives hope to mere mortals that there is a clear path to a cleaner, brighter future through grassroots activism, clear personal intent and envisioning end-results that are for the betterment of our local communities.
Whereas linear-thinking approaches had a good chance of succeeding in more stable and predictable systems, we need new ways to shape a purpose, objectives and outcomes for a particular problem set – outside the boundaries of corporate self-interest. (what Ian Ure in an article on LinkedIn calls his “magic ingredient” – which inspired me to write this one).
Asking lots of “W” questions is a good place to start. Why?, What?, Who?, When? and Where?
Too many “How?” questions asked too early on creates early “solution-thinking syndrome” which gets in the way of exploring alternative approaches and landing points.
Equally, too many “Why?” questions too early on can also be counter-productive because the answer might simply be: “Just because!”.W can also stand for “Wait” – like“all good things come to those who wait”.Counterintuitive, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless.
I believe that the world is a mysterious, magical and mystical place, well beyond the ken of any single human being. Science and reason are useful tools, but by adopting the Zen-like “beginner’s mind” with an inquisitive sense of discovery, prediction becomes less important. Each day brings magic moments with new discoveries and new areas to explore with our individual throws of our uniquely crafted white javelins. We need to stop listening to the Merchants of Doom and become our own Leaders of Hope.
Go on! Throw it as far as you can and see where it lands! It will only be good!
Last Thursday, I had a meeting with a business colleague. We had only met once before – but somehow the energy felt really good between us. Conversation flowed. Ideas bubbled to the surface. Creative spirit abounded.
During the conversation, it became apparent that I had talked in our previous meeting about intuition. I had forgotten this – but it is something I have recently become very interested in. In summary, it’s the idea that the world is far too “mental” and that many have lost touch with their intuitive guidance system – based around the heart. I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything is connected.
And so it was, just by chance (as happens when browsing the internet) I came across this video below:
I don’t know too much about the organisation behind the video – but just love the overall theme, messages and visuals. It somehow helps us to remember things we have forgotten or lost – so we can get back into the life-force and remember who we are.
Today, the Parish of Goudhurst and Kilndown in rural Kent (which is where we live) came one step closer to achieving what most others in the UK have access to…..
It wasn’t fresh water. That has been flowing freely from boreholes and the local reservoir at Bewl Water for quite a while.
It wasn’t gas. Goudhurst used to have gas – but the Gas Works blew up in the 1948 – a few weeks before all gas works were nationalized. Coincidence or dodgy insurance claims, no one quite knows.
It wasn’t electricity. That has been delivered to all of the Parish since about 2006 when the folk in Bedgebury Forest came onto the Grid.
It wasn’t being connected to the mains sewage. Our house still has a septic tank at the bottom of the garden.
What it was that we came one step closer to getting half of the Parish – perhaps more – onto Superfast Broadband.
The next stage of the scheme is due to go live next week – in time for the end of June go-live for four of the cabinets in the village to be fibred-up to Superfast Broadband. And the spectacle today was watching the fibre being blown down the plastic ducts that have been laid under all the key roads in the village.
The event went off without an audience – large or small. Simply two engineers diligently waiting whilst the meter showed how far the end of the fibre had been blown. The fibre wrapped over the right arm to give it control as it entered the plastic duct pipe.
Looking forward to the fibre being lit next week. Come on, light my fibre – or something like that!
I was very privileged last year to submit evidence to the House of Lord’s Communications Committee on their report “Broadband for All”.
Below is The Earl of Selbourne’s summary of what needs to be done from his speech on Monday evening when the report was debated in the Lords:
The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I join others in thanking the chairman, my noble friend Lord Inglewood, for the way in which he chaired the committee and introduced the debate today. From the speeches that we have heard, it is clear without doubt that the future of our economy will depend to a large extent on our ability to connect to broadband throughout all communities and sections of the population. It is not just about wealth creation and social cohesion. The ability to participate in healthcare and whole tranches of public activity will depend on connectivity. The Government must have a policy, and the Government are right to have a policy, but perhaps, as we have said in our report, they have been preoccupied by one aspect, which is to try to be the leader in Europe on superfast broadband.
The first priority has to be to achieve connectivity. If you have excluded populations, you will have a social divide and a lack of social cohesion. The Government need not worry about speed. That will follow. There are not very often market failures when it comes to cities. I therefore agree with those who have said that to spend money on improving superfast provision in cities is not something that the Government need to worry about if the market can do it itself. But there will be market failure in remote areas, where the costs of pushing out the broadband structure are too great. There will be market failure where the incumbents have an advantage, which inhibits other incomers who can help to provide some of the very many solutions that will be required to get this connectivity to all parts of the population. That is something that we are failing to harness—the undoubted innovation and enthusiasm from local communities, small and start-up companies, all of which would have a contribution to make. We go into some detail in the report. It gets pretty dense, I admit, when we talk about things such as passive optical networks and physical infrastructure access. But this is the key to it.
At the moment, we have what my noble friend Lord Inglewood called “the only show in town” for many rural areas. Whether we like it or not, because it is in the very nature of broadband to have high fixed costs, low marginal costs and great economies of scale, inevitably the incumbents will have a strong advantage. I think that we should be proud of what BT has done. It has improved enormously, by technical innovations, the ability to provide broadband on the existing infrastructure. Of course, it is rolling out broadband at great speed. It says that it hopes to achieve 90% coverage by 2017, but that immediately begs the question as to whether in national terms that is a satisfactory objective. I would certainly say, particularly as I am from a rather remote corner of the rural community and likely to be one of the 10% left out, that it is not satisfactory. So let us see what we can do to achieve that connectivity well before 2017. I do not think that anyone has mentioned yet the 4G mobile broadband technology, which is very soon to be with us and will certainly provide greatly enhanced mobile internet access to areas within adequate connectivity.
There are many different contributions to be made. The case for government involvement and public funds to be deployed rests, as I say, on achieving this reduction of the digital divide. The long-term solution will, ultimately, be fibre to the premises and the home. As others have rightly said, the cost of rolling out fibre to the home is exorbitant. We have a temporary solution, and a good one—the BT solution of fibre to the cabinet. It achieves the objective of reducing dramatically the costs. Usually, you have copper or some other connection from that cabinet. But whether BT likes it or not—it is in something like denial over this—it has the disadvantage that it does not provide open access, as I would understand it. In other words, as a local access network provider, you cannot simply move in with a compatible bit of machinery, stick it in there and do what you are trying to achieve. It is not an open access hub, as we have tried to demonstrate. That is where you come back to the technology of the passive optical network, which is a bit of a fix, as those will know who have read the report with great care. It certainly does not achieve what some of those independent service providers would have hoped for.
I think that the Government should ask quite firmly that, for the next tranche of money, which we hear will come in 2015, there should be proper open access. It is not beyond the wit of man. Clearly, there is no great financial advantage to the incumbents to roll out proper open access, but that is what is needed. If it is what is required, that is what will happen. It must be future proofed. We know that the technology changes dramatically fast. We know that some of the existing solutions, including the cabinet, will not stand the test of time for very long, but the fibre-optic cable will. Ultimately, it will be able to handle this vast amount of information. Therefore, we must make sure that as we improve the broadband infrastructure, we have the ability to upgrade and upgrade. That is why I say that, frankly, the cabinets are not very easily upgraded. You have to go back to the exchanges and think again. That is why we should look on them only as a temporary expedient.
When public money is distributed to extend the commercial network, as is happening at the moment, the Government should insist on the long-term solution. We took evidence from a particularly impressive consultant, Mr Lorne Mitchell, who is setting up a community scheme in Goudhurst, Kent. I think he was the first to put it to me how important it was for local groups to be able to access the middle mile and to get the backhaul back into the infrastructure. He said that the key to the problem is the openness of the middle mile, which is the connection back to the internet. If this can be designed in a way that gives each community a chance to get to one of these community hubs, it would be a massive leap forward. That is precisely what the committee report has tried to promote. I think it makes a lot of sense. However, the government response simply quoted a report which said that it was unrealistically expensive to have hubs in every community, and so it would be if you were to launch it all overnight. However, ultimately, it would be no more expensive than the cabinets. It is the same technology but it is a question of making sure that when you roll out the hubs, you do what you are not doing at the moment with the cabinets, and that is making them available to all. To say that they will cost far in excess of the funds available to the Government at present, as the government response does, simply misses the point. If the Government can fund any hubs such as cabinets or exchanges, they should be accessible to the community and to other providers. This simply requires a change in specification, not a change in the scale of funding.
I hope the Minister will recognise that, however impressive BT’s record of rolling out broadband is—it has, indeed, been most impressive—the interests of the BT shareholder and of wider society, particularly the 10% in rural communities who will remain without adequate connectivity in 2017 if present policies are continued, are not always the same.
There is a much better and fairer way to make the UK’s telecoms infrastructure truly open and competitive – and also give much better value-for-money to the government’s interventions. The Lords highlighted the way – but the vested interests put a cloud over the path. Many assume because BT Openreach is called “open”, then it is open. It is not. Never has been. Never will be. Clever marketing.
In spite of many other schemes being “rolled-up” by the BDUK closed scheme where only BT can win, we are letting the Government and the English Counties inject the biggest single donation to BT’s balance sheet in a lifetime. Definitely not the best way to invest government money. Definitely not an open debate in the House of Commons on how to do it differently. Only in the House of Lords.
I am really pleased to say that we were told this week that the Goudhurst Broadband scheme that I presented to the Communications Committee is still going strong – with great support from Kent County Council and our Local Parish Council. You can find more at one of my other blogs: http://www.goudhurst.net I also blog about the final 10% (last point above) at http://www.finalninth.com – so for those who wondered what I do outside writing Thursday Thoughts – then this is some of it!
Let’s hope the Lords’ Report continues to be read and championed and that Monday was not the end of the work of trying to develop a new set of really good ideas for next generation internet access distribution for the UK.
At the end of a very busy few weeks, I managed to miss the announcement that OfCom, the UK Communications Regulator had published its annual review of the UK Communications Market. Just under £30 in paper format, it is free to download online <HERE>.
The summary on page 11 (which I have copied below) for me, says it all:
It is fascinating how many of the things that OfCom measures are moving so slowly: take-up and satisfaction of Digital TV; listening to the radio; Internet penetration and usage and satisfaction; mobile take-up and satisfaction etc. etc. This smacks of a mature market and a set of industry measures that somehow miss the next wave of development needed to make (some in BT would sake keep) the UK truly competitive.
If the truth that “What gets measured gets done”, I fear that Ofcom sits in a world of complacent self-satisfaction – not challenging itself to measure the key drivers behind the next wave of technology upgrade, not worrying about how to reposition the UK’s digital infrastructure to create jobs and make the UK more competitive, not concerning itself about how to use its extensive skills in economic analysis and drivers to cover the final 25% of the UK population that is not online. The only new measure is satisfaction on the speed of postal delivery. Hardly a measure that is ground-breaking! What about a “new” measure for the speed of traffic in Central London?
With the current very strange (nearing on ridiculous) process that is being run out of DCMS to gather suitable (politically-guided, politcally-correct) evidence for the up-coming Comms Act, neither the Government nor OfCom are creating the right environment to tackle many of the REAL challenges that face the UK comms industry in the next eight years. Nor are we getting enough debate on the REAL issues so that the government gets the necessary buy-in for the changes.
It was therefore refreshing to attend a seminar run by the Public Services Network Governing Body (PSNGB) on Thursday. Finally, I can see a new model emerging where the industry (as represented by the PSNGB Trade Association) combined with a part of government (run out of the Cabinet Office) create a new way of working and a new way of thinking about Government ICT procurement. Excellent organisation, excellent objectives, excellent vision to transform public services so they look like the commercial internet. The trouble is that we can’t use this network for commercial gain – as Europe has a set of crazy procurement rules – some of which are tying the well-intentioned DCMS/BDUK programmes up in knots!
Another organisation that I have found that is trying to get some momentum behind the final 25% is the phoenix that has risen out of the ashes of the”Race Online 21012″ campaign. They have chosen the interesting campaign title of “GoOn” – which many will read as GOON. I many ways, Monty Python and his Flying Circus would do a better job at getting the UK’s Communications Industry better organised for the challenges that lie ahead in the run-up to 2020.
The current circus is no longer amusing. The self-satisfaction on measuring things past, the arrogance to think that what is being done now will suffice and the closed-shop thinking being conducted on the Comms Act needs to be challenged loudly. I wonder if the House of Lord’s review will carry the weight that is needed to rattle the cage? Or maybe that is simply another act in the Circus? I hope not. In any case, it is definitely time for a reshuffle after the Olympics. The Future of the Telecoms industry needs to be debated and taken more seriously than it has in the past year – over-shadowed by the Olympics, Digital Rights and the Future of Museums. The only way to do that is to get it out of under DCMS’ brief and move it to a more enlightened part of government – perhaps back to BIS, or, more radically under DCLG, a Ministry for Infrastructure or the Cabinet Office.
As the world becomes more and more global and the European national political and economic frameworks remain stressed, each city is left to its own devices to attract inward investment and keep and grow talent.
In researching this area for a number of UK cities, a friend in the US sent me the link to this video. It is so clever on so many levels you have to watch it more than once:
Oh, and anyone thinking of moving into a new career of iPad magic shows, please let me know! I would love to learn how to do this kind of magic! Brilliant!
After having dug to a depth of 10 feet last year, French scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 200 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 150 years ago.
Not to be outdone by the French: in the weeks that followed, American archaeologists dug to a depth of 20 feet before finding traces of copper wire. Shortly afterwards, they published an article in the New York Times saying : “American archaeologists, having found traces of 250-year-old copper wire, have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech communications network 50 years earlier than the French.”
A few weeks later, ‘The British Archaeological Society of Northern England’ reported the following: “After digging down to a depth of 33 feet in the Skipton area of North Yorkshire in 2011, Charlie Hardcastle, a self-taught amateur archaeologist, reported that he had found absolutely sod all. Charlie has therefore concluded that 250 years ago Britain had already gone wireless.”
Just makes you bloody proud to be British, don’t it?
(Thanks, Richard, for sending me this on an email. I thought I would put it on the blog to share it more widely!)
At the recent evidence for the House of Lords Communications subcommittee, I drew attention to a great piece of thinking which was written-up in a book by Everett M Rogers in 1962 called “The Diffusion of Innovations”. It has since sold more than 30,000 copies, is now in its fifth edition and has become a classic on how ideas spread.
Often, when we think about innovation, we think of words like “new”, “creative”, “first-mover” etc. Diffusion is not really a word that instantly springs to mind. Yet Everett’s research has proved to be a robust model which has stood the test of time across many innovation cycles. Here is a great cartoon which outlines Everett’s five constituencies that need to be convinced about a new idea, product or service:
I particularly like the cartoon because it includes “THE CHASM” as the first gap across which all innovations much leap if they are to be successful and grow beyond the first 15-20% of any given market. How many ideas or innovations fail at this hurdle!
What is even more interesting to note are the different dynamics as you move from up the curve after the chasm has been crossed. To capture the “early majority”, then a “word of mouth” or “refer a friend” strategy is the main mechanism for growth. There are many examples on the internet where this has been institutionalised.
Once the early majority has been convinced, the late majority tends to be more convinced by the opinion of a number of individuals or other social groupings. Once again, the internet has helped to accelerate this in recent years with social media platforms and other types of discussion fora – further driven by well-designed applications that allow people to group themselves together in areas of common interest like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
As the Internet has accelerated the diffusion of ideas around the world, distance has become less important than it was in the 1960s. The fifth edition was updated in 2003 to address the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas. How much has changed, even since then!
I have found this a very useful model for all those struggling with marketing ideas, products and services in the age of the internet. It is always worth remembering that the tactics used for getting over the chasm are probably not going to be much use when you have to convince the Laggards. Perhaps the UK needs to understand the model better when looking at how we increase our usage for the internet as a whole – and particularly encourage the laggards to get online. Hence my use of the model when talking to the Peers last month.