Category: Technology (page 1 of 33)

Improving the style and content of dynamicskillset.com

Last April when I became a consultant, I threw together a website at dynamicskillset.com using GitHub Pages and bootstrap. I even created a video to show others how to do so. However, I wasn’t happy with it, so a couple of months ago replaced it with this holding page featuring an image from Bryan Mathers:

Dynamic Skillset placeholder

Today, while the rest of my family is away visiting relatives during half-term, I got a chance to mess about for long enough to create this:

New Dynamic Skillset website

I’m really pleased with it. The DNS is still propagating away from GitHub back to Reclaim Hosting, but you should be able to access the live version here in the meantime. Once that is done, you’ll be able to access via dynamicskillset.com as usual!

The Future of Work: Trends and Toolsets

Last month I wrote a report for a client about the future of work. In my contract is a clause that says that, apart from anything commercially sensitive, my work for them is shared under a Creative Commons license.

I’m therefore sharing a much shorter version of the 23-page report I researched and wrote for them. There was some really interesting stuff I turned up in my research around organisational structure, culture, and retention, but that section was too intertwined with the client’s plans to be able to easily and effectively separate out.  


Introduction

“Your best practices won’t save you.” (John Cutter)

The main trends around the future of work seem to be broadly twofold:

  1. Empowering individuals and teams to make their own decisions around technology
  2. Democratising the process of deciding what kind of work needs to be done

4 Kinds of Work in the Future

These two mega themes (taken from ‘uber empowered’ quadrant of the above Harvard Business Review digram) can be broken down into four, more practical, sub-themes:

  1. Demise of hierarchies
  2. Re-thinking the location of work
  3. Workplace chat
  4. Mission-based work

The following posts in this series expand and explain each of the above points. The original report made some recommendations for the client. Given I don’t know your context, I’m going to refrain from appending a conclusion to this series.


1. Demise of Hierarchies

After predictions of its demise, the traditional office structure is crumbling. Only 38 percent of companies in a recent survey say they are ‘functionally organized’. For large companies with more than 50,000 employees, that number shrinks to 24 percent. (Bloomberg)

Holocratic Organization

(image taken from this post)

The buzzterm at the moment is around holacracy, an approach in which “authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy”. This governance model has been adopted by Zappos, Precision Nutrition, and (until recently) Medium.

Self-organising is taken to its extreme, or logical conclusion, with Valve, the company best known for the Half-Life game series and ‘Steam’ store. Their handbook for new employees explains that they hire people rather than roles, meaning people are “hired to constantly be looking around for the most valuable work [they] could be doing.” Hiring, firing, and new projects are all managed via a completely flat structure.

Metaphors are important in organisational structure, and many futurists use the idea of the network to explain their ideas. Esko Kilpi, for example, states that “the architecture of work is not the structure of a firm, but the structure of the network. The organization is not a given hierarchy, but an ongoing process of responsive organizing.” In a post examining why employees become disengaged, Stowe Boyd coins the term ‘circumvising’ to explain the shift from ‘supervising’ to a form of work where, “instead of a manager you report up to and who directs the work of those below, the social context…will constrain and support the worker from all around.”


2. Rethinking the Location of Work

Skills for Success in a disruptive world of work

(image taken from this post by Tanmay Vora)

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. (Winston Churchill)

One trend of recent years that is universally slated in both the popular press and by futurists is that of open-plan offices. According to Stowe Boyd,

More than 40% of the respondents to a recent Berkeley survey reported that workplace acoustics make it harder for them to do their job, while other factors, like lighting, air quality, seating, etc, were rated as making it easier to work.

The assumption is that open-plan offices enable more serendipitous connections to take place. However, this is often at the expense of ‘deep work’ as noted by Cal Newport in his recent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. It often leads to more introverted employees using headphones in order to concentrate and feel more comfortable.

Home working solves some of these problems and, indeed, many organisations have a ‘remote working’ policy, meaning some (or all) of their employees are based from wherever they happen to live. This, of course, requires a certain type of worker, with particular expectations around flexibility, availability, and digital skills. Implementing this kind of policy without training and explicit expectation-setting (for both office-based and remote workers) can lead to unnecessary misunderstanding and anxiety.


3. Workplace chat

Slack colours

So this is one megatrend: the widespread adoption of tools based on the chat design metaphor across the board in personal and work life. Chat is the new normal for communication, displacing both email and social collaboration tools. (Stowe Boyd)

The hot new technology that everyone is talking about is Slack, a ‘workplace chat’ tool with APIs meaning it integrates with everything. It is already a billion-dollar business, and this is for at least two reasons. The first is a desire for employees in most organisations to get out of their inbox. Another is that it supports the move away from a static org chart and is more responsive to the true power dynamic within organisations.

There have been many posts about the relative merits of workplace chat apps. Most futurists believe that adopting such tools is not a panacea to current workplace problems, but rather a way to demonstrate in a concrete way how teams can interact in a different way. For example, the theory of social crowding suggests that workplace chat is at its most effective when used by small teams of less than 10. This ensures that those who are doing the chatting are also the ones doing the work.


4. Mission-based work

Life cycle of a brand

Today, all companies need a constitution. No company should operate on implicit cultural rules that are based in a shadowy way on oligarchic myths. (Stowe Boyd)

Often cited as a something particularly important to ‘Millennials’ (those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000), futurists see mission-based work as key to ensuring employee fulfilment at any age. Loyalty these days is often to the job rather than to the organisation — so long as the job matches the ‘mission’ that the employee feels is central to their existence.

Graduates are queuing up to work for brands who match their outlook on life, often foregoing higher salaries elsewhere to do so. Recent research from Gallup included a survey of almost 50,000 business units which showed that employee engagement is a key indicator of business success. This is an important trend to consider.

Further reading

I put together an epic Google Doc of links and images to help with my research for the original report. You can access that here.

Banner image CC BY-NC-SA Daniel Foster


Questions? Ask in the comments and I’ll go into more detail about any of the above.

If you’d like my help in a consultative capacity, please get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

A walkthrough of 9Sharp, a new platform for personal branding [SPONSOR]

I met Safwan Hak, founder of 9Sharp when chairing a panel at BETT earlier this year. As part of the session, I asked the panellists, “who inspires you?”

Safwan, by his own admission, struggled to answer the question. However, a few days later this post popped up on my radar. It ends like this:

Doug, it took me 3 days and your question was “the name of someone who inspires me?” I don’t have a name of one person but I have their job title:

“Teachers”

Read the post, it’s great. I was very impressed with Safwan, and we kept in touch afterwards. When it came to me asking for sponsors for Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter, 9Sharp grabbed three months’ worth!

The following video is a demo of 9Sharp as it currently stands in May 2016. It’s come a long way since Safwan first showed me in January. It’s very slick and seems more focused on the kind of profile I want to show the world. As I say in the screencast, if you’ve ever found LinkedIn a little stifling, this might be a good option for you.

(can’t see anything? click here)

Overview

00:00 – Why Safwan built 9Sharp (audio only)
02:20 – Demo of what 9Sharp looks like
05:05 – Premium plans, advertising, custom domains
06:55 – Editing your 9Sharp profile
08:00 – Automatic translation
09:20 – Discussion of main audiences
10:45 – List of social integrations
12:50 – Where the name ‘9Sharp’ comes from
13:45 – What’s on the roadmap?
15:45 – How to get started with 9Sharp (and suggest new features!)


Check out my brief 9Sharp profile I created in double-quick time!

 

3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets [DML Central]

3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets

My latest post for DML Central has just been published. Entitled 3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets it was prompted by a Quentin Blake-esque sketch from Bryan Mathers that made me laugh.

So, in this post, I want to challenge the assumption that those resisting the adoption of a particular technology are neo-Luddites. I’m basing this on my experience in schools, universities, and now as an independent consultant working with all kinds of organisations. I see a much more nuanced picture than is often put forward. Assuming people should “get with the program” can, after all, be a little techno-deterministic.

I’d love your feedback on the post itself, so I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to do so!

Click here to read the post in full

Taking back control of the web: an easy way to host and run secure open source apps

Sandstorm.io

One of the most frustrating things about Open Source software is the lack of traction some genuinely great projects manage to achieve. There are countless examples of individuals deciding to ‘scratch their own itch’, and writing code that would also improve the lives of hundreds/thousands/millions of people. However, the the technical skills required to get it up-and-running, not to mention the security concerns of getting to scale, are often prohibitive.

That’s where Sandstorm.io comes in. I first heard about the project when I was still at Mozilla as the lead developer led a successful crowdfunding campaign that was supported by many readers of Hacker News. Essentially, it’s a incredibly simple, one-click way to install Open Source web apps. They’re deployed in containers called ‘grains’ which makes apps extremely secure and super-fast.

Sandstorm grains

As you can see, I’ve been playing about with all sorts of apps: note-capturing apps similar to Evernote, kanban tools that mimic the functionality of Trello, alternatives to Slack, ways to seamlessly pipe music to co-workers/conspirators, you name it!

There’s already an impressive selection of apps available in Sandstorm.io, with more being converted on a regular basis. Here’s the ones available at the time of writing:

Sandstorm apps

At the moment, I’m just playing around. I can see a time when I decide to use this across devices and collaboratively with other people. Relying on venture capitalist-backed companies to look after my data, privacy, and security on a long-term basis is probably a bad idea.

While there’ll always be a free tier, during the beta all of the plans are free:

Sandstorm - plans

As you can see, given that the ‘Power User’ plan is currently free, I’ve decided to make full use of it. The apps are blisteringly fast and, when the beta ends, I’ve got the option of either paying for hosting through Sandstorm.io, or hosting it on my own server (free!)

I’d have a play and see what you find. I think you’ll find something interesting, something to convince you that Open Source done right can be just as good, if not better, than proprietary, closed-source, VC-backed products!

Click here to go to Sandstorm.io

The Possibilities of Badges and Blockchain [DML Central]

My latest post for DML Central has just been published. Entitled The Possibilities of Badges and Blockchain it’s a follow-up to a post I wrote for them last year, which stated that this kind of thing was ‘deep in the future’. Perhaps not!

Read the post

This kind of stuff fascinates me, which is why I’m delighted that a few ex-Mozilla colleagues and interested parties have come together to form Badge Chain. You can sign up on the site for (low-traffic) email updates, and/or subscribe to our Medium publication.

5 ways to use NFC-enabled business cards

Bryan Mathers and I like to mess about with new technology. So when we saw MOO.com launch NFC-enabled business cards we thought we needed some of that action.

They arrived, with some great designs from Bryan, earlier this week. We put together this quick video when at City & Guilds HQ in London yesterday:

(no video? click here!)

We’ve got some ideas around issuing Open Badges via NFC prompted by this technological development and Tim Riches efforts at MozFest last year.

More soon!

A Decentralized System for Education and Assessment

A few months ago I wrote a post for DMLcentral entitled Peering Deep into Future of Educational Credentialing. In it, I was looking at the possibilities of the blockchain technology that underpins Bitcoin.

More recently, I’ve been looking at Ethereum, ‘crypto-fuel’ that can create new, autonomous systems and so I asked on Twitter:

I looked further into the website Gordon suggested: A Decentralized System for Education and Assessment. It’s an interesting, if slightly technocratic and techno-solutionist, read. Here’s a flavour:

The long term goal is the foundation of a fair, just, and meritocratic society, in which individuals, regardless of personal factors, have the freedom to learn and grow with each other, judged solely on individual achievements. The society would function on a ruleset unalterable by any malicious centralized power, categorizing the skillsets of each individual and giving others the information necessary to place those individuals within society. This provides the basis for a society based on action and fact, with each individual serving their best role in the larger whole.

I emailed Jared, the guy behind the site asking how I could help (I’d already submitted a pull request to make a minor update to the site). He replied that the work “is still very preliminary” with the two big decisions currently being:

  1. What kind of channel to set up for primary communication
  2. Which platform to build on (Ethereum, Eris Stack, Forking bitcoin or tendermint?, etc)

He’s open to other ideas, too, with the best place to discuss all this on this subreddit. I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to jump into the conversation there.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Bryan Mathers

Taking Another Look at the Digital Credentials Landscape [DMLcentral]

Taking Another Look at the Digital Credentials Landscape [DMLcentral]

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Taking Another Look at the Digital Credentials Landscape, I attempt to clear up some confusion in the Open Badges landscape about various terms.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the early days of talking about Open Badges, I feel that we conflated several important points: the ability to issue micro credentials, bypassing traditional gatekeepers to learning, and the Open Badges standard itself. What I’ve tried to do in this post is, to some degree, begin to tease these apart. The important innovation is the interoperability and standards-based approach.

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to leave them on the original post.

Click here to read in full on DMLcentral

 

Apple product launches as attention conservation devices

TL;DR: we use Apple’s regular product launches as a sense-check to cope with the myriad of technologies in which we could invest our time and attention.


Some background

Yesterday was another Apple product launch. Since the passing of Steve Jobs they feel less and less like the Wizard of Oz showing us behind the curtain, and more like another tech company wheeling out incremental updates while their competition catches up. This time, both Microsoft and Adobe shared the stage with Tim Cook and co, for goodness’ sake.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled and pixels pushed about Apple’s ‘culture of innovation’ and it’s ‘design-led principles’. People argue that you can get better value for money with other devices. Others (including me) worry about vendor lock-in. And so many people in my Twitter timeline yesterday were tweeting during the event that the features and products Apple were launching have been available on other systems for years.

But I think this is to miss the point. If you’ve got five minutes to spare, Steve Jobs explains why this is irrelevant in his answer to a question at WWDC 1997:

(no video? click here!)

The point is that market leaders make opinionated choices. They put the user first and make decisions based around what’s useful for the user.

Conservation of attention

I’d argue that Apple’s product launches are now cultural artefacts. They’re included in regular news items along with world disasters and briefings about national politics. Rather than considering this as ‘entertainment news’ I think it’s perhaps more instructive to see Apple’s product launches as attention conservation devices.

Let me explain.

In the not-so-recent past, it was entirely possible for people to choose not to pay attention at all to consumer technology. It could just ‘not be for them’. They wouldn’t even feature on the technology adoption curve. People like this used to live out their lives without giving a second thought to things that others (including me) would happily choose to consider during every waking moment.

Nowadays, without a smartphone and a social network account, you’re quite likely to feel like a social pariah. As a result, you’re forced to pay some attention to consumer technology. But there’s so much of it! Thankfully, there’s an organisation that you can pay a lot of money to in order to provide a small, continually-updated, fully-supported product line that will ensure you have all of the technology you need in your life.

My favourite manufacturer, as I mentioned on the TIDE podcast this week, is actually Sony. The difference between Apple and Sony is that the latter doesn’t tell people what to pay attention to. They provide a multitude of options to fill almost any niche. I can imagine Apple’s designers having far fewer user personas than other organisations — if they use them at all.

Conclusion

If I were an academic I think I’d do some more research into this area. For instance, Apple’s never put a Blu-Ray drive into one of their machines, choosing instead to phase out physical media. As a result, they’ve done extremely well and have tied this in with developments around app stores and new/easy ways to pay for digital good. However, the mojo only lasts as long as their products are fashionable and people agree with the opinionated judgements they’re making.

Attention is a zero-sum game: we’ve only got so much of it and once it’s gone, it’s gone. By providing regular, timely, opinionated updates about the state of the field in which they’re leading, Apple not only get to make massive profits, but are the world’s de facto ‘innovation department’ — even if they didn’t invent the technologies they’re showcasing.

Image CC BY-NC-SA LoKan Sardari

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