LF05 - Strategy is Memory

October 11, 2019

Strategy is Memory

Apparently only 30% of employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy (source). To bastardize a William Gibson quote:

The strategy is already here - it’s just not evenly distributed.

Why is that? One reason is that strategy is often set by one group of people, but needs to be recalled by another. Strategy is memory.

The problem is memory is fickle (our brains rewrite our memories to situate the present in the past), memory is subjective (the Rashoman Effect), and memory is held by people.

When job tenures were longer this worked. An organization’s memory could live in its people and reliably remain inside its operations.

But as people and organizations form looser affiliations over shorter time-horizons, we need to find new ways to embed, transfer and recall the memory of where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, and why we made decisions.

Strategic Mementos: stickers, posters, blogs & podcasts

Here are some interesting ways to help your organization remember more, and for the strategy to stick, sometimes literally:

Stickers

From Giles talking about the government digital service(GDS):

Stickers like that become tokens that represent something more - a shared experience, a shared set of memories that only people who worked on that project will remember and understand. A sticker, like a web page, can be a conscious act of institutional memory.

Posters

Giles again, GDS again. This time posters:

Some people question the value of posters. I think they’re a useful way of getting simple messages out to large numbers of people. They help to reinforce concepts you’ve introduced in other ways, or to introduce new ideas to people who’ve not encountered them before.

Posters are things that people see in passing. They’re a low-cost ambient broadcast mechanism. They only cost a few pounds to print, and they’re worth spending a few pounds on.

Blogging

We’ve talked about week notes before and we’ll talk about them again but they’re wonderful ways to show the thinking. Especially because they’re referenceable.

Week notes, and blogging in general, is a wonderful way to socialize the thinking and perspectives of the few for the many.

This from a guide to agile communication from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in the UK!) helps outline why it’s valuable to blog to share knowledge:

Blogging is a valuable way of documenting progress, aggregating thoughts, building a narrative, and making things open. Blogging helps your team communicate briefly and clearly. It helps you divide the burden of comms among many people. Having a blog means you have freedom to communicate more often, about topics that matter to you and your users. Blog posts are simpler, quicker and more fun to write than press releases. Blogs are your brain, or your team’s collective brain, over time, on the internet.

Internal Podcasts

As podcasts eat the world we’re seeing an increase in internal-company podcasts as well. These oral traditions feel well aligned for socializing knowledge and fitting media consumption habits. This twitter thread has a bunch of insights and examples. From Tobi, CEO Shopify:

Yea I host exactly that podcast internally to Shopify. Hugely successful and popular. More companies need to do it.

So maybe Little Futures is not about looking outward but inward, to the people inside the organization and how they socialize and interact. How evenly distributed will your futures be?


This week’s links are all about ways to communicate better:

Amazon’s Infamous Six-Page Memos

Amazon reportedly has a culture of relying on written memo’s instead of presentations. The result: better arguments?

Here’s Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders which is a great read:

We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.” Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.

Steve Yegge’s Platform Rant

This was supposed to be an internal-only Google+ post inside Google but was accidentally posted publicly (now archived). It’s a great example of the six-page memo format, of arguing for change:

That one last thing that Google doesn’t do well is Platforms. We don’t understand platforms. We don’t “get” platforms. Some of you do, but you are the minority. This has become painfully clear to me over the past six years. I was kind of hoping that competitive pressure from Microsoft and Amazon and more recently Facebook would make us wake up collectively and start doing universal services. Not in some sort of ad-hoc, half-assed way, but in more or less the same way Amazon did it: all at once, for real, no cheating, and treating it as our top priority from now on.

Context over Control

Especially true for remote work but true for all knowledge work organizations it’s important to emphasize context over control:

Context almost happens naturally in small organizations composed of individuals who work in the same room and share the same desk. Once a company starts to grow, context is one of the first things to fall apart. Because of how quickly this transition can be, it’s not quite obvious for many when they have to start building it intentionally. Good context doesn’t just randomly happen – it’s actually the by-product of a very intentional plan.

This idea of context explains why good CEO’s don’t steer from Venkatesh Rao and explains a strong idea of what kind of communications are useful for CEOs to provide:

The primary CEO function, and the trait the good ones are selected for, is to provide the gyroscopic stability required to keep a company vectored in the chosen direction. They end up in the jobs they do because they counterbalance an organization’s natural tendency towards distraction, ADD and momentum dissipation. A typical company is a wandering, wobbling hive mind, liable to spend all its time chasing distractions if you let it, before dissolving into a bunch of clever tweets about crappy prototypes.

As the orientation lock, the CEO becomes the human locus where momentum compounds; the psychological platform others build on. They are the steward of whatever snowballing network effect or unleashed natural wealth-creating dynamic is the company’s raison d’être. Their primary job, and ideally their only one, is to protect and feed that dynamic, and get everything else out of the way.

Blogging at Work

For those that really want to ponder the blogging-at-work idea I really enjoyed this PhD PDF on Passion at Work: Blogging Practices of Knowledge Workers.

For knowledge workers, blogging means crossing boundaries - not only the boundaries between passion and paid work, but also those between private and public or between multiple audiences of a weblog.

Since their early days, weblogs have been envisioned as a technology that supports knowledge work. However, despite of an increasing adoption of blogging in knowledge-intensive environments, blogging in respect to knowledge work has hardly been explored. This research aims to fill this gap by describing blogging practices of knowledge workers.

If that 273 page PDF is too long perhaps try this post from Atlassian - 4 ways internal blogging improves culture:

But there’s something about the openness of a blog and the fact that it allows you to share anything — a piece of information, insights from a project, or a story from your home life — with your entire company that has a massive impact on workplace culture.

Documentation? Wikis?

This nice little solution from the New York Times to build their documentation right on top of Google Docs:

The New York Times is no different. Several years ago, it was common for each desk to have an internal wiki that they used to collect these instructions. As the use of Google Docs grew within the newsroom, the wikis began to be used and maintained less frequently, and knowledge of existing documentation became scarce.


This week, Tom is building a walkable sci-fi story that might be called Glitch Gowanus, Brian is writing “Dog Poems #6-10”.


Little Futures is a research and consultancy studio from Brian Dell and Tom Critchlow to make futures thinking less abstract and more grounded - to shine a light on what we call “arm’s-length futures.”

With a background in creative strategy, media, startups & consulting we are experimenting with building a new kind of research studio to navigate new kinds of futures - Little Futures.

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