Tag Archives: business cliche

Critical Mass

Wikipedia defines critical mass as the point when;

a sufficient number of adopters of an innovation in a social system so that the rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.

When people will adopt depends on where they sit in the adoption lifecycle, and if you’re managing the implementation of a innovation into a company it’s crucial to help each group in their own adoption process. Critical mass is usually said to fall between the early adopters and the early majority, although some research puts it further into the early majority phase.

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The five categories can be defined as:

  • innovators – eager to try something new, need little training
  • early adopters – quick to try something new, seek out new experiences, see benefits of the innovation
  • early majority – open to new ideas, will try something if the purpose is clear, influence to colleagues
  • late majority – want proof it works, safety and systems around anything they use,
  • laggards – reluctant to change, sometimes only change because their existing tool is obsolete, or no longer available.

Not everyone is the same type for all innovations I’m an example of someone who can be an early adopter with one innovation and a laggard with another – I joined Linkedin in about 2005, but didn’t get a smart phone until last year.

Critical mass, where the growth in adoption becomes self sustaining, is reached when the early majority start to take up your innovation.

I’m trying to apply this to our implementation of an Enterprise Social Network, we have a total target audience of about 65,000 and so far 45,000 have signed up to use the tool. So that sounds like we’re already into the late majority – job done.

Except signing up is a low impact activity and doesn’t reflect a real use. It just means the person has agreed to the terms and conditions.

So I’ve been looking for some other measurable behaviours which we could consider as a threshold for use.

We see a monthly report on active users. To be considered an active user you need to have done something – anything – in the time frame measured. The activity could be five useful answers to five other users or it could be a comment or a like. So it’s a very broad measure, but by this measure we are into the early majority as of January – just.

We have implemented badges on our enterprise social network and this might give the best measure of where we are on the adoption lifecycle. The lowest level badge, the “starter” badge rewards a low level of activity; a post and a few comments and you’re there. By this measure we’re about to enter the “early adopters” stage. However badges were only introduced 6 months after launch so they under measure the adoption activity.

Looking at all these measures, the data per country, and reviewing how the Enterprise Social Network is used I believe we’re still with the early adopters across the company, but we’re into the early majority in the two countries with the largest numbers of employees. This is huge progress. Now the challenge is to embed this Enterprise Social Network in the company, my real measure of success is when it’s just how we work.

Image Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Streisand Effect

Nothing to do with singing, everything to do with pointless and futile attempts at hiding or censoring information results in a surge of unexpected (and unwanted) attention. The name came about when Barbara Streisand tried to use the courts to suppress photos taken of her house in 2003.

There’s been a bit of it going around lately, with a new twist, the publicity has been used to raise money for charity.

Never Seconds & Mary’s Meals

A nine-year-old blogger set out to document her school lunch, setting up a scale of quality for the meal and taking a photo every day. She was also raising money for a charity called “Mary’s Meals” which raises money to feed children in Malawi. Her target was 7,000 GBP – enough to build a school kitchen. So far a very normal story… until the council authorities got involved and told her she could no longer photograph her school meals.

This led to an outpouring of outrage on behalf of the blog’s owner, Martha Payne, with many of the outraged donating to her cause. She’s now raised over 100,000 GBP, enough to build a school kitchen and feed 10,000 Malawi students for a year. (You can still donate if you want to!). Martha is now a finalist for the 2012 Great Scot Award, as she said of her nomination “I think it’s really for everyone that has supported Mary’s Meals“.

Martha had already had attention of local press, and a tweet of support from Jamie Oliver, so there’s no doubt she was going to do well with her blog. But when the Argyll and Bute council (who run the school) tried to stop her photographs her charity total was at around 2,000 pounds. She reached her 7,000 pound target within hours, and the following day it reached 45,000 pounds.

The negative PR swamped the council within hours – emails were pouring in from all over the world pointing out the silliness of the decision to ban her photographs, and pretty soon the council backed down. It’s a lesson for other councils, OK, it’s a lesson for all of us. Next time you’re tempted to tell people what they can and cannot say about your brand online, stop, think of Martha – and make a donation.

The Cloud

Cloud storage, putting it in the cloud, cloud data; these and similar expressions are entering business language. The Cloud is being touted as a solution to all hosting, data management and infrastructure woes. The very name conjures up some thing soft, white, fluffy – essentially innocuous.

But what does it mean? Is it really an answer for business?

Cloud computing is essentially an outsourcing mechanism. It means that instead of building all the storage capacity, infrastructure, platforms and software inside your company, you can treat those as a service and use the service as you need. The concept has been around for a while – first as a theory and now we’re heading towards reality with a range of solutions that come under the definition of cloud computing. The simplest of these, Software as a Service (SaaS), was something I implemented for our company’s Business School using a learning management system from NetDimensions about 10 years ago.

It’s a natural development, and a good step. It means that a company can access flexible capacity quickly, even temporarily. It is part of a trend of commoditisation of IT, where parts of IT are standard and can be treated as a utility rather than as a strategic supply.

But there are issues;

(1) Whose Cloud?

If you’re a large company you probably have a several service suppliers all of whom want to provide services in the cloud. What they mean by that is their cloud, which means you could still end up deal with several different environments.

(2) Whose Data?

By using the cloud you are handing your data over to an external party. In theory they could use or alter the data. This is a big privacy concern for many end users and companies considering using the cloud.

(3) Who’s There?

Security remains the biggest barrier for many companies thinking about adopting the cloud, potential customers quite rightly have concerns about issues such as access to sensitive data, privacy, exploitation of bugs, recovery, malicious insiders and multi-tenancy issues.

(4) Legal Issues

There are a whole host of legal and compliance issues to examine when looking at cloud partners. If you’re in the EU for example, you’re probably going to want a data centre hosted within the EU to comply with legislation regarding the export of personal data.

I think the cloud is the inevitable next step in enterprise computing, but it’s a complex change for an organisation to make and there are many problems to solve before it’s implemented. It’s not as simple as “putting it in the cloud” sounds.

image Clouds /theaucitron/ CC BY-SA 2.0

SoLoMo

Have you heard this term yet? I have and every single time I have to unpack the three words that contribute to the term to understand what the speaker means.

Social – Local – Mobile. It’s an attempt to coin a single word that combines the potential of these three trends. It’s being called a revolution that “picks up where hyperlocal left off

Or not. I’ve only heard the term used by Americans, and at one conference recently it was met with blank stares from an audience drawn from 10 or 12 European nations.

The New York times gives a definition, helpfully pointing out that it’s “unique to the mobile device”. Makes sense – my desktop doesn’t move more than about 5 cm in either direction.

The examples I’ve found seem to be new businesses focusing on entertainment, few service organisations or established businesses seem to be using this at all.

  • Forecast is a fun and simple way for friends to share where they’re going.
  • SCVNGR is a game about doing challenges at places
  • Foodspotting; Find and recommend dishes, not just restaurants.
  • Localmind is a new service that allows you to send questions and receive answers about what is going on—right now—at places you care about.

Those listed are all US-based, they all use the geo-location (local) function of your phone (mobile) to let you send some form of message (social). Like any social tool they rely on a critical mass to be truly useful; in the same way that the first fax machine was useless, and only started to become useful as others came into use. So it’ll be interesting which of these (if any) survive.

I’m also curious to see whether an established business will build an own tool – my guess is not, they’re more likely to find ways to advertise and provide services through whichever SoLoMo tools emerge as having the numbers to make it worth while.

Will the term catch on in Europe? Who knows, among non-English speakers it may require just a little too much explaining. In any case I’m not the only one who cringes when I do hear it. Techcrunch have already called for the term to die.

Walled Garden

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 5.47.34 PMTraditional walled gardens protected the plants from high winds and frost, in fact they often create a warmer micro-climate as the brick walls release stored heat from the sun. They often sit alongside stately homes, where they would have provided vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers for the household.

The same term has been borrowed for a more modern, geek-world use. It has come to mean a virtual environment where entrance/access is controlled. The best examples currently are facebook – which controls a person’s access and the provision of content, and apple’s operating system which limits developer and user access.

Sometimes the walled garden is created as a security measure, but most often it’s now a way of maximising profits. A supplier wants to keep you in their own environment as long as possible – that way you’re more likely to buy from them or be exposed to more of their ads for which they earn income.

However more cynical visitors may refer to the area as a “walled desert” particularly if the content within the garden is not as rich as the content outside.

image A beautiful September display in the walled garden of Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire /Anguskirk/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Throw Someone Under a Bus

Maybe I have a warped sense of humour but this phrase always gives me a very literal image.

I heard it a few weeks ago via a friend in the middle of a tough project, there have been words in the project board and the only consolation he could draw from the meeting was “well at least they didn’t throw me under the bus”.

The origins are murky, according to the Word Detective, the first sighting in print was only in 1991. He proposes two possible origins; one relates to sports managers chivvying their team members to be “on the bus or under it”, the second is a more generic city scene with buses racing around corners.

Whatever the origins it has come to have the association of a person being sacrificed in a crisis. In my friend’s case his bosses could have blamed him for all the projects faults and kicked him off the project. Then pointed at him as the source of the project’s failure. Instead he had to deal with a tough conversation, but ultimately got some help that (fingers crossed) will turn the project around.

What about you, is this a term you use?

image Mini Bus /(deaf mute)/ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sweat Equity

Ownership in company, even a startup, can be shared. When shared the proportion each owner has is calculated based on what they brought in. For some owners it’s a straight financial transaction, for others – especially in a start up – some of that ownership comes from the hard work they’ve put in getting the business started. This share derived from work is known as “sweat equity”. It’s sweat equity that allows Mark Zuckerberg to retain a 28% equity stake in Facebook.

It’s often a highly valued part of the start up process for a budding entrepreneur, as explained in Blog Maverick, where Mark Cuban writes

Businesses don’t have to start big. The best ones start small enough to suit the circumstances of their founders. I started MicroSolutions by getting an advance from my first customer of $500. The business didn’t grow quickly in the first couple years. We didn’t grow past 4 people in the first couple years, and we all worked dirt cheap.

So what’s wrong with that? It’s OK to start slow. It’s ok to grow slow. As much as you want to think that all things would change if you only had more cash available, they probably won’t.

The reality is that for most businesses, they don’t need more cash, they need more brains.

The reality for entrepreneurs is that the less money they take from investors the great share of the equity they retain. But there’s a trade off – take no money and your opportunities to grow are reduced.

But recently I saw an article online that referred to increasing the value of your home by putting in “two weeks of sweat equity”. It seemed a weird use of the word to me, but in a sense it is exactly what hard work improving your house can be – you’re increasing the value of the asset by hard work rather than financing an improvement, and you’re also increasing the proportion of the asset that you own, since the bank is not adding an equivalent amount.

I then checked wikipedia, fount of all knowledge, and it appears I’m behind on my dictionary meanings, and Habitat for Humanity has used this model of funding to help people get into their home. A home that would otherwise be unaffordable.

image Sweat or rain? /Kullez/ CC BY 2.0