Operating Principles: what rules do you operate by?

What is it that I have learnt working in digital for over 20 years? What are the things in my career which have made the most impact on myself & those who have worked with me over that time?

I regularly get asked to provide insight, guidance & direction on how to approach customer, business & organisational problems, and every time the answer is the same;

What are your operational principles? Does the business, team, customer know what you, your team or your products stand for in the eyes of the consumer (internal & external)?

In my current role at News Corp Australia this is very much the focus of the team, as we hit against the 7 most expensive word in business daily;

We have always done it that way

So, I thought it was time to share my 13 operating principles that I try to build across my teams & those who work with then. My career to date has run through Waterfall, Agile, Lean, Kanban, #hacklife, Essentialism etc. and these still remain current & have true value everyday.

You can take this as a personal charter, a foundation to how you need to operate in today’s connected world & also those rules to keep true in all that you endeavour to achieve.

1/ There are no sacred cows

If there is a different way of doing something, look into it and test it. Take a step back & observe ‘is there a better way?’

2/ Ask for forgiveness not permission

It is OK to break the rules or processes, as long as you are able to recognize why they are there in the first place, and your approach is less but better.

3/ Less > more

Simple, effective and quick always trumps comprehensive, complex and late. Simplicity trumps complexity in everything, every time.

4/ Increment by default

Less features, less people involved, less time, less money. Start small, then scale, focused on the customer ‘jobs to be done’ at every increment.

5/ Embrace and be inspired by constraints

Creativity happens when people are solving problems and have constraints placed on them. Fix time, scope or resources, as this will aid creativity. The cost is the same to think 10% or 10x, so focus the team or your thinking on the biggest impact.

6/ Think big picture

Work from the top down: big picture/customer proposition first, then move into details. Focus on the solution too quickly means you will miss the patterns.

7/ Make decisions quickly and then move on

You are empowered. Always make lots of little decisions, and are prepared to kill things if they’re not working. Fail to learn as fast as possible.

8/ Everything is a work in progress & fluid

Iterate by default & build hypothesis to test & learn from for future iterations. Fluidity of teams & decisions means you are able to move quickly, respond to change & focus on the core need. Think & operate like a flock of birds or shoal of fish.

9/ Make it real as quickly as possible

Customers should play with and respond to real things, prototypes, as quickly as possible, instead of hypothetical concepts or mockups. Focus effort on the real. Move the powerpoint after you have conceived the proposition & experiments you want to test.

10/ Everything starts & ends with the customer

Conceive & design & develop with a customer fixation- solve customers’ problems & needs, then we get out of their way. The core needs of the customer will remain consistent, but you need to have empathy with their lives.

11/ Learn from customers

Look for patterns in real signals from the customer, be flexible and open to change tack. Everything is a system, so connect the dots for the customer.

12/ Think & operate like a network

Integrate everything — weave features, products and services across and into every offering. What you do should be easily found by, understood & delight the customer. Everything is a system or network, so look for the dots & connect them.

13/ Celebrate success and learn from failure

It’s ok to get things wrong, as long as we learn from the experience. Not everything will succeed: that’s why we back multiple horses. What you celebrate will form the culture of your team/business & also reflect on how you succeed.

Take these, evolve them for your teams & yourself, but what I have found from across multiple years working in digital, it is key to remain true to your principles & to have these foundational principles there to reference regularly.

Everything around you will change, extinction is the rule, so having your foundations clear makes everything clearer, increases focus, drives purpose and everything else is ‘upside’.

Onwards & upwards.

Google’s growing problem: 50% of people do zero searches per day on mobile


Great piece on the challenges that Google has in relation to time and user interaction models on mobile. Search provided consumers with simplicity of discovery and pathing on desktop, but on mobile the user journey is more fragmented and also a single tap to discover (and with voice interfaces even easier) so the number of searches per day, per user is dramatically less on mobile than desktop. This is creating an exponential challenge for Google, as Apple integrates search into the core iOS, Android is an open OS, so is not one flavour on all mobiles and also the tap/app/tap/app model means that consumers have the information they are interested in right there …no need to use the Google box to navigate to it.

Originally posted on The Overspill: when there's more that I want to say:

Amit Singhal in 2011 showing a comparison of search volumes from mobile and “early desktop years”. Photo by Niall Kennedy on Flickr.

Amit Singhal, Google’s head of search, let slip a couple of interesting statistics at the Re/Code conference – none more so than that more than half of all searches incoming to Google each month are from mobile. (That excludes tablets.)

This averages out to less than one search per smartphone per day. We’ll see why in a bit.

First let’s throw in some more publicly available numbers.
• more than 100bn searches made per month to Google (total of desktop/ tablet/ mobile).
• about 1.4bn monthly active Google Android devices. (Source: Sundar Pichai, Nexus launch.)
• about 1 billion monthly active Google Play users. (Source: Sundar Pichai, Nexus launch.)
• about 1.5bn PCs in use worldwide.
• about 400m iPhones in use worldwide. Probably about 100m…

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The future power of newsrooms is in understanding the platform world

I have bumped into this ‘challenge’ over & over again throughout my 20+ year career in digital media. What platform are we creating our content for? How do we make sure our process, tools & technologies are able to adapt & respond to new platforms?

Sadly, there are a number of large businesses who are still not able to answer this question or who have bet the house on a platform which is no longer the most relevant to it’s customers. Storytelling is key to the human race, it has been occurring since the cavemen shared stories around a fire, but they moved to tell stories via cave paintings as they wanted to tell a wider audience, and the rock face was the platform. This has been the evolutionary case over time, with print presses, radio, TV & now digital (and the internet).

As we are now in a world where the mobile internet is THE primary habit for keeping connected, therefore those who are telling stories need to evolve their output and processes to these connected, mobile platforms.

The platform is eating the world (well, mobile video is actually), so therefore media organisation or those who want to tell stories needs to accept this, acknowledge it and then change their newsroom processes and outputs to meet the needs of the customers/readers …well, this will be connected viewers really, but you get what I mean.

This posting on Medium also outlines this challenge, so have a read:

Building platform agnostic newsrooms and platform perfect content

Embrace your constraints & drive innovation: the value of the hackathon

Having worked at a number of digital businesses who have internal ‘hackathons’ I have always seen the great value of getting diverse teams together, constraining them with either key problems to be solved or time & resources constraints …and then amazed by the creativity & execution which is possible under these conditions. At Yahoo! the Yahoo! Weather app, a number of key features within Flickr, Mail & Sport came from the EMEA or Global hackathons, and even in AOL (back in the day) the ability to set diverse teams against a customer problem generated a number of new approaches using technology (in those days there FDO and Rainman!!)

These events allow all employees critically to ‘fail safe’ and also to come at a business or customer need from multiple angles, connect the dots between how to answer the ‘job to be done’ using technology & then execute.
We have instilled this within News Corp Australia through our NewsFoundry initiative (next one end of the month) & all the teams across the business are now using this approach from the startup/digital world to enable innovation.

To understand more the value of these ‘hackathons’ read the following from Pedram Keyani from @Uber but formerly @Facebook, as it articulates the value this organised events can have on the culture, execution focus & employee engagement within a business.

Hacking Company Culture

A Simpler Life

Very interesting to read this article – https://theconversation.com/the-simple-life-manifesto-and-how-it-could-save-us-33081– on @ConversationEDU discussing the ‘footprint’ of the population here in Australia & it made me think about how connectivity, drones, automation & innovation can be used to balance the right ecosystems around us to sustain us.

What if you were able to create micro-footprints around the world for all you needed, share these with anyone & then collaboratively reduce the burden on the Earth’s resources …