Working Out Loud

WorkOutLoudCompanies, particularly large companies, are organised into departments, and departments are organised into teams. It would be a rare project where you did not need the expertise of someone outside your own team. Yet silos within companies persist. Collaboration tools are starting to break them down, but we need more than that, we need to change our working behaviour. Rather than working to a defined goal and sharing the output, we should share the work in progress and the process; we should work out loud.

Bryce Williams coined the term and defines two behaviours that combine to form “working out loud”

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

Or to paraphrase; “show and tell”.

Promoters of the concept give a long list of benefits;

Wow, with all of that good stuff why aren’t we all working out loud? Because it’s hard. It goes against everything our education and training have taught us.

All through school we’re told to show our own work, to prove what we know, and the pressure to do this grows as we face the exams of high school and then, if we’re lucky, the pressured halls of a university with still more exams, dissertations and theses. Even courses that promise group work still reward individuals on outcome, rather than process; meaning that teams form along ability lines pretty quickly – free-loaders and stragglers are left to rot. School is predicated on individual achievement.

Work isn’t.

At work we rely on the co-operation and collaboration of others, we draw on the expertise of others and after a project is completed it can be hard to discern who was responsible for each detail. Most often it doesn’t matter who did what, in a good team the pride is shared.

The idea of working out loud fits our new reality of work, plus we have the tools to share our work, and collect feedback/input in an easy way. But the change in behaviour is still a challenge, both as individuals and as a company change.

Bryce Williams suggests some ways to think about use cases for working out loud. While I do think that systematic efforts to change people’s behaviour are needed the biggest way to stimulate this change is to model the behaviour you want to see in the company.

The behaviours I try to demonstrate to build up my own habits of working out loud are;

  • sharing updates on the ESN Playbook I’m writing as often as possible, and these are becoming more content related
  • drawing on the work of others and providing commentary (as in this post)
  • sharing work of others – and giving them credit
  • asking for input or feedback

There are more ideas for working out loud (as well as what not to do) in this great article from HBR. What will you do to build your working out loud habit?

Image; noisy/ muhdfaiz / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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7 Ways to Name Your Business

nameI’ve been thinking about starting my own company recently and researching what I need to do; one of the first things is come up with a company name. It turns out to be very difficult, so I looked around at business names, they seem to fall into 7 categories.

I also asked friends who have started their own company for their ideas on choosing a name.

1 Your Name

It’s not wildly creative, but when the founder has a big personality and can be the face of the company then this can work. It won’t work when your name is very common (Smith), or has a common meaning (Baker), or already exists as a company name (McGregor, unfortunately). It’s often used in legal or professional services firms.

The downside is that when that charismatic leader leaves, sells, dies or retires the company’s name may not retain its brand strength.

Example; The Trump Organisation, founded by Donald Trump. He’s a controversial figure but there’s no doubt that he’s been the company’s head and a PR asset. He’s got around the question of what happens when the guy with the company’s name leaves – he’s hired his three children into high level positions.

2 The practical

The name describes the company’s product, it makes it easy for customer to understand what you do which simplifies marketing and advertising. General Motors, makers of vehicles, is an example of this.

The down side is that if your product range shifts your name may no longer fit your company, which is why the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company is now known as 3M, well that and it’s easier to spell.

3 Location Location Location

Use your company’s location as part of the name. This can give a serious tone for a professional services as in Boston Consulting Group.  But if combined with something more unexpected could be a perfect fit for a site reporting on technology and new media such as Dutch Cowboys.

4 The creative

Take a name that has no connection the product or industry, but perhaps a connection to the spirit of the company.

For example the founders of Starbucks like the connection to sea-faring and adventure. Richard Branson and his ‘Virgin’ co-founder wanted to play on the fact that it was their first business.

5 There are no words left

It’s hard to find a simple word, or even word pair, to describe a company, particularly with the added need to get a memorable and preferably short domain name.  It seems that there are no words to describe what we do, and anyway everything has been registered.

Lots of companies have therefore created new words, often built by small alterations to real words so that they don’t feel too hard for consumers to learn to spell.

Spotify, for example, both the root word “spot” and the suffix “ify” are known in English so this is easy for people to figure out how to spell, however it did spawn a lot of other -ify companies.

Some companies manage to create a new name that evolves into a word of its own. Google was apparently named based on the word “Googolplex” and a spelling mistake. Googolplex indicates an incredibly large number so the connection’s clear. But now google has entered common vocabulary as a verb, while relatively few people know the original base word.

6 Random combinations

As a function of the “there are no words left” reality lots of companies got creative, combining words that have no real relationship to each other or the product/service. But are memorable.

For example;

  • Strawberry Frog; a highly creative advertising and digital agency
  • Razorfish; a digital strategy agency
  • Red Kiwi; a digital service agency

7 The truly clever

Sometimes a company manages to strike the perfect balance between explaining their services and humour, making the name all the more memorable.

  • Joe Public; a marketing agency
  • Mint; a personal finance tool
  • Retriever; GPS for pets

So those are seven ways of thinking about how to choose a name, but what are the steps you should take? I’ve spoken to entrepreneurs recently about how they found their company name – in general there are five steps

  1. Brainstorm words
    I looked at words that meant something personal, described me, or described the business I want to create. I ended up with about four pages of words and phrases
  2. Combine those words into names that might work for your company.
    Eventually I had about six possible names.
  3. Test it in the smile or scratch test
    I added “can I stand behind the name?” and tried to imagine myself introducing the company to the executive board of a potential client company.
  4. Test the name with a cross section of people – potential customers
    A lot of names failed this test, I needed a name that worked in English and Dutch, and some words have unfortunate associations in one language. For example one potential name included the word “connection” but connexion is a bus company and that was people’s first association.
  5. Register the domain and social media accounts
    I would do this before company registration, you need to secure them and your company registration, at least here, is a public document.

Or you can do what I eventually did; I asked my mother.


image; hello my name is/ Robert Occhialini / CC BY 2.0

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Social Now; The Business of Adoption

I spoke at the Social Now conference in Amsterdam this morning, sharing some of the preliminary results from my research into implementing Enterprise Social Networks, and some tips on getting past the challenges. Here’s the presentation.

The biggest challenges so far seem to be around getting executive commitment, management buy in, and legal/risk issues. Do you agree? Add your input to the ESN survey.

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A New Source of Images

I try really hard to make sure I’m using images that are either rights free, creative commons or my own on this blog and in social media. So I go to wiki, or flickr, or sometimes look via google.

But there’s a new source available – Getty Images. They’re now allowing their images to be used online for free provided they’re embedded in an approved way. In their words

You can embed a Getty Images photo on a website, social media site or blog for free and without having to buy a license, as long as the photo is not used for commercial purposes (meaning in an advertisement or in any way intended to sell a product, raise money, or promote or endorse something).

I’m thrilled. Getty have some historic images, masses of photojournalism, cool vector drawings, and some very fine creative photography.

There are a few of downsides to consider when using this collection;

  • conditions of use mean that you’re not supposed to change the size of the image
  • you can’t crop or edit the image in any way – it’s less flexible for use than many images available under creative commons licences
  • the Getty footer will remain on each image (I see this as a fair exchange for using the image)
  • Getty could also change their conditions of use at any time, leaving you with an empty hole in your blog post (I assume the risk of this is small)
  • Not all images are available under this scheme, those that are have the embed icons next to them. Most of the ones I looked at were available apart from some historical images.

How can you use these images? Three steps;

1 Each image that is available for free use now has an embed code under it – click on that

EmbedGettyStep12 Copy the embed code, it’s the whole text highlighted in blue below. (If you click to share on twitter or Tumblr you’re taken directly to those sites. Twitter shares a link, with currently no preview. Tumblr shares the image on your tumblr page but not in the stream)

EmbedGettyStep2 3 Paste this code into your blog post, at first it will look like this;

EmbedGettyStep3aBut WordPress doesn’t accept iframes (there is a real risk around iframes), but will allow third party content to be displayed from trusted parties, so converts it to this. Don’t worry, it’s still just correctly embedded content.
EmbedGettyStep3bThat’s it – when you publish your blog post the image will appear in the blog post, with the Getty Images credit below it and the same share buttons you saw when you chose the image. (See the image below for an example).

With more than 80 million photos in their archive there’s a lot to choose from. No wonder I feel like the kid in the candy store!

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Brand Monitoring

Companies monitor their brands in social media, for consumer brands this has become a standard practice. It’s seen as a service channel for resolving customer issues (ING’s webcare team, Vodafone) a sales channel (Dell) and a way to resolve a reputation issue before it escalates to frontpage news (US airforce).

Given the huge amount of content added to the internet every day; 400 million tweets per day and 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, for example there is no way you can read it all. And you don’t need to. Because search tools work so well you can define the search terms you want to use to find content relevant to your brand across the internet. This should be more than just your brand name; consider the names of key personnel, products, taglines and potential misspellings.

Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 12.03.06 PM

Companies use sophisticated tools to monitor social media, giving them data in real time presented in a dashboard. For real people, or small companies getting started, there are some free tools around to get started.

Before you set up brand monitoring think through through a framework for responding. Start with; you don’t have to respond to everything.

US Army social media response diagramThe US Army came up with one of the first diagrams for responding on Social Media which still stands as a well thought out process to get you started (click on thumbnail to enlarge). It doesn’t seem to appear on US Army sites anymore, although their new Social Media Handbook is a more comprehensive document. TNT have a similar guideline aimed at individuals in their Social Media Handbook.

Those working on social media in an official capacity should agree on a response plan including;

  • how to handle trolls
  • what to do with irrelevant questions
  • to thank or not to thank – how to respond to positive feedback
  • how to identify individuals (using ^ in front of first name or initials at the end of a tweet is common for example)
  • what is the tone of voice
  • for more expert teams how to tailor responses according to the social media expertise of the customer.

It’s also important to analyse the impact you’re having, to do this you’ll need to measure;

  • follower/fan numbers; you can see the change in this over time and vs your competitors using wildfire. You can see a comparison of European airlines on twitter for example. I don’t think increasing these numbers should be your goal, and this data should not be viewed in isolation, but it does indicate your reach, and the trend is useful to follow.
  • Mentions; whether or not someone is  a fan or a follower they can talk about you. So what are people saying? Who’s doing the talking? You can use Google alerts if the volume is low, or one of the other free tools. If you have a high volume of mentions you will need a high powered tool such as Radian6 (Salesforce).
  • Sentiment Analysis; are the comments positive, negative or neutral? is that changing? and what is the context for that? Having worked in a financial services company during a difficult period I can promise you that the social media sentiment will reflect events and opinions outside your company.
  • Brand Impact; This is the ultimate measure, showing that social media makes a positive contribution to your brand it proves value of your work. There isn’t really an automatic tool for this, you would need to look at improved perception overall and limitation of reputation damage by social media activities.

It’s important to collect all four forms of data, analyse them and look for ways to improve the service offered, progress made towards brand value goals and trends. Most large companies are now past the stage of asking whether they should “do social media”, they’re no longer satisfied with the simple “fan number” stats, increasingly are looking for real value. With good monitoring, measurement and analytics in place you can prove this value and make it visible to management and across the company.


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Lessons from Science – Rate Limiting Step

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 9.12.17 PMI think most of us can grasp the idea of a bottle neck pretty easily. It’s the narrowest part of a bottle, and will limit how quickly you can pour your wine.

The term also gets used in business, where the step in a process or project that has a rate slow enough to be determining the completion time of the entire process or project.

A similar concept exists in chemistry, where one reaction in a series of reactions occurs at a slow enough pace that it determines the overall speed of the chain of reaction, it is called the rate-limiting step. I learnt about it in biochemistry 101, where metabolic pathways such as the break down of ethanol have an intermediate rate limiting step, the formation of Acetaldehyde which occurs quickly, followed by a slower breakdown of Acetaldehyde to acetate. It’s the build-up of Acetaldehyde that causes the physiological effects we associate with alcohol. Which also explains why if you drink slowly enough you won’t ever get drunk, whereas if you drink quickly the effects are soon felt. It was worth going to university just to learn that.

In a chemical process you get a buildup of whatever precedes the rate-limiting step, and you can occasionally increase the reaction speed by increasing temperature or adding a catalyst.

Similarly in a business process the slowest step determines the overall speed of the process, and if there’s a change in one step of the process the overall speed of delivery can be affected. And if a bottleneck is not analysed in a business process there will be consequences; much like the person who drinks too much too quickly. Usually the service or product to be delivered will be delayed or the quality reduced.

If you want to speed up a  business process analyse each step and look for the rate limiting step, assess the real cause of the slowness. In one office I worked we had a 7 day turn around time for one process. When a colleague and I looked into it there was no real reason for this delay, it was probably a legacy from a very old backlog. So the process looked like this;

Before ProcessLooking at it we realised that the actual process time was one day. All we had to do was clear the backlog and we could be turning around applications on the same day. Since the backlog is six days of work we asked our manager if we could both be put on working on the backlog full time for three days. It worked. We cleared the backlog, kept up with incoming applications and could move to same day service for all applications lodged before 3pm, and next morning collection for those lodged after 3pm.

This is a very simple example, but the steps are the same.

  1. Analyse the process, looking for the rate limiting step, this will usually be the step right after a build-up of product.
  2. look for the cause of the rate limiting step, this might require a deeper analysis in depending on the situation, the “five why’s” is one tool to help you get to the real right answer.
  3. Address that step, either by adding resources/equipment or by removing impediments or reducing the input.
  4. Check that the new process still runs smoothly, in the case above we had to get our manager and colleagues involved to make sure everyone stuck with the same day processing – bizarrely for some people it was difficult to understand that it was not more work.
  5. Go back to step 1 and look for the next rate-limiting step.

For more about how to think about rate-limiting steps I recommend the book “The Goal” by Dr Eliyahu M. Goldratt, it’s written in novel form and takes the reader through an analysis of a troubled manufacturing plant. Although it was first published in 1984 the principles still apply to any process.

And next time you’re out having a few drinks – pace yourself.

image; bottle necks / CC BY 2.0

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Risk and an ESN

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 13.51.45There are some genuine risk issues to consider when you set up an Enterprise Social Network, they fall into roughly four categories;

  • technology (if this is a business tool, what is availability required?)
  • legal
  • data
  • user behaviour

In the first phase of implementing our ESN we spent a lot of time discussing these, particularly the last one. I felt that too often we build something starting from a risk perspective – focusing on all the things that can go wrong. I really want us to start from a principle of trust, after all we wanted our people to trust each other in their online collaboration.

I kept these three principles in mind in all the discussions with the risk and legal professionals;

  • We trust our employees – most employees do the right thing, few make mistakes, and only a tiny tiny minority deliberately go against policy
  • We will demonstrate that trust
  • We will address real risk or legal issues

There were several “fear-based proposals” that came up for discussion during the implementation. I recall one proposal that someone should review all the images used by people in their profiles. My heart sank. I made a counter offer – as it was non-standard functionality it would need to be built and would cost x euro, I asked them to let me know when they had budget available. I never heard back. In the two years since launch thousands of people have chosen an image for their profile, most often an image of themselves. None have been problematic in any way.

In the end we went with the simplest terms and conditions we could when we introduced a collaboration platform at ING. We had really simple terms, in daily language and framed in the positive; “be nice”, for example, rather than “do not”.

For the most part people were “nice”, they posted mostly work-related content, were generous with their comments and mindful of the tone they were using. Even more remarkable, on the rare occasions when someone wasn’t “nice”, it was the community who addressed it directly and on screen. In at least one case the response reminded the poster that our business values include “respect”.

A reporting mechanism was also a requirement for us – so all users can report a post that they think is an issue – in 2 years, with over 50,000 users and over 25,000 posts we had just two posts reported, neither of which had lead to any real negative impact.

We’re not alone in this finding – other companies report similar outcomes.

It turns out that when people are posting under their own name, and where their colleagues and boss can see it, they post responsibly. You can trust them.

Image: Risk Factory / CC BY 2.0

This post is part of a chapter on risk from the book I am writing called “The ESN Playbook”

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