Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Using Core Values to Find a Brand's Voice

This post looks at if and how it might be possible to use core values to find the voice of the Tech Stories "Brand". 

I detail how and why we can go from helpful and supportive to getting a bit snarky, questioning the approach that people have taken if and when good opportunities for change are lost in education. 

I look at how and why this has happened with two FE projects and the Independence Referendum. Part of the reason for writing this post is in the hope that going from supportive to snarky doesn't happen with acting on Chris van der Kuyl's Scottish Learning Festival Keynote.

During #Cmgrhangout this week co-moderator Dom Garrett made a great comment with regard to finding the voice of a brand Vs your own voice as a Community Manager. This is an important topic for me at the moment because;

  • I am considering taking Tech Stories from a personal brand to a start up.
  • My activity over the last few weeks has seen me engage with policy makers and I need to decide how to deal with this as a brand.
I have been a little snarky in my blog in the past, sometimes in a considered and controlled way, at other times in quite an angry and frustrated way... and usually always about politicians and policy makers.

As Dom highlighted, being snarky is OK. Some organisations can be a little snarky and it works for the brand, but the Community Manager could be really nice and friendly on their personal feeds. 

It was quite funny when we discovered that Dom's #Cmgrhangout co-host Jonathan Brew was the voice of a brand that was popular with the women on the panel in a previous hangout.

Blog to Brand
If and when Tech Stories becomes a Limited company any previous grumpiness can be explained away as "This was when it was my personal blog" but 

  • What if I am snarky after this point?
  • What if staff are hired and I don't like their brand of snark? 
  • How do I differentiate any snarky comments I make today with others further down the line... if I don't have some guidelines?
The reason for exploring this today is because, following the Scottish Learning Festival, people I would normally be snarky about seem interested in what I have to say.

Thinking Out Loud: Core Values
The rest of this post is me "Thinking Out Loud" and spit balling some ideas, in part to let policy makers know what to expect and (hopefully) to start the process of setting some guidelines around Tech Stories voice.

I'll explore the issue of the brands' voice by road testing the core values as part of an ongoing assessment to see if they are able to help guide and inform day-to-day decisions.

Having had 10 years experience working with educators, so I know how difficult it is to innovate! 

There may be one or two people in a committee or SMT meeting who may be 100% up for exploring a new untested idea, but others may be less convinced. All perspectives and voices are valid and need to be heard!
Where it all began: Characters from Tech Story:
What Educators can Learn from Pixar's Toy Story
For the benefit of the "Hope over Fear" VoteYes educators who are proponents of technology and are frustrated with the pace of change... imagine if our ancestors had listened to the detractors with the Darien Scheme? Scotland may never have lost its sovereignty in the first place;)

I've found that the trick with listening to all voices and being able to innovate is to follow the example of tech companies, which is to work with the right groups at the right stage of an ideas' development.

I empathise a great deal with laggards. You might even say that I "get" the laggards more than I get the early adopters (I have a Blackberry and have no intention of reading a book on an electronic device any time soon. Enough said?).

Furthermore, just because you are not a fan of (or are not proficient with) technology, it does not mean you can't still be a master craftsman of an educator. 

Someone who draws this out better than anyone is Mike Fienberg. His 2014 GSV Summit presentation was fantastic, one of the messages was;

Master craftman of an educator in a bare room Vs A mediocre teacher with all the gadgets and gizmos...

Which class would you send your kids to?

In my opinion, what's important is making sure that you have people like Scott Hayden, Chris Grant and Dundee's very own Caron Sandeman in your school or college.

I even have empathy for politicians (believe it or not). We saw how keen Barak Obama wanted health care reform, but he faced some serious challenges with opposition parties and the industries lobby groups.

I also get that politicians need to show that they are doing "something" in a 4 year period to keep their jobs (whether reshuffle, or losing their seats in an election). One of these challenges may be that good ideas can take a while for results to come through.

I can't imagine that a politician would get praised too much from the media or party whips if their conference speech to included

"What my predecessor established is working, let's leave it another few years"

So having an understanding of the any challenges that people face in their job and obstacles with affecting change is important.

Honest Relationships
I will work with anyone, as long as the relationship is an honest one. I would far rather argue with a critical friend to identify the best solution, than politely go along with a bad idea just because the relationship wasn't strong enough to have an honest conversation and be able to say 

I've highlighted in a number of posts how I feel about the political classes... views that are not without good reason where I have plenty of solid examples of self interest and uselessness.

This includes personal experiences with this group. For example, a Minister for FE said that that they would "welcome hearing about my experiences," then suggested that I follow up with their colleagues. I took the time out to provide some ideas... and then hear nothing back from the "Right Honourable Gentleman" or any of their colleagues?!

This is by no means an isolated example. I mention this one in particular because I felt that the project the MP was involved with was focusing on the wrong area. 18 months on I see nothing to change my view... Except that the threats to the sector are more real than ever.

Today the sector seems as demolarised as ever while startups working in education are catching up at such a rate that I can see how the sector may be overtaken and disrupted, as I highlight in yesterday's post: The Pace of Change and Online Collaboration.

In the past I have tried to share my experiences and research with Gazelle, FELTAG and #The45Plus to question the direction they were heading in and/or to detail the opportunities that they were losing (See below).

It's not easy for anyone to hear "I think you're focusing in the wrong area." I know this because I spent 2 years trying to make ideas work, and letting go was an extremely difficult decision to make... Especially when I felt I had a good idea of where things might be heading.

We will collaborate with anyone where we can help, this includes collaborating with competitors. We will also highlight when there's no point of collaborating because the culture isn't right. This is regardless of how invested we are in a project. Some things that we are definitely not a fans of include;
  • Meetings where people throw their power about and/or strut their egos about and generally know so much that they won't listen to everyone in the room.

    I could not believe the crap that a friend at the Department of Health told me went on in MP's meetings, things like you can't speak to a Minister unless they speak to you first... fine china at the top end of the table for tea and cheaper stuff as you go down the table to the minions. I've no idea how accurate this is, if there was any exaggeration but, if it's true... GOOD GRIEF! GET A GRIP! 
"I do not recall anyone who thought that the internal combustion engine could ever have more than a limited use. All the wise people demonstrated conclusively that the engine could not compete with steam. They never thought it might carve out career for itself. That is the way with wise people – they are so wise and practical that they always know to a dot just why something cannot be done; they always know the limitations. That is why I never employ an expert in full bloom. If ever I wanted to kill opposition by unfair means I would endow the opposition with experts. They would have so much good advice that I could to be sure they would do little work" Henry Ford
  • Death by committee ie when you're told by a dozen people a dozen different reasons why something won't work.
“It can’t be done”, said the manufacturer positively, “no machine built will do that – it is out of the question”  “Out of the question!” exclaimed the engineer, “if you will come down to the main floor you will see one doing it; we built one to see if it could be done and now we want more like it.”

The factory keeps no record of experiments …a record of failures – particularly if it is a dignified and well authenticated record – deters a young man from trying. We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Henry Ford

Give me the 1-2 people in each committee who have a "Yes, if..." attitude and we can leave the "No, because..." Folks to debate precisely why it can't be done

How can we Help
Chris van der Kuyl said that education lacks leadership when it comes to innovation and, based on my experiences, I'd argue that he's right.

I think that the source of this lack of leadership has it's basis in some of the comments above and because people are too full of their own self importance to have the courage to say "We don't know the answer" and/or they will only collaborate when they see a benefit to them. Because of:
  • This lack of leadership (Or the inability to say "I don't know the answer"), 
  • The fact I have no problem saying "I haven't got a clue," but I do have 
  • A "What if..." attitude 
  • My sales, community experience and my research, I have a good idea of what's needed for ideas to get traction 
Today, I just get my sleeves rolled up and pitch in to try and create momentum if and when the conditions for change looks good. 

When I do this, I get the impression that people find it a little disarming... and maybe even wonder "What's the catch?" 

There is no catch. I'll help out for as long as the conditions look good, but I'll leave when the conditions change or when the idea/project gets a bit of momentum. If people question my motives I'll simply highlight these links:
We want to do quality work. We want to have quality relationships (Maybe defined as going good while having fun), and a good quality of life and the right life/work balance. I don't think any of this is possible if you don't have empathy, the right kind of relationships, be willing to collaborate and to just pitch in as and when you can.

I've found that good things come from working in this way. This is why I am exploring these values in the context of different scenarios, because they are so important to me. Even before any company is established, because CULTURE MATTERS!

A Snark in the Tale
If and when I get involved it's because the conditions are good and the opportunity is big. When the conditions are not good, we'll have honest discussions... even if the relationship is not there. Here are 3 examples

If enterprise in FE had went well colleges would be rolling out like Entrepreneurial Spark is.
  • I shared details of my Business Development Report with a founder of Gazelle 6 months before Gazelle was formed, the reply I received was "Interesting, I'll come back to you." but this person never did come back to me regarding the ideas I shared with them. 
  • I also suggested that Gazelle speak to Sir Tom Hunter because he had just delivered a speech at Holyrood. The content of his talk was that, after 10 years working with Strathclyde University on an entrepreneurship program, they had not made an impact on increasing entrepreneurship in Scotland. Four years later and Espark have! 
  • I suggested that listening to entrepreneurs who made their money a few years ago may not be the best people to listen to. A well known luxury gym celebrity entrepreneur was opening 2 new gyms (and moaning about customers on social media who were saying his costs were too high), while The Gym Company was opening 60 gyms in the same period. 
  • Despite suggesting 10 ideas ideas that could generate income for FE I didn't manage to engage people involved with this and detailed my thoughts in my The Problem with Gazelle post. This was written in the hope of being heard with the FELTAG project.
With a little bit of collaboration and due diligence the Espark model could easily have been the one that FE could and should have adopted, instead we have a Entreprenuship program that has not achieved product market fit and has 27 colleges using a program that has cost £3.5 million.

I spent a year on my Technology in FE report: Developing Relationships and Delivering Value and tried to get anyone who would listen, that they were focusing on the wrong area.
  • I tried to reach out to the good, the great and important of FELTAG to share my research and expertise.
  • When I eventually did get through to people, after making an unconventional introduction, I was asked to share my experience but I heard nothing further.
The conditions during the Independence Referendum were special! I wrote 30 posts between Sept-Oct 2014 and mostly looked at the culture of the post referendum movement. I even argued that the conditions that led to Silicon Valley's uber collaboration were here during the referendum (Ie that the relationship between England and Scotland was not entirely different to William Shockley and "The Traitorous Eight". 

I left the scene when these conditions disappeared.  

Raising the Digital Generation/Developing the Young Workforce
The opportunity here is immense, not because of the government's Developing the Young Workforce report, if they'd looked at California's "One City" approach they might have saved a lot of time and money. 

The opportunity is here because of Chris van der Kuyl's presentation, IF momentum can be built. 

Not only am I a huge fan of Circle the Schools, I 100% believe that Scotland could become the most innovative country when it comes to technology in education. There are certain conditions that make it ideal.

But there are a few challenges... Challenges that Chris' presentation would address. However, enthusiasm for this message will not be around for long. By the time all the committee meetings and MP reports have been drawn up, any opportunity might be gone.

Chris is right, this is not the time for strategising, this is the time to act,,, so I'm acting. Just because I can. Through previous projects I have an idea of some things that might work (Not saying they will, I'm saying they're worth exploring), so I'm testing the ideas. 

As always, people know where to find me and I'm happy to collaborate... In the mean time, I'll be pitching in and doing some stuff regardless of whether people get in touch or not.

In summary... 
As a brand we can and will get snarky, this snarkiness will usually be fueled by the idiocy of big important people letting big important opportunities slip... Just because they have big and important jobs/expertise/titles* (delete as appropriate) to listen. 

As a brand Tech Stories will not get grumpy or snarky without adhering to these core values. 

We'll make sure that we understand the external and internal pressures and challenges when engaging with stakeholders.

Honest Relationships 
It is only through honest relationships that the best solution can be found. If the relationships are not ones where we feel comfortable having difficult discussions, regardless of who the person or group is, how senior, "honourable" or influential is... we need to consider the value of maintaining the relationship. 

We'll collaborate with anyone as long as the conditions are good and we're not on the bus to Abilene and/or no progress is being made due to power trips, egos and procrastination 

How Can we Help
We'll help out where and when we can any time we feel we can help and when the conditions look promising. The reason for providing any assistance will be... Just because we can.

Calling it a Day
However...If we offer the benefit of our experience and people are not interested and/or fail to take advantage of opportunities with good cultural conditions for change... then we cannot guarantee that we won't leave the scene and, as we do tell all the important people that they've been idiots because they have squandered an opportunity.

Is it just me or does this sound like "If we like you, we'll be friendly... But if you decide to play funny buggars, we'll be telling you exactly what we think of you as we're getting out of dodge?"

Meh! I can live with that! ...because life's too short and there's too much work to be done to be playing politics, I'll leave that to the experts and bow out gracefully (or maybe even disgracefully and grumpily) and move on to something else.  

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