What Is The Point Of Building A System To Manage Another System?

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Sunday, 8.59pm

Sheffield, U.K.

A bad system will beat a good person every time. – W. Edwards Deming

There are certain laws in the Internet world.

One of them, Godwin’s Law, says that as an online discussion grows longer the probability of a comparison that involves Hitler or Nazis approaches one.

Another, Zawinski’s Law, says that every program tries to expand until it can read mail.

These laws are really an observation of the side effects that seem to happen to things over time – whether they are discussions or programs.

And one that I’ve been mulling over recently has to do with getting things done.

If you’ve read David Allen’s book on the subject you’ll know that he has a process – collect everything, pull out next actions and manage them in a system.

There is no shortage of todo list applications. Microsoft Project, for example, is really a todo list app that has a lot of stuff in it.

What I’ve found over the years is that aiming to get things done is pretty easy when you don’t have much to do.

Early in your career, for example, all you really have to do is get your work done – so you can track and manage everything and work a system that works.

But as you get older the problems of scale come up.

What happens when you have to manage life itself – all the things you have to do that revolve around kids, getting your house sorted, managing relationships, growing your business, looking after your property rentals and a host of other things.

Quite soon you can find that things make their way onto your list faster than you can strike them off.

It’s a peculiar problem that has to do with affluence.

Take your house, for example.

If you have young children the chances are that a new thing made of plastic enters your house on average every day.

At the end of a year, you probably have 300 odd things in your house that weren’t there at the start.

When your kids are 10, that’s closer to 3,000 – at which point you’ve given up any hope of ever getting rid of any of that stuff.

It’s sort of like that with todo lists that grow and grow.

One way to deal with the whole thing is to just ignore your list.

Some people start a new list every day – trusting that if something important is forgotten you’ll be reminded by someone or something else.

But if you do try and manage your list you’ll quickly realise that while life is lived one day at a time you need to hive your actions into a separate system – your todo list.

And now, you have that list to manage – and unsurprisingly, over time, that list can get stale and out of sync with what’s actually happening in your life.

This may seem a little pointless as a discussion – but here’s the thing.

We often think that we have to manage things for them to work.

But the best things don’t need managing – life itself – for a start.

Most living things go about their business without thinking of their todo list – they are self-regulating systems.

Humans are the only ones with this urge to have a system to manage another system.

And so a design principle for managing a system should perhaps be that it should be self managed.

For example, if you write stuff in a diary throughout the day and take notes of actions, you should be able to manage the actions in your diary without having to put them into a new system.

Practically, that is really a simple job of searching and replacing.

Search for action items that are marked as such – perhaps with brackets.

When you’re done, put an x in the brackets and don’t show them in the search any more.

You could do this with text files and around 3-5 line of code.

In Linux, for example, you could put each action on its own line starting with [] and find every instance with a command like look [] file.txt.

A trivial way of pulling out the actions.

That means your notes and actions are part of the same system and managed in there – more self management than anything else.

Or you could build or subscribe to an application – which is probably going to be more complex that requires you to manage two systems and that will eventually fall out of sync.

Like every CRM application out there.

Yes you can manage it with effort – but wouldn’t it be nicer if it was self-managed and didn’t need effort?

But building a simple system is often an order of magnitude harder than building a complex one.

And that’s because you often need to build the complex one and live with the pain of using it daily until you realise – in a flash of enlightenment – how to make it simpler.

But no one said the path to enlightenment was easy or straightforward.

Cheers, Karthik

Why Being Around Others Is Bad For Creativity

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Saturday, 9.33pm

Sheffield, U.K.

To be creative you must create a space for yourself where you can be undisturbed… separate from everyday concerns. – John Cleese

Pilita Clark’s article in the Financial Times is the kind of thing that you either agree with vehemently or try and ignore.

And that’s because it strikes at the heart of what it means to be an organisation these days.

We all talk about talent as the most important thing an organisation can have.

For example, some companies say that most of their assets walk out of the door each evening and their most important job is making sure they walk back in again.

But then why are the places most people work at so poorly designed for work?

This is one thing universities get right – the ones I’ve seen anyway.

If you’re doing research you get a private space. It might be a cubicle as a grad student but as you get further in your career everyone seems to have an office.

And that’s not just because you need space to dump your paper.

It’s because you’ll do your best work in uninterrupted blocks of time.

It’s ironic that many aspects of modern organisations have less to do with what the organisation does and more to do with who’s in control.

Let’s say you’re a manager – do you see your role as one where you tell your team what to do or one where you coach them to do better work?

If you want to tell them what to do and how to do it and watch them while they do it then you don’t really need a team – you need labour.

It doesn’t matter whose hands do the work as long as they do it in the way you want.

And those people are disposable – you can get another in pretty quickly and get them producing work in next to no time.

And really, if you are a manager you probably don’t want someone that is going to think for themselves and suggest a new way to do things.

That’s not what they’re here to do – that’s a waste of working time.

I wonder how many business owners and managers really think about why they organise the workplace the way the do.

Is it because having people lined up at tables in an open workspace works for those people or the business?

Or is it because this way you can keep an eye on everyone.

So what does that mean for people who want to do creative work?

Well, you could look for a company that will give you your own office or let you work from home.

And those kinds of companies are going to be flooded with resumes from the best available candidates.

Or you could do your creative work in your own time – after the normal day has finished.

Because the fact is organisations aren’t going to change – and so if you want something to change you’re going to have to do it on your own.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Think About Turning What You Do Into A Service

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Monday, 8.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Yet all really important innovations and changes normally start from tiny minorities of people who do use their creative freedom. – Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

I think the people at McKinsey, the globally renowned management consultancy, often come up with models and ideas worth mulling over.

For example, in a recent article, Oliver Bossert and Driek Desmet explained how tech companies operate.

And that’s worth knowing because your business, whatever it is, will also one day become a tech company.

The energy industry, where I spend most of my time, is not known for the short lifetime of its assets.

Things change slowly, but even here, things are changing.

We have the Internet of Things, real time control and Blockchain all jostling for space alongside venerable fifty-year old wires and meters.

So, how should you prepare for this new tech world – what is the model to try and follow?

The one that’s getting a lot of attention is anything as a service.

Bossert and Desmet explain that tech companies operate platforms.

A platform is a collection of activities and technology that deliver on a business goal.

It’s not enough just to be the expert anymore – you need the tech to help you get the end result.

And you can’t just be a techie with no business or domain experience – you need the business sense to get there too.

So it’s the combination – technology plus people doing activities that get you there.

It doesn’t look like you can get people entirely out of the system – you’ll need some for helping users at least.

The point of a platform is that you can sell that as a service – because what people are paying for is the end result – the business goal that you deliver.

So far so good, but this is where some of us would look down a different path to the one mapped out in the article.

Mainly because it’s geared at big companies that have lots of platforms.

And then the big business mindset kicks in – where you allocate money to the units that do best and you start with big teams and still stay agile.

All of which sounds like really hard work.

If I were you I’d move on at this point and read Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application by the folks at Basecamp.

They argue that you never need more than three people to build the first version of your software.

If you need more then actually what you need is either different people or you need to do less stuff.

And that approach feels much closer to a real lean system to me.

Small groups of people working on things they really care about – something that solves a problem they have right now – those are the people that come up with something useful.

Larger groups tend to come up with something that delivers what you asked for but not what you need.

That’s the thing about business goals.

Many people are very good at shooting their arrow and then drawing the target around where it’s landed.

They’ve hit their goal if you count hitting the bullseye as what you want.

A service, on the other hand, is delivered when the person getting it is happy.

And that is a harder thing to fake.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Are You Going To Build Your Audience Or Organisation?

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Sunday, 9.14pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We think we are being interesting to others when we are being interesting to ourselves. – Jack Gardner, Words Are Not Things

What makes people use one technology platform and not another?

Why does Wikipedia work while Microsoft Encarta didn’t?

And what can you do to increase the chances of getting people to buy into your ideas?

The common theme behind such questions is our curiosity about other people – about the ways our societies work.

And Clay Shirky, in his book Here comes everybody: How change happens when people come together signposted the work of Alan Page Fiske, who came up with Relational Models Theory – which makes it much easier to think about why people act the way they do.

Once you get past the academic words, that is.

According to Fiske, there are four basic ways in which we relate to others.

The first way has to do with what we share in common.

It’s the shared interest that matters – not the interest itself.

Being someone who likes fine wine and being someone who is racist are the same in this world – where you share those likes with others.

That’s called communal sharing.

Then there’s what we see as normal in the world around us – kings and queens and leaders and dictators.

Whether it’s governments or companies relationships based on hierarchy and authority are all around us.

All that matters is where you are in the pecking order – what’s called authority ranking.

Then there’s another way to be – one where we’re at the same level. Roughly equal, most of the time.

But when somethings gets out of balance we do something to bring things level again – like the relationship you have with your other half or with the kids.

That’s called equality matching.

And finally, you have the market – where what you have is reduced to a share that’s in proportion to what you bring in exchange.

In other words, market pricing.

So, how do these four models help us make sense of things?

Well, you’ll often hear advice about finding your tribe.

Like there are people out there who really like what you like as well and what you need to do is go out there and lead them.

Or make sure that they can find you – make sure everything you do is about making it easier for that group of people to find you and engage with you.

That sounds like communal sharing, at first.

But if you’re trying to lead your tribe – it also sounds like you want to get hold of some authority.

But why would someone support you… unless you were able to redress the balance and give them something they wanted – a helping of equality with a side order of pricing.

So, in reality, these models start to crash together – and it’s likely that there are few “pure” models of any type.

But there are combinations – and that can help you figure out what kind of approach can work for you.

But, at the same time, it’s easier to find examples of how to do this badly.

Take any organisation – and the chances are that you’ll find that the people in charge are really concerned about looking bad.

So concerned, in fact, that they say nothing of any value.

Corporate speak is often devoid of any humanity – excised by lawyers worried about baddies.

But these same organisations want you to share their stories and talk about them and idolise them.

So I suppose you get PR which exists entirely to create stories that no one really cares about.

The real thing that keeps these organisations alive is market pricing – whether they are providing supply to fill demand.

The fact is markets are just about the most effective way to figure out what people want.

And these days what we have is a market for attention – and people pay attention for whatever they find gives them the greatest return on their time – whether it’s cat videos or Latin podcasts.

So when you think about building a community – and an audience or an organisation are really both examples of communities – you need to decide what your social relation mix is going to look like.

Are you going to try and keep control of everything?

Or make it completely free and open – so free that you allow anyone else to take and remix your work for free?

Or, are you going to try and fake it?

Make it look open and communal while keeping all the control?

There are probably examples where all those approaches work – but the last one is perhaps not built on the best foundations.

Take Medium, for example.

Lots of people started writing on Medium because it seemed like they would have larger audiences.

Some have found that that’s not worked out so well – and are moving back to their own platforms because they’ve effectively cannibalised their own traffic.

That’s something you’ll find – once you start giving up control to other people – at some point you’ll find you have no control left.

Paradoxically – that’s when you might also find you’ve got the greatest reach.

The challenge is finding what mix works for the situation you’re in right now.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How Can You Build A Business Model For Intellectual Property?

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Saturday, 8.37pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana. – Bill Gates

I’ve been spending more time programming recently – back to the practice of putting code together that does something interesting.

And when you do that you realise just how indispensable the Internet is these days.

Almost every question you ask has been answered by someone who has been there before.

What’s more interesting is that there is little difference between free stuff and the stuff that should be locked away until you pay for it.

Entire textbooks are online – illegally obviously but that doesn’t make them any less there.

Let’s say you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book – creating all that intellectual property – this is probably not something you want to happen.

One would suppose that the traditional approach is to get very cross about the whole thing and try to stop people pirating your stuff.

After all there are plenty of reports saying that writers don’t make any money and if you want to make a living writing this is not a good thing for you.

At the same time, there’s something else going on.

There’s a lot you can say about the economics of the information business but there’s one thing that stands out.

I can tell you I know a lot about something but there’s no way you can know for sure if I know until I tell you what I know – at which point you know what I know as well so why would you pay me for what I know?

That’s a long sentence but the point is this: knowledge is not like a banana – you can’t look at it and squeeze it and smell it to tell if it’s fresh or rotten.

So this makes it hard to treat intellectual property as the same as something tangible like real estate or gold or oil.

But here’s the thing.

When you’re looking for information you normally go on Amazon and look for reviews – that’s an indicator of whether the thing is good or bad.

But reviews can be bought and lists can be gamed – as every best-selling author on Amazon knows.

And the disappointing thing about many books that are on the lists is what’s in them – they’ve got good ratings but not good content.

There’s a growing movement, however, of people writing books, especially textbooks, and putting them on their sites for free.

That gets rid of the pirates – after all, why would you pirate something that’s already free?

But even with the pirated books the single biggest benefit a reader has is that they can look at the book and judge exactly how good it is – by reading every page.

And then, if you’re like me and you find a good book you want to have it.

Reading the book doesn’t weaken one’s resolve to have access to it and buy it if possible.

Clearly, you’re going to buy the cheapest copy first – possibly second hand for a penny.

And only then head around to the full price version if it’s one of those books that no one wants to part with.

This is still not good news for the authors out there.

They’re not making money from the free copy online or the second hand ones littering the market.

But what they have done is increase their exposure to the market – to people who like what they do enough to support them.

And that’s the thing with intellectual property now.

It’s not enough to claim that the ideas in your head have intrinsic value that deserve payment.

The fact is that by giving it away for free you lose absolutely nothing.

But you gain the interest of people who may start to care about what you do enough to support you not because they have to but because they want to.

And that, perhaps, is the future for the knowledge workers out there.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Turn Your Service Into A Product And Why

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Tuesday, 9.02pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We have our factory, which is called a stage. We make a product, we color it, we title it and we ship it out in cans. – Cary Grant

You learn a lot just by talking to other people.

It’s such a natural thing to do that we often miss just how much is going on.

But there is a lot that goes into sending a message from one person to another and, as a result, a lot that can go wrong.

Which is why selling services is quite a hard thing to do.

When I talk about services I’m thinking particularly of the things that you find hard to explain right now.

And they’re hard to explain because they might be complex or fuzzy.

If you need to take the time to explain it or solve a problem for a client – then you need to bill for that time.

If you need to provide more service you’ll need to add people with the knowledge to provide that service.

That’s the way a law firm works, for example. They are experts in a particular area and you pay for their expertise in a complex area that you couldn’t manage yourself.

But the problem is that most service businesses make for lousy business models, if you think of them on a time and person basis.

And, if you do something that isn’t already a well known profession, you’ll struggle to explain what you do.

Unless you try and turn it into a product.

The main difference between a product and a service is that a product comes in a box.

Not literally a box, of course, but one that people can visualise and understand.

Describing what you do is then simply a matter of listing what your customer gets from you.

Take the business of financial modelling, for example.

I could tell you that I can help you automate business processes using Excel.

That’s a service. You could employ me and pay me on an hourly basis to work for you.

Or I could tell you that I have an Excel worksheet for a hundred bucks that will help you produce invoices.

You won’t need to pay ongoing subscription charges and it will save you hundreds in bookkeeping and accounting costs – paying for itself in a couple of months.

One description is fuzzy and the other is focused.

You can clearly make money from both.

The service proposition could make thousands with a client who gets what you’re trying to do.

But so could the product – because you could sell a lot more to clients who needed that product.

So why would you choose one over the other?

As always, there is no one correct answer.

Products are easier to understand and buy – so you have a better chance of making a sale to a new prospect if you offer them a product.

Once they know you and understand that you can solve more problems, then they might want your time and expertise as a service.

The thing is when you sell time you run out of supply pretty quickly and also find yourself resenting the hours you’re having to provide.

So even though you could provide a service focusing on products means that you’re selling quantity rather than time.

But these days the only sensible way to do it is to use technology rather than relying on people.

If your product scales by adding people at some point you’ll run into an overheads problem where you need to bring in so much cash to cover fixed costs that it starts getting pretty stressful.

The main point here is that you need to consider your product/service mix as part of your strategy to develop your business.

If you are too much of one or the other – you need to ask yourself whether that’s working for you.

If it is, then don’t change.

If it isn’t, then it’s worth trying to see if you could do better by marketing yourself in the opposite way.

Or, just being practical, using whichever pitch is the one the person in front of you is responding to best.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Think About The Value Different People Bring To A Team

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Monday, 10.50pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton

I’ve been watching programmes about Fog Creek Software on Amazon Prime recently – one called Make Better Software and the other called Aardvark’d.

They offer a glimpse into how a real software company works – something that most of us never get a chance to see.

They also led me to the blog of the co-founder, Joel Spolsky, and his thoughts on software development.

It’s not really updated these days but given he started writing in 1999 you can’t really get too upset about that.

Especially when you stumble on some quite interesting ideas pretty quickly.

Take this essay on icebergs, for example.

Most of us know bosses and managers who believe that you must have a specification in place before you do anything.

This point of view is not limited to bosses, however.

Many people also say they can do anything you want as long as you tell them exactly what you want.

The problem is that most people don’t know what they want.

What almost everyone can tell you, on the other hand, is what they don’t want.

It’s funny how the things we want to avoid come to mind so much more easily than the things we want to have.

So the smart person, according to Joel, gets that customers will never know what they want.

Instead, you have to build something that they can look at and tell you what they don’t like about it and what they want changing.

Another insight has to do with people on your team.

It’s tempting to think that everyone around you has to do something technical.

But the reality of most businesses is that only one or two people really need to be that technical.

And that’s because once a problem is solved using software or a system is created for a customer the jobs that are really needed are ones that focus on helping them.

If you’re going to build a company, in the beginning you need people who know stuff and can build stuff.

But pretty soon you need people who can bring in customers and keep them happy.

And that’s actually going to be the bulk of your workforce.

It’s tempting to think that you can make lots of money by outsourcing that work to someone else.

But the chances are that’s a mistake – technically and financially.

It’s not going to save you as much as you think and, if you’re going to be a customer, we already know that you don’t know what you want.

The lesson hidden in all this is really that working for someone else is hard to do.

It’s much easier creating a product and saying do you like this.

And you can do that even if you have a job.

You can wait to be told exactly what to do.

Or you can have a go and create something new and then see what the reaction is.

And if you keep doing that one day you’ll make something that the people who make decisions like and you’re on your way to creating a job or a business where you’re in control.

But it all starts with having a go and building something on spec – with the hope that it will be useful to someone else.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

Why What You Think Matters Much Less Than You Think It Does

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Sunday, 9.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

We tend to be distracted by the voices in our own heads telling us what the design should look like. – Michael Bierut

Everything is a design problem.

The word “design” brings up different pictures for different people.

For some it’s about fashion, look and feel.

For others it’s about thinking and planning and structure.

But the design thinking approach can be used whether you’re trying to solve a business problem, make a website look good or sort out your LinkedIn profile.

And it starts by realising that no matter how much time you spend looking in the mirror and trying to see how you come across, you won’t get any closer to seeing how your prospective customer sees you without doing some more work.

That work usually takes the form of a conversation – one face to face perhaps, or one that happens using the information and interface you present to your prospects.

Luke Wroblewski, in his book Web form design: Filling in the blanks, calls web forms Brokers, because they talk to customers on your behalf.

You might have thought, until now, that the purpose of a form was to capture information from customers.

It turns out, instead, that they are a way for you to have a conversation without being there – if you design them right.

Wroblewski says that there are principles you should follow.

For example, no one wants to fill in a form, so make it easy to do.

They’re only going to fill it in if it’s worth their time – and it’s up to you to make it completely clear that it is.

And you can only do this well if you really understand what your customer is trying to do.

But at the same time is that actually the case – do you really need to get inside your prospect’s head?

We’re all sold on the idea that Apple devices can just be used – they’re intuitive.

But is anything really intuitive?

Some people argue that when say something is intuitive what we really mean is that it’s familiar – it’s something we know how to do.

So maybe the purpose of design is actually to give people what they expect.

And that gives us a clue as to how the world really works.

For example, the words a prospect uses to search for what you do may not be the same words you use.

So, if you want to be found on LinkedIn, which words should you use?

The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Some of my friends have learned this lesson better than I have.

They try and understand what the customers they want are looking for and then design their organisation and their communications to be in the right place – to be familiar.

After all, if you are good enough, maybe one day people will find you.

If you go and stand where they go to look you’ll almost certainly be found.

And if you look the part – if you’re familiar – then you’ll probably get the job as well.

You just need to get yourself out of your own way.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

What Is The Most Useful Way To Think About Your Marketing Tactics?

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Monday, 9.14pm

Sheffield, U.K.

One gets paid only for strengths; one does not get paid for weaknesses. – Peter Drucker

I’ve been thinking about a particular business and its marketing strategy for a few weeks now.

If you’re running something today you’re probably trying to win new customers.

And that needs them to know who you are – for them to be aware of you.

It’s the first part of any marketing formula, after all.

It’s also the part that takes time and effort and no small amount of self confidence or, at least, the effort to overcome a lack of it.

What does good look like when it comes to modern marketing?

Well, you’re probably all over social media.

Perhaps you have a video blog.

Maybe a regular one as well.

And of course you can’t forget offline networking and groups and all that stuff as well.

Clearly, doing nothing or just one thing isn’t going to work.

Publishing one article or running one ad may, like a one-legged stool, let you sit for a while but you’ll always be off balance and making quite some effort to stay put.

Having a few is better – certainly in the sense of giving you some stability.

But the real benefits come from having a number of effective tactics in play, something Jay Abraham calls the Parthenon strategy.

The idea is simple – the more pillars you have supporting the growth of your business the more likely you are to grow and the less likely you are to suffer a setback you can’t recover from.

So that’s obvious, I suppose.

What’s less obvious is that selecting which pillars to erect is a crucial task.

And the way to get started is by reading.

LinkedIn, for example, has a useful guide on how to use the platform well.

And it reinforces the basics.

People do business with people so your profile needs to be credible and give a good first impression.

People buy from you because of your approach to solving their problems.

So share information that keeps them informed about what’s going on, and what good looks like for them.

None of this is stuff I do particularly well.

And, if you’re like me, the chances are that you’re slightly suspicious of people who do it too well.

What are the sayings that come to mind?

  • All hat and no cattle.
  • All mouth and no action
  • All fur coat and no knickers

and many others…

Someone who has a lot of time to spend on sales must have less time to spend on doing the work.

Or is that just bitter and cynical?

Maybe they’re focused on getting the right message to the right people and see that as just as important as working on their product.

And they would be right.

For those of us, however, with less shine and polish there’s nothing stopping us from improving a little bit at a time.

What we need to believe is that persistence pays off.

What did Coolidge say?

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

The most dangerous thing is to think there’s some kind of silver bullet that will solve our problems.

But if we put the effort in day after day we should end up with a business built on marketing tactics that are solid and stable.

And perhaps even refined and polished.

Here’s hoping.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

How To Analyse A Network For Fun And Profit

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Thursday 9.21pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Social networks do best when they tap into one of the seven deadly sins. Facebook is ego. Zynga is sloth. LinkedIn is greed. – Reid Hoffman

In a previous post I looked at which marketing model might be most useful when planning a campaign.

The basic idea is to do more than the competition.

That sounds simple, but how do you actually go about doing that?

It comes down to analysis – analysing what they’re doing and figuring out where you can get an edge.

So let’s say you start with what comes up on Google – that’s one source of data for your search term.

But then you have LinkedIn and Twitter and all the social networks.

You’ve got offline events – training sessions and affiliate programs.

How can you pull all this together in some kind of coherent way.

It turns out that this is an established branch of sociology called Social Network Analysis.

And it comes down to nodes and links.

Nodes are individuals or organisations and they are connected by links.

These links can be relationships, common interests, shared values or content that they are exposed to on different platforms.

As you can imagine, the number of different types of links can increase quite quickly.

You can’t analyse these in your head or on a spreadsheet – usually you need software to help with doing that.

Software like Social Network Visualizer.

Now, when you read the documentation for these tools it gets complex pretty quickly.

There’s lots of talk about adjacency matrices, cohesion measures, centrality and prestige and community detection.

Which basically means the number of things you’re keeping track of, whether if I link to you, you link back to me and who the super important people are in a group – and if there are cliques and subgroups.

Okay – can we apply any of this to our market research efforts?

Well… before that let’s look at something which, depending on your point of view, might make you a little nervous.

The UK police have a guide on how to use social network analysis to combat gang crime.

Clearly the police have a reason to gather intelligence on the bad guys – and they collect information on them and their links with others.

There’s a useful table that shows you how many criminal links there can be between individuals and how to code these links.

All that data can be quite hard to understand if set out in a table but when you visualise it you can imagine how the people at the centre – the ones with influence and reach show up as larger nodes.

So, in theory, you could use a similar approach to understand how your market operates.

Clearly you’ve got to be sensible about doing this.

Recently many data mining organisations have changed their tune when it comes to the ethical use of data.

They say that each piece of data is not like gold or oil – a commodity you can exploit.

Instead, it’s a piece of someone’s life – and you need to respect that and treat it with care.

So creating your own intelligence file on people in organisations is probably not the most ethical way to do things.

But that doesn’t stop you from perfectly legitimate things like mapping organisations and their links to each other.

If you have a competitor that is so entrenched with the public sector bodies, key decision making centres and other institutions isn’t it better to know that rather than trying to fight them on an uneven playing field?

Or if you’re an activist organisation you can map those organisations that are going to be receptive to your message and work with you.

The thing with tools like these is that there’s little or no information on how to use them effectively to solve real business problems.

Which is why the police example is actually quite a useful one of how such technology can be applied to a situation.

It’s a tool that appears to be underutilised and maybe it can help you with market research.

It’s probably sensible to suggest that you use it with care.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh