Book Review – The Design of Business by Roger L. Martin


When people talk about Social Business Design, I find they spend a lot of time focused on the “Social Business” aspect but less on the concept of “Design”. But what do we mean by design? The Design of Business by Roger L. Martin goes some way to help answer this question.

Initially, at least, this book reads more like an extended essay. But give it a chance as I found it gradually builds up to a useful crescendo that builds on the foundational concepts outlined earlier on in the book.

At its core, Martin provides a background on the organisational psychological of traditional analytical thinking, which favours reliability over validity. There is good reason for this, particularly in large or complex organisations, as there is danger is relying on intuition alone.

The “knowledge funnel” is presented as a concept for explaining how organisational knowledge – which might be a product or a process – moves through stages from Mystery, Heuristic and then Algorithm.

The trick, according to Martin, is to look at design thinking as a way to seek balance between rigid analytical thinking and risky intuition. Through design thinking and the skill of abductive reasoning, organisations can remain progressive and innovative. In effect, they can continuously feed the knowledge funnel with new ideas that challenge existing ideas that have stabilised into business as usual.

Personally, I found this funnel concept a little simplistic – it serves it purpose in the context of the book, but its probably worthwhile going off to dip into the ideas of people like Gary Klein and Dave Snowden before you start dropping the funnel into every day business conversation.

However, I did enjoy the Research in Motion (RIM) case study, which provides us with the perfect quote:

“Design isn’t just about making things beautiful; it’s also about making things work beautifully.”

I think its a nice idea that we can think of Social Business Design as being about making organisations work “beautifully”.

In the final chapter – sub-titled, Developing Yourself as a Design Thinker – you finally understand why it was worth working through all the background information. Martin employs a model from his previous book, The Opposable Mind, which he uses to describe the design thinker’s personal knowledge system. He then addresses how to work as design thinker with other colleagues who are not design thinkers.

So the final message from Martin appears to be that it is really the design thinkers who are able to successfully navigate the reliability corridors of their organisation that are the real source of competitive advantage, rather than design thinking alone.

If you are interested in discussing open strategy, the challenges of open leadership and becoming a social business then please join us at the Headshift | Dachis Group Social Business Summit – Over 4 weeks – across 4 continents – 4 Summits will be convened. Sydney,  2 March –  Austin, 10 March –  London, 24 March – Singapore, 6 April.

Book Review – Open Leadership by Charlene Li


I’m not a fan of “leader as hero”, which was my initial apprehension when picking up Open Leadership. The sub-title, How social technology can transform the way you lead, also conjures up the image of CEOs issuing moral boosting messages to their staff in 140 characters or posting on their subordinates’ Facebook wall.

Luckily this book isn’t really about that, so don’t let my first impressions put you off.

Li explains in chapter 4 that the title of the book was the result of a simple crowd sourcing exercise – she picked the most popular title voted by people in her social network. Personally, open strategy or open management might be a better description for the subject matter of this book. “Giving up control is inevitable” is the title of the first chapter, but in fact this book is all about control, just using a different kind of management style and business strategy (at Headshift | Dachis Group, we call it Social Business).

The book is divided into three parts. The first part sets out the case for change. The second part, which is described as strategic, is actually a combination of strategy planning and tactical implementation. The final section really starts to focus on issues of leadership and managers related to those following an open strategy.

Through out the book you will find lots of dot point action plans, tests, check lists and also pointers to a set of free resources available on the site that accompanies the book.

From an implementation perspective, I found the section in chapter 6 discussing Organisational Models for Openness particularly interesting. This is something I’ve talked about before and also discussed in the online engagement guidelines I helped to develop for the Australian Gov 2.0 Taskforce. Li cuts this problem slightly differently with three models:

  • Organic;
  • Centralised; and
  • Co-ordinated.

Li quite rightly doesn’t recommend one model over another and instead explains the key issues around choosing a model. This leads into a more practical discussion about roles, responsibilities, training and incentives. This chapter, along with Chapter 5 which focuses on guidelines, could almost be read as stand alone pieces and provide some good implementation advice.

To back this up the last chapter contains case studies. While the majority of the cases follow a well worn path of well known brand names, the inclusion of the State Bank of India was a refreshing inclusion. The US Department of State on the other hand was slightly ironic in the era of Cablegate. However. all the case studies are well written and hit the mark on providing informative stories about the journey to “open leadership” and covering the socio-technical issues involved in each example.

Putting aside the case studies chapter, the final section of the book in chapters 7, 8 and 9 really start to get into the issue of dealing with the managers who are responsible for the top -down change required to move to an open strategy. I suspect that the intended targets of this book are unlikely to read and self-analyse their own behaviour and attitudes unless they have already made a step towards making that change. In other words, Open Leadership isn’t the social business version of Who Moved My Cheese.

Instead, what these chapters present is an fantastic field guide for people inside organisations who are agitating for change or who are responsible for implementing an open strategy across their organisation.

Re-reading my review and flicking back through the pages of Open Leadership, I’m suddenly struck by the thought that this book is like the grown up, better experienced and more refined sibling of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The idea of organisations pursing an open strategy really has grown up and the technologies that support it continue to mature. This books sets the scene for management and how to start thinking about dealing with it.

If you are interested in discussing open strategy, the challenges of open leadership and becoming a social business then please join us at the Headshift | Dachis Group Social Business Summit – Over 4 weeks – across 4 continents – 4 Summits will be convened. Sydney,  2 March –  Austin, 10 March –  London, 24 March – Singapore, 6 April.

Book Review – Cyburbia (or a history of Cybernetics and Cyberspace)


I have to admit that picking up Cyburbia was a bit of a random act – and I almost didn’t. But if you can get past the title and bizzare introduction, this book turns out to be a rather dense, but interesting history of our online society and cybernetics.

Norbert Wiener, the originator of cybernetics, is a constant feature through the book along with a cast of other familiar people, places and online things. The famous Ebbsfleet United crowd management experiment even gets a mention.

Once you are past the introduction, the books works through a logical sequence of chapters titled The Loop, The Peer, The Tie, The Network Effect, Peer Pressure, Non-Linear, Multiplicity, Feedback and Network Failure.

As I said at the begining this book is pretty dense, so its hard to pin point a particular insight or seminal moment. As a result, I think its fair to say that there aren’t a lot of answers in this book, although the general tone is both a little sceptical whilst also being ultimately optimistic. The author, James Harkin, eventually manages to pull together his thesis into a satisfatory conclusion at the end of the book.

Its worth considering that cybernetics has its origins in Wiener’s attempts to create a better anti-aircraft gun, through the use of feedback loops. However, human-computer interaction has evolved to become much more importand and influential. Harkin’s writes in his final few pages that:


The system is certainly self-steering and running on autopilot, but only because it has us as its automations, darting around through information clouds in response to an endless stream of instruction and feedback.

Part of his point here, I think, is that we shouldn’t forget that both the message AND the medium are important. Of course, what we shouldn’t underestimate is the value of the message these new Web mediums create.

He also makes some good arguments about the strenghts, weaknesses, oppourtunties and threats of the weak ties that the Web medium enables.

I wouldn’t make this my first or only book on this topic, but I found it provided me with another perspective on the history of technology in society. As someone once said (or something similar), a nation without a history is like a man without a memory. And in the respect, Harkin has added a little more richness for me to that history.

Book Review: Gamestorming


Gamestorming is a playbook of games for helping people to deal with achieving fuzzy goals. These are mostly workshop techniques, although some of the games in the playbook can be used by individuals. You could certainly use the core theories behind Game Storming to help bring some creativity and innovation to your own thought process.

So what makes Game Storming different from any other workshop facilitator’s guide?

The authors, Dave Gray and James Macanufo, who are from from XPLANE (Dave is the founder and chairman of the company, which is now part of the Dachis Group family along with Headshift), and Sunni Brown are all what might be described as visual thinkers. There is a strong emphasis on employing visual language and ‘sketching’ is one of their ten essentials of gamestorming. I would actually say it is a central theme and the other essentials really hang off it or provide context for employing visual thinking.

To this end, ten pages of the book in chapter 3 are devoted to specifically encouraging you to pick up a pen and paper. Personally, I think its all about confidence – a client recently commissioned a graphic designer to convert a one page sketch I made to explain a complex idea into a graphic to explain their vision. So if you don’t consider yourself much of an artist or a visual thinker, don’t be put off. In the end its less about artistic skill and more about getting out from behind PowerPoint and using simple tools like pens, paper, dot stickers, and post notes to encourage engagement and creativity.

Gamestorming comes in two parts – theory and the playbook of over 80 games that you can game storm with. The theory part is covered in the first three chapters and the final chapter (a case study). Next comes the playbook itself, but I strongly suggest you hold off diving into that detail until you have read the first three chapters. The reason I say this, is that on a face of it – when you look at the individual games – is that its unlikely you will appreciate why a particular game has been selected for a particular chapter in the playbook.

So while I’ve talked about the importance of visual thinking, the point that games and play are not the the same is something that is also addressed at the beginning of the book. The authors explain these basic components that separate games from play:

  1. Game space.
  2. Boundaries.
  3. Rules for interaction.
  4. Artefacts.
  5. Goal.

Understanding these components we can then understand the importance of game design and fitting activities into a open, explore and close model. If you still has questions about the putting these concepts into practice, then the case study in the final chapter helps to pull all this theory together. This approach probably isn’t a new to some trainers and workshop facilitators, however while the book avoids getting into academic theory it still manages to explain the logic behind the approach so you can appreciate why this structure is important.

This is a really smart book. Buy it and it will come in handy for that next workshop you need to run. Just don’t forget to leave PowerPoint behind and bring pens and paper instead!

BTW There is a Website to support the book and the concept of gamestorming, at You might also like to look at Change By Design, which I reviewed back in June.

Review of User Adoption Strategies by Michael Sampson


Michael called his book, User Adoption Strategies, but I think of it more as the User Adoption Strategies Encyclopaedia… 🙂

The emphasis of this book is on describing a range of strategies that will work for second wave adopters, rather than a magic formula approach. He does provide a user adoption model to follow that pulls these strategies into a manageable framework, but within this approach there is still room for these different options to be fitted together into what he later describes as the user adoption “jigsaw”. This model consists of four steps:

  1. Winning Attention;
  2. Cultivating Basic Concepts;
  3. Enlivening Applicability; and
  4. Making It Real.

However, as Michael points out, this puzzle can be extended to fit complex situations, where different strategies need to be used at different types or with different groups. He also reminds us that this approach can take days or weeks to finalise, but then may take months or years to put into practice. As I said, this isn’t a magic formula approach!

I also like the idea of the User Adoption Analyst. Even if this isn’t a formal role in your own project, the job description provides some great pointers on the activities that someone in your project should be doing as part of your rollout. I know this because it pretty much reflects my own role in projects I’ve been involved with in the past, both as a consultant and in my past life at Ernst & Young!

However, it is important to recognise that by covering the breadth of user adoption strategies, this book isn’t intended to be an academic report or even a deep management-thinkers text. The essentials of every strategy is covered in terms of what it is, how to use it, when to use it and why it works. In many cases, this should be enough to get you started but of course there is always room to explore the nuances of a particular strategy further or to understand the theory behind it in more detail. I only mention this to manage expectations – no single book can make you an overnight expert. What I mainly like about Michael’s book is that he has pulled together a great reference that covers all the major approaches that you should consider.

Its also worth noting that Michael has clearly put a lot of thought into the structure of the book, with the chapters grouped into three main sections:

  • Setting the Scene.
  • The Model and the Strategies.
  • Your Approach to User Adoption.

This is the kind of book that once you’ve read it, you’ll find yourself returning to the core chapters in the The Model and the Strategies section time and time again to sense check your approach and to remind yourself of the most typical approaches you should consider.

Overall, this is another practical book from Michael and I’m happy to recommend it.

Finally, I should give a quick nod of appreciation to Michael for the acknowledgement in Chapter 4, where he quotes the tag line of my blog:

“Its not not about the technology”.

BTW I’ve previously reviewed Michael’s earlier book, Seamless Teamwork, over on my old blog.


BBC Radio 5’s Outriders: Interview with Clay Shirky

This week on Outriders a longer discussion as Clay Shirky chats about his new book Cognitive Surplus and how he switched from theater and the arts to new media observation.

The time that we may use to passively watch television or take in traditional media could be changing as audiences become active and productive consumers, not content to sit and watch when they can create something for themselves and their friends. A tricky dilemma while traditional media formats flounder or panic about new media models, but are we all prepared to play nice with the new arenas available to us?

An absolutely great interview with Clay Shirky. You can download the podcast recording.

BTW I haven’t read Cognitive Surplus yet, but in the meantime Peter Kim has posted a review on the Dachis Group blog. My 1998 review of Shirky’s earlier book, Here Comes Everybody, is on my old blog.

From RN Future Tense: Hackers revisited

Wired magazine’s Steven Levy says the ‘Hackers’ of the late 20th century set the philosophical base for the digital information age of today — and he says their mind-set will shape our future.

I remember reading an electronic copy of Steven Levy’s Hackers book downloaded to a PDA (I’m pretty sure, if I recall correctly, I had a Psion Series 5 at the time) during my daily commute across Sydney harbour back in the later part of the 1990s. I remember it feeling quite subversive just to be reading an electronic text, while everyone else had their heads stuck in a newspaper! Of course, the beauty of this book is that it challenges the common view of what hacking culture is all about – less about being illegal and more about being collaborative, through open technologies and an open and experimental culture.

In this radio interview with Levy, he comments:

There were so many people who read my book and told me it changed their lives, and this was then a fantastic experience. For me, to see so many people who have read my book saying it had an effect on them.

I’m not sure this book changed my life, but it certainly was very influential. It really must rank along with other books like Cluetrain (which Euan Semple reminded us about in his workshop at Headshift yesterday) and Being Digital as one of the classics of the digital era. BTW It appears that Hackers has recently been re-released as an updated 25th anniversary edition.

PS. What other *classics* of the digital era would you recommend? Feel free to add your suggestions to the comments.