Talent and playing to your strenghts

Malcolm Gladwell launches a new book soon, Outliers, which I can’t wait to read. It’s topic, quite broadly, is talent and the new world of work. I’m not sure which way he is going to swing with the book, but he always ensures a gripping read and a different view point that stun most of his reading audience, this blogger included!

But tonight I was reading his latest article for The New Yorker and seem to have stumbled onto his new contention – that talent sometimes takes time to incubate and that the greatest artists/writers and creative people of all time tend to either be young geniuses or old masters. He notes in his article, however, that the young guns get much more celebrity and kudos because they are young than those who become masters late in life. In his New Yorker article, he compares artists Picasso and Cezanne, who came to creative mastery at polar opposite stages in life.

Buddy Love

We here in Australia also share this preponderance to celebrate youth more than they often deserve – from the AFL Draft and the mystery and news paper inches filled with wondering about who will pick up the latest talent, to the fresh celebrity of a new graduate employee who holds a certain ‘something’ that makes them more important or valuable than the older stage-rs.

Col Duthie posted last week at the Ergo Blog about how HR departments often try to ‘fix’ people within their companies by attending to their weaknesses with training programs and development course, when they should really be trying to leverage people for their strengths. I agree with this kind of thinking, but the Gladwell article has served to make me pause before blindly calling halt to working on my weaknesses. What is the best type of talent strategy to leverage your company towards a more innovative organisation?

Is it to find the best talent, perhaps the best marketer, creative or even administrative assistant and deal with the variants on performance such personality types experience? Or should HR functions search for people on the path towards their ultimate mastery, and thus pick people up who are still learning and can be funneled into ‘learning and development’ programs?

Perhaps more broadly, is it better for people to create the right environment and pursue their dreams of being ‘the’ person in their field? This is the kind of thinking I am most enamoured with lately. Pat Allan (whilst he will claim he is far from there) is doing it with gusto. Tim Ferris has made a living from giving himself space to ‘be’ and created a huge bread-crumb trail for people to follow with his 4-Hour Work week. Julian Cole seems to be carving out a great niche in something he loves, Sandra Arico is making amazing waves in the world of consulting whilst Ross Hill has become ‘the’ Ross Hill recently with the continued baby steps of Yabble. My question – how do you create that environment? Gladwells book should provide yet more fodder for the brain, but right now do you prefer the young-genius route or the old-master route…and which path are you on?

Connectivity to solve poverty: How would you connect?

As I sit at home, exhausted after a huge last week and begin (finally) preparing my post for Blog Action Day, I have been contemplating a comment sent to me by my dear friend, Melina Chan recently. Melina is current located in Cambodia, working on an AYAD program around micro-finance lending and community development to alleviate poverty. She is an amazing person, and a true ‘squiggly thinker’ – she’s absolutely amazing at creating organic, win-win, high value relationships with good people to solve complex problems, and someone I have learned a lot from in the time I have known her.

She commented on one of my posts late last week asking for advice on how the many different AYAD participants, who are spread geographically around the Asia-Pacific region, could better communicate and share learning’s across timezones, locations and dodgy-internet. Specifically, she says:

“We are often isolated geographically, with limited internet access (ie. dial up speeds, unreliable connections, downtime in power shortages and thunderstorms), and are often the only native English speakers in our organisations.”

So, on Blog Action Day, I thought what better way to act than post about the problems Mel is having in Cambodia and hopefully, with your comments, provide her with information and possible solutions she can use in the fight against poverty. Please comment with any suggestions, technologies or any other ideas you may have. This is for her! Some of my suggestions are below, which I’ve tried to create based on three key issues Mel will be facing in the field:

1) Limited/sensitive connectivity means the internet can drop out or be unavailable at anytime. Thus, any service used must either be a) mobile web enabled or b) remain intact and accessible even if some people with the AYAD network can’t access it for a time.

2) Remain time-independent. The AYADs often travel in-country, and would often be away from a computer for days/weeks/months on end. Thus, organising time for the whole network to meet will almost certainly be impossible.

3) Whilst it will be tough for the whole network to group together at once, it should be easier to form small groups of conversations/sharing. Even just 2 person conversations are hugely valuable.  

Dealing with limited internet access

Obviously, this will be the toughest problem to solve. Tim Costello, in one of our interviews with him for the Learn About Poverty blog, commented that a reportedly better solution to poverty was to buy mobile phones for everyone in need due to the devices ability to connect people for trade, business and political opportunities.

So in this case, I would suggest giving some mobile connectivity devices such as twitter a go. World Vision International were using twitter for a time to communicate to a small internal audience with status reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was an experiment, which was curtailed afterwards because of it’s inability to scale but the technology still worked. Perhaps, you could create a small twitter account which AYADs could update to with links or asks for help. ie: “Does anyone have a strategic planning framework to use when facilitating?”

Creating tacit knowledge ‘sinks’ 

The other option, if it eventuates that twitter doesn’t work, is actually a tool I posted about on the digital-flexi-tools post, Campfire. Campfire is a relatively low bandwidth program, which opens up a chat and allows you to swap files (hard under the conditions you’re in) and chat with people live. The real beauty of campfire, is that those conversations are recorded, so the history of your conversation remains there for other AYADs to view, creating instant, global access to tacit knowledge. I subject I know you (Mel) are very keen on!  You can create a sink of knowledge, but constantly having conversations on your campfire site, and encouraging other AYADs to do the same.


Unlike normal IM programs, Campfire can be organised by emailing a link to people and perhaps organising a time to meet there. Just like a true campfire, it tends to be used as a destination to meet. Once around the campfire, you can chat and discuss issues you need to, and share links etc etc on a low-bandwidth connection. If you had internet connection, I’m certain this would work (let us know how you go).

Utilise Google Docs to create copy-paste content

This is a tougher one. Google docs is a pretty awesome place to share documents without needing to send huge files over email etc. I would suggest that you move any documents you have, which may be valuable to other AYADs, to a google docs account. This way, you can include AYADs on any edits that take place, as well as allow people to copy-paste format independent content into whatever business/program/proposal template they may happen to be writing.

They can then add their own content back, and share it with you when you are ready. This is a key feature. Just like campfire, the content you put into the google docs account stays there, so it doesn’t require large active members, online live, to become a useful service. All you would need is the internet to be working (granted, not a guarantee) and you can access templates and content anytime, without needing to connect with others then. Again, this doesn’t need a huge number of people active within the community to be immensely valuable, and once you have two or three people adding content, the resource suddenly becomes much more powerful and more useful for others to see and add to.

Start small. Don’t expect to get to home base on the first date

Getting every member of the local AYAD network on board at the conception stage of these tools will be really tough. You’ll be better off Mel taking some advice from Ross Hill and just start small, with a simple idea of what you want to achieve. 

You might: Get up a campfire, and invite one other person in your time zone to join in. Discuss something of value to both of you, and then once you have that conversation ‘in the sink’ forward another invite and repeat it with someone else, building on the first conversation. Soon, you’ll have a comprehensive, recorded text discussion of how people would approach your topic. People will then flock to the campfire to remember what they discussed, copy-paste any useful content and generally use the service to improve their work. Once you have this in place, you can grow to including full business proposals on Google Docs etc etc, but start simple. You don’t expect to get to home base on the first date, so don’t expect it here 🙂

That’s some of my thoughts. Please, I’m want to hear your thoughts out there about how Melina could keep communication up between AYADs to improve their knowledge and sharing abilities. Hopefully, we can create a great ‘knowledge sink’ ourselves which Melina can use to make things happen and better deal with poverty.

5 key steps to good innovation – lessons from Start Up Camp Melbourne

I write this from a laundromat in St Kilda, extremely fatigued and keen to hit the hay after the enormous weekend that was #SUCM (or, Start Up Camp Melbourne). The event was based around a simple idea I love – get together with a great group of people, many of whom were strangers or simply twitter associates, and start up a company in a weekend.

So, what we’re my big take aways from the day? What have I learned about innovation and making it happen? Here’s my top 5:

1) Innovation happens best with limited time:

Innovation is something that everyone has. It’s not a special function, and it’s not a gift. The act of creating something new, that provides a new and better solution for an old problem is one that is entirely dependant on the cool people around you to help ideate and the amount of time you have to spend on it.

Ideation doesn’t have to be long. We can get caught up with slick processes and drawn out market research, but in the end there is nothing like a time limit to provoke new creations and group cohesion around a product. At SUCM, we had about 3 hours to form a new company, find a venture idea we liked, register the domain (etc) and then begin planning our attack. If you are stuck with a problem or in an ‘opportunity drought’ try creating a spare half hour, move off for a brainstorm and force yourself to come up with something in the alloted time. You’ll be surprised by the results.

2) Can you exit after 2 days?

This one is a bee in my bonnet. Can you ideate a new venture, do the market research and lay the strategy down, write the business plan, build a working (!) prototype and then…down tools and sell your work to a strategic buyer in the industry you’re new creation was set to play in?

We created the new web-app-service, www.abitofpluck.com. The amazing guys working on the prototype (such as Michael Specht, ‘George’ Provoost, Jason Brownlee, Pieter and John Sherwood) whipped up a working service app that would have (I think) some interest to Twitter. Yes, the business has no traffic, and no brand – but the very fact they experimented with the technology, created a phase 1 working prototype and had about 20 first time users within the first few hours proves the concept may have legs. Would it be possible to sell our progress so far to Twitter for 10k+?

I think it’s a key area for corporate innovation units to focus on in the coming years – both how to find and buy cool immature prototypes from gun innovators OR sell their own internal innovations to existing suitors within the corporate world to leverage new revenue streams and business relationships. Why not?

3) Evaluate opportunities based on revenue streams…not passion

We selected www.abitofpluck.com based largely on the fact that we wanted the challenge of building the business case and prototype for it over the next 48-60 hours. SUCM is largely an experience best used for learning as opposed to revenue creation, so the idea of working on a dull idea which may generate cash wasn’t too appealing to the group. 

We would have created a much more valuable (potentially trad-able value…see point 2) business had we started by picking the idea we could generate the most number of revenue streams from. Not most revenue…but the most streams. In the end, we struggled to find more than 3 real revenue streams for www.abitofpluck.com – in hindsight, we should have brainstormed the maximum number of ways we could generate cash (fast) from our ideas at stage one, and picked the business which had the highest number of associated ways to create revenue.

4) Reduce the risk, increase the comfort

When pitching to the angel investor, Jordan Green, I realised that many of us hadn’t prepared to reduce the risk to the investor, whilst raising their comfort. Whilst this one is pretty ‘pitch’ focused, internal innovation still speaks to the need to be transparent with weaknesses and market threats that may upset the apple cart when your new venture launches.

Especially, I found:

– Highlight your Weaknesses and Threats in your SWOT more than your Strengths and Opportunities. Once your weak points are highlighted, link how you will mitigate them with the inherent strengths and industry opportunities of your venture.

– Openly discuss your Critical Success Factors, and then continue to explain how you will ensure that your venture achieves each one. Ask ‘what would kill our new venture?’ and then find strengths and strategies to meet these success factors.

5) Be agile and tell a story

This is a shout to the talented programers named above who I worked with on www.bitofpluck.com. These guys were able to create what they did (from my perspective) because they had a clear idea of the story needed to be told to the user. By breaking down the venture into a clear story, the guys we’re able to split up the tasks required for the user, and then develop the parts in conjunction. As such, we we’re the only group to present a working prototype at events end, because we only created parts of the business required to get us to the simplest form of opperation. This is an existing methodology, and not particularly new in the tech world.

But, where innovation is concerned, try creating each revenue stream as an addition to the whole user story and then split the business planning process up to ensure that each revenue stream is scoped and contributing towards the creation of a sustainable competitive advantage. Try it out and see. Myself and Duncan Riley found this approach worked well during the event.

So that’s it. All up, the event was pretty amazing and the group of people assembled was top notch. A huge shout out to Bart Jellema for seeding the idea for the group (from Sydney) and leading the charge and to Maxim Shklyar for being the ideal host for the opportunity hungry mob that descended on his studio for the weekend. Top marks also to the aforementioned Michael Specht for playing a large hand in organising the event, and making sure the right people knew of it’s existence. Here’s to the next one!!!