How to stay above the automation line

Extract  from Business Innovation by Nick Whiteley

Extract from Business Innovation by Nick Whiteley

Why should you be more creative and innovative within your organisation?

Because without this edge your job is, or will be, at risk. Just as many blue-collar workers have been replaced with automated production lines, technology will also automate many of the process driven, “decision tree” making roles within the white-collar workforce.

Remember the bank tellers (now cash machines) and typist pools (word processors) of yesterday? If you cannot add value above the “automation line” then your job is at risk.

The automation line is an ever rising bar encroaching on the white-collar workforce through new and ever improving technology, computerisation, and software. As computers and software become more sophisticated, they are capable of doing more and more of the work that we are employed to do. Computers are great at automating processes and can rapidly make decisions based on the defined rules and data provided. They can do this much quicker, consider many more variables or data points, and with far fewer mistakes. However, right now and for the foreseeable future, they cannot create, innovate or think outside the box.

So think about your role and how far above the automation line it is. If it isn’t, then it will not be a new college graduate that you need to fear replacing your role; it is that thing that sits on your desk and in the server room. Companies will increasingly outsource or automate functions, roles, and activities that fit below the automation line. If it is not a core competency, does not add value, or create a competitive advantage then it is just a cost that needs reducing through automation or outsourcing. And if they don’t do it, someone else will and the company will be driven out of business through competitive pricing. Focus on your core competency and passion.

Innovation and creativity work well in the intersection of passion and competency. How can you transform yourself? Feed your mind. Just as a varied diet is important for physical health, so is a varied intake of ideas and knowledge. Become an avid reader. Not just books on your speciality or on innovation, but spread the net wider, read a variety of books on different topics from science to philosophy to the arts.  Read up not just on your industry/market, but also others. As you read look for connections, ideas that could be applied to your industry/market or function/role.

Become a dreamer. Think of a future unconstrained by technology. Science Fiction, however bad, is simply the idea of a future not confined by the technology of today. To get outside the box, you need to stop yourself from artificially constraining your thought process. What was not possible yesterday may well be possible today. The pace of technological change is becoming rapid. Constraining yourself by the limits of yesterday or even today will not allow you to invent tomorrow. Spend time with the customers and prospects. Understand their pain points. Great innovations come from real problems.

Become a problem miner, looking for problems to solve and the mother of ideas. Where are the gaps in the solution? Understand the space around the product or solution. Can this be filled? Will it add value? Learn to unthink and unlearn the rules and solutions of yesterday. You need to be fearless in your ability to destroy the status quo. Revolutions and Paradigm shifts are not incremental, they do not build on top of yesterday; they overturn and destroy to make way for something new and better. Do not get attached to yesterday’s idea or even your latest idea.

You need to be a revolutionary and a constant one at that.

The above extract is taken from Business Innovation: A little book of big ideas by Nick Whiteley and is available from Amazon. The book is available in both paper and kindle versions. Click here to read the reviews and download.

Posted in Growth, Innovation, Talent | Leave a comment

12 Traits of Great Leaders

12 Traits of Great Leaders

12 Traits of Great Leaders

What makes a great leader?  Here are 12 great traits that I believe are necessary for great leadership.

I chose them not just because of their intrinsic value but also because of their interaction and relationship to the other traits.

Some of the traits enable others, some are enabled by others and yet again some traits act as a (moral) constraint.

They are to be seen holistically and there is no ranking implied in the order given.


“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.“
Jonathan Swift

Great leaders turn trees into forests.  They are able to see the potential of small acorns and create a vision of tomorrow composed of forests. They understand the detail, the challenges and barriers but do not let it constrain their thinking.

Vision isn’t born in a bubble or in a sterile environment but through listening to customers, prospects, staff and markets. You don’t get your vision from being in a helicopter but from being on the ground.
Leaders take that vision and with their values turn it into a mission. All their subsequent actions and decisions are guided by that mission.
In a very true sense they are led by the vision they have created and are themselves subservient to that mission.  They will sacrifice self-interest but not their values in the cause of that mission.


“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.”
Lance Secretan 

Great Leaders are authentic. They do not pretend to be someone else or put on a persona.
Some leaders have charisma, some don’t.
Great leaders don’t try and be someone there are not, but try and perfect what they are.
They are the genuine article.


“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.“
John F. Kennedy

You can’t lead without learning.
A great leader is a teacher and coach, but if you are not learning, you’re not growing.
You cannot teach if you do not value learning  and if you are not learning you are setting a bad example to those you aspire to teach.
You need to be humble to learn and humble to lead.
Leaders that constantly learn are often first to identify and mitigate challenges ahead.


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Stephen R. Covey

Great leaders are not just good listeners, they are proactive listeners.
They pro-actively seek out opportunities to listen to staff, customers and prospects to learn.
They recognise that every opportunity to listen is an opportunity to learn.


“True humility is intelligent self respect which keeps us from thinking too highly or too meanly of ourselves. It makes us modest by reminding us how far we have come short of what we can be.”
Ralph W. Sockman

Great leaders are humble, they don’t believe they have all the answers or are always right.
This humility helps them to listen and learn.
By recognising and admitting their limitations they encourage openness and teamwork.
They become approachable and open to other points of view.
An “Open Door” policy is of no use if the person inside does not have an “Open Mind”.


“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. “
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Great Leaders have a strong sense of personal integrity that they will not sacrifice for personal or business gain.
They do not believe the ends justify the means.
It requires courage but in doing so creates trust, respect and loyalty.


”The glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and the led is trust, and trust is based on integrity.”
Brian Tracy

Leadership requires trust from those that follow.
The most effective way of gaining trust and inspiring your staff is to trust them.
Trust given is Trust returned.
If you do not trust your staff you will not be trusted in return.
Great leaders hire people they trust and trust people they hire.
Being trusted is both empowering and humbling.


“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”
Stephen Covey

Great leaders turn the organisational pyramid upside down and focus on serving and empowering their managers and staff to enable them to execute effectively.
Empowerment requires both trust in your staff and core values that you engender through leadership.
Great Leaders empower staff because they know that is the most effective way to achieve the mission.


“Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy. “
Richard Eyre

Being able to step inside another’s shoes and understand their point of view is critical to understanding customers, staff and stakeholders.
Listening without understanding or relating is not meaningful dialogue.
Great leaders utilise their empathy and integrity to ensure messages are correctly communicate and not misunderstood.


“Nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion.”
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Great leaders are passionate about what they do and why they do it.
This passion is inspired by their vision and driven by their mission.
Very few people are passionate about their salary no matter how much it is.
Unlocking peoples passion is a key leadership trait achieved through empathy and listening and energised through empowering.


“Nothing speaks like results. If you want to build the kind of credibility that connects with people, then deliver results before you deliver a message. Get out and do what you advise others to do. Communicate from experience.”  John C. Maxwell

Great leaders are not cheerleaders. They execute and lead from the front.
They set the pace and set the example for others to follow.
They do not remain at “arm’s length” for fear of failure but alongside their colleagues to ensure success.
Great leaders are always accountable.

In the words of Einstein Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”


“Wherever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
Peter Drucker

It takes courage to take risks, to change direction and sometimes go against consensus or the prevailing culture.
It takes courage to lead with integrity.
Without courage you end up following not leading.
Great leaders will have as many critics as fans. If you always look for consensus you will often end up with mediocrity.


These 12 traits are tough, you will only know just how tough when you put all 12 into action every single day. However, they are a good benchmark to measure yourself against each day not with the intention of self admonishment, but self improvement.

The bar is high and intentionally so. The results of Great Leadership are not seen while the leader is present, but whilst they are away.  Great Leadership has a lasting impact.

In contrast many of the once ‘hailed’ great leaders of the finance industry and banking sector have been since shown to have fallen short. Short term success is not a sign of great leadership.

Steve Jobs, whilst a true visionary who lead from the front, lacked many leadership traits including empowerment, integrity, humility and empathy. Whilst his autocratic style brought short term success whilst he was alive, his absence has created a significant vacuum at Apple.

This is not to say they were all incapable of developing these traits, they just didn’t value them enough to try. 

I struggled to find a contemporary leader who could inspire and demonstrate many of the traits and values expressed here. I could find no obvious candidates in either business or politics.

That is until I heard Malala Yousafzai speak at the United Nations. Read the transcript of her speech and see how many leadership traits you can identify.

There is a PowerPoint of the 12 Traits that you can download here

Posted in Change, Company Culture, Leadership, Management, Talent, Values | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

8 Management Tools for Patient Safety

8 Management tools for Patient Safety

8 Management tools for Patient Safety

In a post-Francis world, everybody is searching for the silver bullet to improve quality within the NHS. The 1,782 page report by Robert Francis QC doesn’t provide one bullet, but 290 recommendations. But are we in danger of not seeing the wood from the trees?

There are some very basic – yet  key – principles that still seem illusive for many trusts

1. Quality Healthcare = Quality Decisions

Quality Healthcare is about making quality decisions for your patients. This is obvious enough but to make quality decisions you need more than qualifications and experience, you need access to the collective experience of the organisation and the right information at the right time.

High quality decision making – both on the ground and in the board room- requires access to real time information about the current state and access to both historical and predictive data. Whilst linked, the former is a learning event, the latter is a predictive event.

Without learning from the past, your future decisions are flawed and without sufficient or timely data about the present, you cannot accurately decide on the correct course of action. 

2. You can’t Manage what you can’t Measure

Whilst the NHS has a multitude of measurements, the delay between data capture and its analysis renders it useless for real time management. Operational Management is real-time and to be effective needs real-time data to support that decision making.

This is particularly relevant to patients and safety.

Air traffic controllers manage with real time -not just historical- data. 

This subtle difference is one reason why getting into a plane is far safer than getting into a hospital bed.

3. You can’t Prevent what you can’t Predict

Ensuring high quality outcomes is more complicated than simply implementing best practice. There are a myriad of factors and variables that can negatively affect a patient’s outcome and it is this complexity that goes beyond the human ability to analyse in real time.

Here lies the true power of IT: The ability to enhance human decision making by providing real time analysis of all the factors and variables that go into making a quality decision about patient care.

Just as important is the recording and correlating of these variables to patient outcomes that over time provide enormous insight and increase predictability and prevention of poor outcomes.  But none of this can be achieved through a paper-based operational view of healthcare.

The recent report by PWC identified savings of £4.4 billion by moving to a paperless NHS.

From a cost saving perspective this makes financial sense, but the additional positive impact on organisational learning, continuous improvement, quality and safety could dwarf any such figure.

The real value of IT is not what it replaces, but what it enables.

A more informed discussion of IT should focus not simply on how IT saves money, but on how it can help improve quality and save lives. 

A focus on quality will invariably deliver savings, but a narrow focus on cost reduction will likely result in just automating an existing process.

Technology can help improve Quality through enabling process transformation not simply automation. 

4. Policies and Processes without constant monitoring make compliance impossible

Today most credit card companies automatically monitor every single transaction we make, looking for activity and trends that suggest identity theft and fraud.

They do not pull a report at the end of the month, rely on anecdotal feedback or policies and processes.

They monitor and they monitor in real-time.

They could not do this in a paper-based world, and neither can the NHS without making this transition.

If you need to be compliant  100% of the time then you need to monitor 100% of the time and this requires the introduction of computerised systems.

5. You need to measure lead indicators, not just lag

Currently the NHS still relies heavily on recording (often through inaccurate paper based systems) and learning from the past (lag indicators) rather than adopting lead indicators that help professionals identify and prevent potential problems before they occur.

If you talk to a patient about managing their weight, you wouldn’t just advise them to weigh themselves once a month (lag indicator) but also instruct them to count their calories every day (lead indicator).

Prevention is still better than cure and healthcare organisations need to adopt the same approach. 

A recent report by The Health Foundation said this; “Common to all industries is the recognition of the need to move away from an over-reliance on lagging indicators to a mixed model that combines both lagging and leading indicator. But where is healthcare in this evolutionary process?”.

Indeed the answer is lagging behind.

6. Quality is a continuous learning circle

Continuous improvement, Total Quality Management and 6 Sigma have been widely used in the commercial sector for many years to ensure errors  are minimised, yet healthcare still lags significantly behind. Why?

Whilst human physiology is undoubtedly far more complex, the reality is that healthcare has not evolved quickly enough or achieved the same level of operational knowledge as these other industries.

However, IT can deliver the same accelerated learning within healthcare as it has with other industries.

The publication by the Department of Health in 2000 called “An organisation with a memory” laid the foundation stones, but without adequate systems to gather data at every level of the organisation,  individual trusts will struggle to develop its own learning capability.

Centralised data, that can be easily analysed and correlated, is critical in understanding outcomes, causes and translating that into a predictive model that can aid future decision making.

This also introduces a novel change in the IT landscape and one which IT providers will also need to adapt to over the years; many healthcare IT solutions are too brittle to adapt to an organisation focused on continuous learning and improvement. 

New solutions are required that not only address current practices, but can adapt and help model future practices based upon the data collected and analysed.

However, without the systems in place today providing real evidence-based insight we will still be debating in 10 years which acuity models are right, what staffing levels are appropriate, the right skill mix, the right Early Warning Score measures etc.

Opinions matter, experience is valuable, but evidence is critical.

7. Ignorantia non excusat

As the ramifications unfold from Mid Staffs and the Francis report, a clear principle is starting to emerge often expressed as accountability but the subtext is clearly from the legal principle ignorantia non excusat or Ignorance is no excuse.

Yet when it comes to quality information, the further you go up the trust hierarchy the darker the picture becomes, and the longer it takes before problems are discovered.

If that sounds very much like Mid Staffs then that’s because it was.

Whilst NHS organisations will point to many reports and measurements, they often cannot answer some very basic operational questions in real-time;

Where are my patients?
How sick are they?
Which ones are deteriorating?

Where are my staff?
 Do I have enough staff on the ward to meet the changing needs of my patients?

Most organisations rely on staff professionalism, policies and processes to get them through the day.

But when patients get sicker and staff get busier that is exactly when it all starts to break down. 

Naturally you can telephone round the wards, just as air traffic controllers could ring round the planes every so often to check on where they are, but would we seriously accept that solution from BAA?

If we wouldn’t accept it at our airports, we should be even more determined not to accept it within our hospitals. After all, taking a flight is elective, being in hospital often isn’t.

So whilst there are many good recommendations in the Francis report, there are some fundamentals to management that only IT can solve. 

 8. Compare with the best not the rest

If you believe that with only a few minor tweaks and improvements to your policies and procedures you can become – or perhaps already are – above average or in the top quartile of trusts in the UK, then you are probably right, but then your benchmark is wrong.

The benchmark is not how an individual trust compares with another trust or the national average; it is how your organisation compares with the aviation industry.

 That is the real benchmark and nothing less is justifiable. It should be as safe – if not safer – to be in a hospital as it is to fly in a plane.

If you compare your organisation to airline safety (1 accidental death per 10 million passenger flights) then it becomes clear that mere tinkering is insufficient to meet this level of safety.

This is no flight of fancy. Not only have airlines achieved this level of safety, but they have achieved it whilst also making a profit.

They, like any other organisation, have to balance safety and cost and have made it work.

They do not have any special knowledge that can’t be learnt and adopted to ensure the NHS continues to treasure its patients as much as the public treasures the institution.


The goal of  a harm free environment will never be achieved if we set our sights low, attempt to explain away the differences or indeed put the blame on unprofessional behaviour, poor management and wrong culture.

These are easy explanations because wherever you go (in whatever industry) you will find occurrences of all three – including aviation.

Airlines do not have better managers than the NHS, just better tools to help managers make better decisions and systems in place that help catch errors before they occur. 

We have seen IT transform almost every industry and our own lives and now is the time to leverage these tools to empower NHS managers to make the kind of quality decisions we need to keep patients safe every day. 

A slideshare presentation of this post is available here.

About the author

Nick Whiteley is a technologist with over 10 years’ experience developing solutions for the NHS. He is CTO of Ground-Vision (providing Electronic Lead Indicators to the NHS) and COO of Nurse-Excel (eCompetency Compliance Solutions to the NHS).

He is a published Author with a passion for Healthcare technology that leads to improved patient outcomes.

Nick also heads up, a business consultancy with a focus on SME technology businesses particularly focused on healthcare.

You can contact nick at

Posted in Change, Innovation, Management, NHS, Patient Safety, strategy, Values | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Business is a Journey: Pull over and ask for direction

Business Success

A recent survey revealed that men clocked up over 276 miles a year aimlessly driving around lost with 12% refusing offers of help.

The waste in time and money (apparently £2,000 over the lifetime) does not appear to be any discouragement to this activity.

Whilst I don’t have any international figures to compare, I suspect this trait is more prevalent in the UK than in the US and elsewhere.

Whilst these statistics are interesting, they were not a random find, but the answer I was looking for to a question I asked myself this week.

Even though my consultancy is UK based, I have more clients in the US than I do in the UK.


Well the predilection towards not asking for – and even refusing – help doesn’t simply kick in once you get in the driving seat of a car.  It would appear to be a cultural disposition that also manifests itself at board level and with directors and CEO’s in the UK.

The desire to “make my own mistakes” –  instead of avoiding them through outside guidance – is quite apparent in the UK.  CEO’s may still arrive at their destination eventually, but at what cost to the business? The sums can be pretty huge.

Pride it seems comes before progress, and more importantly, Profit. My experience with US businesses is the reverse. Profit comes before Pride.

So I have my answer; US business leaders aren’t afraid to pull over and ask for directions AND that’s why my consultancy has more US based clients.

Whilst I’ve learnt a valuable lesson, I think there is also a lesson for business leaders everywhere. If you want to get where you need to be faster, pull over and ask for direction.

More importantly when it comes to business, leave your pride in the car, and don’t bring it to the office.

Posted in Change, Growth, strategy, Values | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

3 Reasons Why Working From Home Isn’t Working


The news that Marissa Mayer has banned working from home at Yahoo! has created much heated debate both inside and outside of the organisation from mommy bloggers to Richard Branson.  But whose right when it comes to working from home?

There is both a general perspective on working for home and clearly a very specific one to Yahoo! that the CEO knows better than perhaps armchair critics give her credit for.

I believe a blanket ban on working from home is an extreme measure (or perhaps medicine) that Ms Mayer’s has imposed due to the severity of the problems within her organisation.  I suspect that over time – and after the culture has changed – the rules will be relaxed but right now allowing exceptions would open up another avenue for abuse.  Naturally the effect of this personally on some individuals will be intolerable and they will be paying a heavy the price for the abuses of their colleagues.

However, if Mayer does not succeed in turning around Yahoo! then every employee’s job will be at risk whether they work in the office or at home.  This is Mayer leading cultural change within Yahoo! to turn it from a bloated sluggish and lazy company into one that can become agile, innovative and compete effectively with Google.  I am sure that in this process Yahoo! will lose talent, but talent that isn’t engaged or committed isn’t going to help Yahoo! compete.

So is this simply localised medicine to address the ills of Yahoo! or are there general lessons to be learned?

My view is that a blanket ban on working from home is NOT a policy that companies should implement under normal circumstances.  I believe organisations should be flexible and allow trusted managers to exercise a degree of freedom to decide if/when members of their team can work from home.

However, I believe working from home should be the exception and not the norm.  Whilst technology is a great enabler and does make working from home easier, it does not make it on par with working in the office and here’s why;

  1. Collaboration. People are not computers or robots; you are not networked simply by having a computer on the network. Email and phone are only two ways people communicate not the sum total.  This is so important particularly in the IT industry where innovation and ideas often come not through formal meetings, but through encounters at the coffee machine and informal chats in the hallway or canteen. Spontaneous meetings that spark ideas, solve problems or create opportunities are not easily replicated via a PC.
  2.  Culture. An organisation – whether business or otherwise- is based on a group of people who share a common purpose and vision. Some even go so far as to call it a “tribe”.  The culture of an organisation is about shared identity and purpose that enables people to work together more effectively even in tough times and when tough decisions need to be made. The culture and values of an organisation isn’t simply learned remotely. Could you learn the French culture from simply from a book?
  3. Engagement. Remote working is just that; you are remote from the organisation, your colleagues, and the day to day operation of the business. WFH policies dismantle team-work. People are social beings and get – and give – value from being with other people. This is why VHS and DVD did not kill of the cinema even though they are considerably cheaper mediums for watching films. People are more engaged when they work in a team and actually know their boss and colleagues – they don’t want to let them down.   Working in the office is not just of value to the employer but also provides meaningful interactions for employees and can actually help retain staff.

These reasons simply underline a basic principle;

People are not computers and work best in a culture not in isolation. People don’t work like computers and are at their best when they are not treated as such.  Computers can’t collaborate, innovate or be engaged, they simply process and that is their strength and weakness. People provide the collaboration, innovation and engagement so long as the environment is conducive to that aim.

The second principle is common sense; there are roles and times in people’s life when a degree of flexibility to work from home is important and facilitating this creates commitment and trust.

It seems Yahoo! has paid the price for following a FAD and is now having to take some serious medication.  Other businesses should take note. 

Posted in Change, Company Culture, Innovation, Motivation, strategy, Values | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Will ethics be the next disruption?


Two major disruptions to businesses have come from technology (e.g. the Internet) and from business models (SaaS, Freemium etc.) and these have been felt all the way from the board room to the high street.

But now I believe there is evidence that the next disruption to hit the board room will be driven by ethics. The behaviour and culture of banks and other businesses that caused or contributed to the global recession have rocked the confidence not just of governments, but consumers to the core.

This has been coming for some time and perhaps even one of the milestones of unethical business practices can be traced to the introduction of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The very invention of this term is in itself recognition that businesses have fallen below the standards expected within society.

However, many businesses still promote CSR as a marketing tool rather than as a core principle. Marketing should be an outward expression of the inward mission and value the company stands for, but the reality is that with too many organisations there is no such connection.  Just like companies that promote innovation whilst delivering legacy products, they will be disrupted when real innovation – and in this case ethics – is embodied rather than simply promoted.

Whilst some would argue the root cause of poor business practice is the single minded pursuit of profit over-riding ethical behaviour, I believe it is the lack of integration of business and society that has enabled this distorted and deviant behaviour to thrive.  Again, as with CSR, the introduction of stakeholders as a concept was recognition that a business should not solely consider the wishes of the shareholders, but also consider other stakeholders the organisation serves (e.g. customers, employees etc).

But isn’t the question “who are my stakeholders?” just rephrasing a 2,000 year old question “who is my neighbour?”. And don’t we already know the answer?

Stakeholders are not just shareholders, employees and customers, but also suppliers and still the list goes further. The government not only profits – in terms of tax – from business, but also defines the laws in which it operates. Indeed, every tax payer or recipient of benefits has a stake in – and benefits from – successful and ethically run businesses. That’s about everyone.

This has become all too evident with the recent banking crisis. Millions of people who weren’t customers, shareholders or employees of these banks are now paying higher tax and receiving reduced benefits because of the unethical behaviour of these banks.

It is this painful lesson; that everyone is a stakeholder, that both community and businesses are learning.

The ethical disruption of banking practices is already starting to happen and I suspect that retail will become the next beneficiary of this disruption particularly with the recent discovery of unethical practices in the supply chain (horse-meat being passed off as beef).

So we don’t need complicated statements around Corporate Social Responsibility, nor do we need stakeholder management. Business just needs to answer one simple question…

Who is my neighbour?

Posted in Change, Company Culture, Marketing, strategy, Values | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble with Twitter


Let me first state that I get social networking. Business is about connecting with people and communicating your value proposition. It’s about real engagement with your customers and both learning and prospering from that engagement.

Both Facebook and LinkedIn have great models; connecting friends and in the case of LinkedIn connecting professionals, potential employees and employers. Both of which provide a better tomorrow.

I also don’t subscribe to a rigid demarcation that Facebook is just for B2C and LinkedIn for B2B. The reality is that people on Facebook have professional lives and LinkedIn professionals also have friends.  Businesses should consider both opportunities for engagement.

But whilst I immediately get Facebook and LinkedIn, I have issues with Twitter. I know this may sound like heresy given its popularity, but I think there is a growing problem with how it is used.

Both Facebook and LinkedIn have reciprocity built into connections. If I connect with you, you are automatically connected to me. With Facebook the connection is based on personal relationships, with LinkedIn it is based on professional relationships.

Twitter is different; it is based on following someone or some organisation (unidirectional). Now Facebook and LinkedIn also allow you to follow a company (unidirectional) or group (in the case of LinkedIN limited to 50 groups to prevent spam) but are otherwise bi-directional.

The problem with Twitter is the lack of rules means it is open to abuse. There are no limits to how many people you can follow and whilst the custom of reciprocal following is debated, the general behaviour seems support this activity which results in distortion of purpose.

Firstly let me define a follower as someone who is interested in what you have to say, I think that’s a fair description and I generally follow that definition and only follow those people I think have something valuable to say. I also think that following 50 to 150 people (depending on their tweet frequency) is about as much as I can reasonably consume. I therefore don’t follow the reciprocity custom that seems common on twitter.

However, this reciprocity custom has enabled individuals and organisations to exploit this as way of building a following. I have tracked such attempts through  and if they are not followed back within 1-7 days they unfollow you, e.g. the motive was never to follow but to be followed. Some actually follow and then unfollow even if you do follow back.  It’s a kind of twitter spam from people you would otherwise respect.

This kind of behaviour is obvious when you look at their twitter statistics. One example had 89,000 followers but followed over 87,000. The obvious fact is that if you are following 87,000 people you are following no-one, you are simply broadcasting.

It is also self-deceiving; whilst you might think you have a following of 89,000 the reality is that you have to subtract the 87,000 that were actually following you back out of courtesy. So the real number of followers is probably closer to 2,000. defines this group (unidirectional followers) as fans but this new category is simply a way of dealing with the abuse of the original idea of following.  To test this out I looked at one particular example where an individual was following 96,000 and being followed by 99,000 (e.g. 3,000 fans). I checked out their Facebook page where they only had 200 equivalent fans. If those 99,000 followers were genuinely interested then I would have expected a much higher Facebook following.

The problem is that twitter seems to have become a universal broadcast phenomenon; an ecosystem with more exhibitionists than voyeurs.  I once heard a marketer state “who wants to hear about me walking the dog this morning – over several thousand twitter followers”.  Well that’s pretty delusional. Maybe if you are President Obama that might be the case, but in business I rather doubt that is the case. In the new terminology of twitter that’s mistaking fans for followers.

My point is that if twitter becomes a place where people follow people just so they can be followed, and people follow people simply because they are being followed, then people are going to be following a lot of people without actually consuming any content.

That’s bad for Twitter and getting revenue from sponsored tweets and it’s bad for businesses that are trying to build a genuine following and paying twitter for advertising.  I suspect that Twitter will at some point have to address this by limiting the number of   individuals and organisations that you can follow to a realistic maximum of say 500.

I am looking forward to that tweet…

p.s. if you want to fan me on twitter I’m @nickwhiteley

Posted in Growth, Innovation, Marketing, strategy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If only I could FAIL like Edison and Dyson

DysonEdison was no stranger to failure; It reportedly took him 10,000 attempts before he perfected the light bulb. But Edison wasn’t unusual; failure really isn’t a stranger to innovation.

James Dyson failed 5,126 times to create a bagless vacuum cleaner. Whilst his 5,127th attempt was a success many would have given up long before then.

Dyson then failed again and again to convince manufacturers to adopt his invention. Yet today  Dyson employs over 3,000 staff and sells into over 50 countries. His personal wealth exceeds £1 billion.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. “

Thomas A. Edison

Now the question is, were Edison and Dyson habitual failures? Of course not, but  would you have thought that when Edison was presenting the results from attempt number 9,999 or Dyson’s 5,126 prototype? I suspect not, and the sobering thought is that the difference between failure and success can  literally be one more try.

Perhaps like Edison we should be careful how we define failure:  “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Said Edison.

But understandably most people like to focus on success rather than failure. However, would you want to be as successful as Netscape who pioneered the web browser or perhaps Kodak who once employed over 145,000 people and had a near monopoly on photographic film?

They were once very successful and innovative businesses that were almost driven out of existence through either disruptive technology or business model.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

 Bill Gates

So what does any of this teach me about success and failure? Well neither are persistent states but simply events on a continuous journey. You should treat both success and failure with equal caution and objectivity;  Success shouldn’t stop you changing, failure shouldn’t stop you trying.

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

Bill Gates

Whilst failure should drive you to adapt and change (“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford), success shouldn’t be a reason NOT to change.

Whilst Einstein noted that “Doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results, is the definition of crazy”  it is also true that in business  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results, is the definition of crazy” because the market, technology and competition change and these days it changes frequently.

The fact your model, product, technology, service succeeded yesterday is no guarantee that it will achieve the same success tomorrow; Success can make you complacent.

Since success can lead to failure and failure can lead to success, the question I have to ask myself is not can I afford to fail, rather can afford not to try? For Dyson, the result of 5,126 failures was a hugely successful business and £1 billion personal fortune.

In my book on Business Innovation (available here) I explore these topics in more depth.

Posted in Company Culture, Growth, Innovation, strategy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Disruptive Power of Innovation: The End of HMV, Woolworths and Jessops is only the beginning.

hIn November 1942 Winston Churchill warned “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”

The bankruptcy of Woolworths, Jessops and the likely fate of HMV are also early milestones of a disruptive journey that the internet – and its innovative progeny such as Amazon – will have on the high street.

Whilst the recession certainly helped accelerate the demise of these high street names, it wasn’t the cause or the reason. The disruptive power of on-line companies like Amazon will continue to decimate the high street and force a complete rethink of our town centres.

First it’s important to look at innovation not from a product perspective, but from a market perspective; real innovation is about creating a new market, redefining a market or disrupting an existing one.

For example, the apple iPod redefined the market for mp3 players, the iPad created a new market for tablets and iTunes disrupted the existing market for purchasing music.

Amazon and others are creating their own wave of disruption. The power of Amazon isn’t simply about a web front end on a retail operation, but through redefining and enhancing the shopping experience.  The net effect of this kind of market disruption will be felt on the high street for many years to come. Indeed it won’t just be shops that face an uncertain future but any transactional or referral based organisation.

Whilst banks try and redefine themselves, they just store your money. Given on-line banking and cash machines, it’s really hard to justify a physical presence and their decline will continue. Many years ago you would visit the bank manager and they would make a judgement about a loan or overdraft based on their knowledge of you, your history and character. Today the Bank Computer makes the decision and the bank manager simply provides the smile or sympathy depending on what decision the computer makes.

Here I also humbly disagree with Richard Branson’s post describing why he wants to make his bank more personal with sofa’s and wifi. Book shops took a similar approach by installing sofa’s and café’s and whilst it may slow the decline, it won’t prevent it.

Other high street transactional businesses such as Estate Agents and Recruitment Agencies will also move to the internet or be destroyed by it. In a sense this is neither good nor bad, but simply the result of consumers voting with their mouse and not their feet.

The challenge will be for town councils to re-invent the town centre away from transactional sites and into social areas that provide interactions and activities that can’t be achieved virtually.

One thing is for sure, this wave of disruption is only just beginning. 


17/01/2013:  BLOCKBUSTER goes into administration. 

Posted in Change, Growth, Innovation, Marketing, strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Don’t outsource your motivation- 10 tips for self-motivation at work


Based on the number of  views  my previous post on Motivation received,  I seem to have hit a nerve and therefore, a topic worthy of a follow up with some tips and guidance for employees struggling with motivation at work.

So here are my tips and suggestions to anyone struggling with motivation:

  1. Don’t outsource your motivation. That’s right; don’t rely on your manager or director to motivate you. I know that’s easier said than done, particularly if your manager excels at de-motivation, but blame isn’t going to improve your situation; blame affectively dis-empowers you by passing the responsibility to someone else. Start to think about motivation as something you own and can foster. After all, you are not a robot.
  2. Identify what aspects of your job you enjoy. Remember it may not be the task itself, but what you bring to that task. It may be you enjoy problem solving, creative involvement, process improvement etc. Use that as the basis for formulating your personal development plan.
  3. Develop Your Personal Development Plan. Were you waiting for the annual review with your manager to create one? Don’t; it’s your personal development plan, you should write and own  it. It should cover;
    1. What you like about your role (see point 2)
    2. What you don’t like about your role.
    3. What you want to learn.
    4. How you want to progress.
    5. How that will positively impact your employer.
  4. Be pro-active. Start implementing your plan now.  But there is no budget for training? Don’t let that stop you. I’ve been on many expensive courses where the tutor pretty much takes you through a book. Cut out the middle man and buy the book yourself. That won’t break the bank and more than likely you will be able to persuade your manager to purchase the book for you. If not make that small investment in yourself.
  5. Make Time. Actually you can’t make time, so use the time YOU have effectively. What do you do during your lunch breaks or on the way to work? Facebook, newspaper? Start using the time to learn and train yourself.
  6. Delegate and Distribute.  What are those things you don’t like doing? Can only you do them? Can they be automated, distributed or delegated? I was often asked to develop new approaches or work with new technologies. I loved this aspect of my work, but then I became the subject matter expert and it became part of my role. I don’t like repetition so I documented what I’d learnt and trained others so they could take over. I did this so many times I even came up with my own 3D approach; “Discover, Document, Distribute”. This enabled me to progress within the business and do more of what I enjoyed. It also made business sense as the company wasn’t reliant on a single individual.  It was a win-win situation.
  7. Make a Difference. Discover what’s important to your manager and business. Focus on how you can make a positive difference to what matters. Making a difference matters to most people. It will help your motivation and improve your opportunity for progression.
  8. Make a Proposal. Don’t wait for your annual review, create your own personal development plan and be specific about the goals you want to achieve and the help you may want from your manager. Don’t write in a vacuum; understand the pressures, constraints and focus of the business. Identify potential objections; If there is no training budget, then what about purchasing the books? If they can’t afford you to be out of the business for an entire week, how about one day a week or making up the time or delegating some of your activities.
  9. Be on a Mission.  Turn your personal development plan into a mission. Start each day with the objective to learn something new, do something new and make a difference. Do your job, but when the opportunity comes – even if this is your lunch break – make progress towards these goals. In my experience motivation is re-enforced by personal achievement, whether that is learning something new, doing something new or making a positive difference. So create opportunities for yourself to achieve in these areas. Don’t rely on external praise for these achievements – that’s outsourcing.
  10. Be the inspiration. If you do all these things, you will not only start to be an inspiration to those around you, but you will also get noticed by management as someone who stands out from the crowd and worth investing more of their time and money.  Remember, the more you care about your personal development, the more your manager will.

If you know someone at work who is de-motivated don’t keep this post to yourself pass it on and help them re-gain empowerment over their own motivation and personal development.

Posted in Change, Growth, Motivation, Talent | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments