Post of the Month – December 2018 – The Winner


I’m a little late with this due to a heavy work schedule (sorry) but I can formally announce that the winner of Post of the Month is Gareth Price’s post on the personalisation problem. We had some good voting around Noah Brier’s excellent thinking around Marketing and the Tension Between Contrarianism and Tradition but in the end it was Gareth’s EatYourGreens presentation that won, so well done to Gareth. You join the hall of fame. My thanks to everyone that took part. Stay tuned for next month’s vote.

Post of the Month – December 2018 – The Vote

Post of the Month – December 2018 – Nominations


If you can think back as far as 2018 it’s time to open nominations for Post of the Month. So please do look back at your bookmarks and nominate any good posts that you read and that you think are worthy of being in the vote. As usual I have a short starting list below but do add to these via the comments below or direct and as soon as I have a good number I’ll stick them up for a vote. My starting four are:

Marketing and the Tension Between Contrarianism and Tradition by Noah Brier 

Calling time on our long hours culture by Melissa Vodegel Matzen

Being Bolder (Reflections 18 months into my work at NHS Digital) by Matt Edgar

Technology Wastes as Much Time as it Saves by Rory Sutherland

Do let me know your own nominations.

Valuing Curiosity in Business


Curiosity fundamentally conflicts with the scalable efficiency model that dominates virtually all of our institutions – we anticipate a big shift from scalable efficiency to scalable learning driven by a changing economic environmentJohn Hagel

Curiosity is one of those qualities in business that most of us recognise as having value yet few businesses actually do anything to recognise or support. Many organisations are in fact very efficient curiosity-killers, developing policies and ways of working that actively squash any inclination by their staff to explore. No-one is given any time to dedicate to it, few have serious strategies in place to support it, the prioritisation of the business acts against it. 

Research conducted by behavioral scientist and Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino showed that out of 3,000 employees surveyed from a wide range of industries, only 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis. Moreover 70% of respondents said that they face barriers to asking more questions at work. 

And yet there is a solid business case for the value of curiosity. Francesca Gino’s research has also shown that greater curiosity results in fewer decision-making errors (we’re more likely to think deeper about decisions, and be less susceptible to confirmation bias or stereotyping) and more innovative approaches. Other research by her has indicated that when evaluating staff, natural curiosity in employees was associated by bosses with better job performance, and that curiosity helped people to be less defensive, to increase open communication and empathy, reduce group conflict and improve team performance. Work by Spencer Harrison, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD, has demonstrated that curiosity boosts creativity (even in relatively structured roles such as those in a call centre). 92% of respondents in that 3,000 person survey by Francesco Gino regarded curiosity as a catalyst for motivation, job satisfaction, high performance and innovation.

What’s interesting though is how much the attitudes of leaders and employees diverge. A big study by Spencer Harrison in collaboration with SurveyMonkey which surveyed more than 23,000 people (including 16,000 employees and 1,500 C-Suite leaders) found that whilst 83% of senior leaders said that curiosity is encouraged in their company ‘a great deal’ or ‘a good amount’, only 52% of employees felt the same. An amazing 81% of lower-level staff believed that curiosity made no material difference in their compensation.

Clearly senior leaders in many organisations believe that they are supporting and encouraging this attribute when the reality is very different. It’s easy to talk about simplistic fixes like ‘give employees more time to explore’, but I believe the answer needs to be more systemic than that.

Spencer Harrison talks about the importance of identity, and encouraging individuals to bring their interests with them into the workplace. And I believe there is something very powerful in creating an environment where people can really be themselves and do their best work. But it’s a quality that will only thrive if it is genuinely integrated into organisational culture and that means that it needs to be continuously reflected and reinforced through the behaviours of leaders, the questions they ask, the attributes that they recognise and value. Businesses have to get better at de-prioritising low-value time spent and systematically opening up more time for exploration. In times of change and high unpredictability the businesses that will survive will be those that can explore and learn fastest. Curiosity is not a luxury, it is essential.

Thanks to Paul Jocelyn for pointing me at the John Hagel’s Tweet which inspired the post.

Photo by Bing Han on Unsplash


“Bureaucracy is a massive, role-playing game. If you’re an advanced player, you know how to deflect blame, defend turf, manage up, hoard resources, trade favors, negotiate targets and avoid scrutiny. Those who excel at the game, unsurprisingly, are unenthusiastic about changing it.”


Via Nicole Yershon

Shipped in 2018

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back from the rush of the day-to-day and really look at the bigger picture of what you do in order to take stock. So every year around this time I write a sort of review of what I’ve been up to work-wise as a thinking-out-loud way of doing this. I think I mentioned in the last two reviews what a strange and disconcerting year that they had both been and with everything going on, this year has proved to be even more bonkers. Working for yourself always carries with it a relatively high level of uncertainty but as we go into 2019, that uncertainty feels more present than ever. And in a number of ways 2018 has been one of my most challenging years. Nonetheless, I’ve been fortunate in that this year has seen a succession of challenging but fascinating projects through which I’ve continued to learn, develop and adapt. So in no particular order…

  • My biggest project for the year by far was working with the wider leadership team at Vodafone to help them with their transformation to more scaled agile ways of working and to develop the kind of leadership mindset that can more broadly support these ways of thinking and working. Much of this was workshop based, working with the leadership teams at their head office in Paddington and also in the operating companies around Europe. There were 54 days of workshopping, and quite a bit of travel involved but there was also the rare opportunity to work with one organisation over an extended period of time which really gave me the opportunity to get under the skin of how that business thinks and works. It was really challenging but rewarding work and I loved it.
  • It was also a good year for Google Firestarters. We ran seven events including one (for Google’s 20th Anniversary) that brought together the planning and performance marketing strands/audiences for the first time in a session focused on navigating the over-polarised debate around the value of data/technology and that of creativity and brand. Rory Sutherland and Rebecca Burchnall’s talks were personal favourites from that. But we also ran performance marketing events on topics ranging from the Future of Search, to automation, to use of audience signals. And we had some exceptional speakers at our planning Firestarters events on the brilliance and brutalisation of insight, learning from the innovators, and Simon Wardley’s excellent concepts around mapping and technology strategy. I can hardly believe that we’re now moving into the ninth year of Google Firestarters. 
  • Overall, I’ve been doing far more work around agile transformation this year, and that’s taken many forms including an agile transformation consultancy project with a large media owner, agile leadership workshops with companies as diverse as L’Occitane, EY, DFS, Arco, Cancer Research UK, The British Red Cross, Fitflop, Octopus investments, a series of webinars for Centrica and Axa, and latterly a rapid prototyping session at Asda in Leeds and facilitating an innovation day for the Post Office.
  • I’d like to do more conference speaking next year but this year there was a talk at the Google Agency Summit, and also talks at Sainsbury’s and at Mediacom’s transformation week. 
  • Digital marketing capability is the other area in which my work is focused, and this year I worked with teams at Ferrero in Luxembourg, Barilla in Milan, McCormick in Baltimore, a public body in Bahrain, did several fast-track training sessions and ran workshops for General Mills which are continuing into next year.
  • I was fortunate to work with the lovely folk at AAR group on a couple of fascinating research projects this year, the output of which were two reports. The first, on evolving agency/client models, looked at the rapidly changing dynamics of how client marketing teams are working with their agency partners (in some ways building on the work that I did for the IPA in 2017 on the future of agencies). The second was a really interesting look at the innovation partnership landscape in the UK and beyond which I think was something of a first. 
  • I also worked with a couple of agencies this year on projects to help define their proposition, and to think about more agile ways of working with their clients
  • This year was the sixth year of me running Econsultancy’s Digital Shift trends service which meant another four reports and eight webinars. 
  • This was also (unbelievably) the eighth year of my weekly newsletter which saw another 42 episodes. Weekly Fish Food is simply a round up of the most useful/fascinating/interesting/intriguing/funny things that I’ve seen in the week but the subscriber base keeps growing and is now almost 3,000 so I guess people like it.
  • It was a crazy year work-wise, but I did (just about) manage to keep writing, and there were 85 blog posts here (actually the same as last year), and another 15 over on the agile business blog. Blogging is still something that I get huge value from

So 2018 has been another very busy work year, and one in which I’ve learned loads, for which I’m extremely grateful. But what didn’t work out so well? Well, once again I seem to have failed to really carve out time to explore, read, think, and write. So again, I’m going to try and focus on that more next year. I need to look after myself better, and keep more time for that. Some stuff outside of work this year (most notably my Mum suffering a bad fall from which it’s taken months to recover) has sucked up a lot of time so I’m hoping that I can manage things a bit better next year. And there’s a few projects this year that have really developed my thinking around some of the things I’ve been working around for years (like how companies manage change in the modern world) so I’d like to dedicate more time to that. As I said at the beginning, the environment we’re in in this country (and perhaps the world in general) feels more uncertain than ever which is something I worry about a lot, but I continue to be grateful to smart friends and good clients, and for all the learning the past year has given me. Long may that continue.

Post of the Month – November 2018 – The Vote

Post of the Month – November 2018 – Nominations


It’s time to open nominations for Post of the Month. So if there is a post that you’ve read over the past month that you thought was particularly good, please do nominate it in the comments below or direct. As soon as I have a good number on the shortlist I’ll stick them up for a vote, but as always I have a few starting nominations which are:

Adding Value, by Adding Values by Ben Terrett

A Rocker’s Guide to Management by Ian Leslie

It’s time for employers to realise that work will never be more important than our children by Amelia Torode

Dear White Men, We Need You by Imali Hettiarachchi

Please do add to these nominations with your own.