#WDS08 Final day and night

Made it back from speaking at Small Business September events in regional NSW to attend the final day of Web Directions South 08 in Sydney.

Again Maxine, John and the team put on a great event and diverse range of speakers.

The real standout presentations for me – because they made me think – were from Jeffrey Veen and Mark Pesce.

Veen talked about data and the importance of data visualisation in a web 2.0 world where we enable users to control the rendering of our data.  He used the great example of John Snow who used visually presented data to convince his peers that cholera was caused by water rather than bad air. Looking forward to seeing his slides again for more cogitation.

While Pesce, dressed in red and black for a reason, gave a rousing call for us to realise that anarcho-syndicalism is the answer.  As he stated: “A system with no hierarchy, no bosses, no secrets, no politics. (Well, maybe that last one is asking too much.) Anarcho-syndicalism takes as a given that all men are created equal, and therefore each have a say in what they choose to do.”

The interesting thing about his notion is that for it to work we need to open source and collectively build a peer to peer network that is equal to or better than that provided by the telcos.  Some animated discussion afterwards made me think that we are on the brink of this possibility.

Of course, the after party and dinner were great fun and the pics are on Flickr.

Six Sigma & Innovation

There has been a lot of criticism about Six Sigma especially in relation to innovation, for example here in Tom Peters On Six Sigma Vs. Innovation.

It seems that many people misunderstand the origins of Six Sigma as a process improvement methodology. Six Sigma grew out of the TQM movement in the late 1980s when we were all focused on making major efficiency improvements in response to tough economic times and on improving quality to compete more effectively.

The Six Sigma methodology has two flavours, each with a slightly different focus. D-M-A-I-C, which is focused on improvement of existing processes, and D-F-S-S (a.k.a D-M-A-D-V), which is focused on developing new processes or repairing broken processes.

Six Sigma was never a methodology directed at innovation, however, it can work well with other innovation methodologies like Triz. Although once people started using Six Sigma at GE attempts were made to use it as the basis of structured approaches to new product development. This was done by adapting DFSS and applying it to product development.

But a key thing that the discipline of Six Sigma can give an organisation is a structured and coordinated approach to process design. Realistically any other structured and coordinated approach can also give similar benefits. Six Sigma enables the development of a common language, a common way of measurement and tracking. These competencies are often fragmented within an organisation.

Certain competencies are necessary for an organisation. If a company cannot undertake its base or core activities in the most efficient way possible, i.e. routinize the boring stuff, how can they free up the resources to do the cool stuff?

That is the benefit that Six Sigma can give, make the routine stuff run really cost effectively and efficiently. Thus freeing up resources to focus on innovation and new product development.

But anyone who is dumb enough to try and use a process improvement methodology to drive innovation deserves whatever badness arises as a result. IMHO two different things – business as usual v. innovation – need (at least) two different approaches.

Learning Organisations & Failure to Learn

One of the best critical analyses of learning organisations is John Nagl‘s book comparing the British and US armies in Asia post World War 2.

The specifics of each organisation in its particular context are interesting from a historical perspective. However, of more importance are the general principles of learning organisations. It is interesting that Nagl identifies socio-cultural factors as important in both the ability of the British army to adapt to the situation in Malaya and in the failure of the American army to adapt to the situation in Vietnam.

Nagl brings real life military experience to his analysis (having served in the Gulf War & Iraq). But it is his understanding of the ‘soft’ issues that really stands out for me. For example, the British class structure – where everyone knew their relative position – is seen as freeing people up to accept new information. It is typical of the challenges we face in the workplace today.

Those of us who wish to democratise and empower the workplace are fighting against the forces of coercion and control. This kind of change is all about ‘soft’ issues and this book is worth a read in that light.

eLearning 08 Conference

Just back from a planning session with @robynjay for the eLearning 08 Conference, which is scheduled for December 2008 in Sydney. It sounds like an interesting conference. Mark Pesce is going to deliver the keynote and I will be facilitating interactive panel sessions.

And for these panel sessions interactivity is the watchword. No passive observers! It’s going to be all about engagement, inspiration and passion. Can’t wait.

Free stuff (like hugs)

Had an interesting conversation with Juan Mann today in Sydney (accompanied by free hugs, of course). We discussed free hugs, free stuff in general and it made me conscious of how many offers for free stuff that we receive that are actually not free. Instead, they are usually designed to get us to buy some other item. This idea of free stuff has been taken over in our commercialised world and we even joke that there is ‘no such thing as a free lunch‘.

But on the other hand, we also have a saying ‘the best things in life are free‘. The free hug I received today made me really mindful of how much I want to tune into those non-commercial things, the best things that are free. Things like a sunny day, a hug or a puppy.

Interesting Corporate Blog

Have been thinking and talking to lots of people about Enterprise 2.0 recently and came across an interesting blog by some people at Oracle in Australia. Their blog – The Red Room – is a great example of grass roots corporate blogging to reach out to stakeholders.

It is really worth a look as these folks seem to be engaged in genuine dialogue and communication (very un-Oracle if you know what I mean).

The blog aggregates stuff they find interesting around the traps and shares useful Oracle technology related information. They are also experimenting with different media such as podcasts and slideshows to see what works.

Good to see a human face on such a big company for a change! Impressive that Oracle is communicating on a human level for once.

Small Business Oz & Technology

A conversation with Simon Sharwood at Tech.Ed Sydney regarding his recent article on small business technology really helped to crystallise some thinking for me.

Because most of my working life has been inside large organisations like GE, AMP, Citigroup or government the problems of technology pricing had never really impinged on my consciousness. However, now that I am running several small businesses this issue is top of mind.

Decisions about spending even small amounts like $1,000 are critical to a small business. We cannot afford to spend our cash unwisely. Also many small business people do not have many technical skills that would enable them to do a lot of work themselves. Thus a decision to acquire technology is coupled with the need for assistance in setting up and running that technology – there are few IT departments available in small business land.

With entry level pricing for many technology solutions at $10,000 plus the barriers for small business in Australia are enormous. This makes SaaS solutions coupled with decent broadband access utterly critical to small business growth in Australia.

The first companies that get this right and understand the right price-points for small business will be able to own the niche. It is a niche that is totally under serviced at present, but which has great need for help. But that help must come at the right price.