Fashions in entrepreneurship: the pivot versus persistence

threesThe headline says it all, really. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of the pivot and the idea of persistence. In previous eras, before the networked, coded world, targeted, two-way communication was so hard. You could do focus groups or surveys, you could interview elders or spy on the competition, but short of having a tilt at an actual product release, there was no way of knowing whether your new venture or product was going to succeed. There was no ‘stealth mode’, because it was hard enough to get the word out to the right people at the right time; stealth mode is a feature of hyper-networked, niche markets and people who talk too much on social media. (Stealth mode isn’t really a thing for most women and people from migrant backgrounds, because we just don’t get taken seriously in the first place. So intellectual property protection is pretty cheap for us in the initial parts of building something grand). The idea of the pivot – taken from the combination of agile development and market-driven product development – is brilliant and liberating. When I wrote a style guide for a large telco in the year 2000, its rallying cry was based on the Cluetrain Manifesto, which at the time was radical for promoting the idea that markets were “conversations”. Nobody really believed it, but the execs at the telco thought it sounded great and suited the tastes of their target market, so they went for it. It took the practical implementation of message boards, email, social media, advanced and stable ecommerce and cloud computing generating accurate data for consumer marketers and their ugly cousins, tech entrepreneurs, to get to the stage where the feedback necessary for the pivot was available cheaply and easily. So now, in principle, instead of coming up with a product and hoping everyone likes it, you can just get to know your market really well and expose your ideas to it until you hit on something that really sings a song to them, that touches some need or some value. I came into adulthood in the late 80’s, when management and self-improvement books were beginning to boom. The lesson they taught, over and over again, was because you can’t really know in advance whether your idea is going to work out, you should hang in there. Never, ever give up. Surrender is not an option. Throw your hat over the wall. But the problem is this: how do you create world-changing products or services without making a series of wild guesses? Everything is otherwise either derivative of something else that already exists, or created using the limited attention span and design skill of the customer. But it’s not the customer’s job to design products, it’s yours as an entrepreneur. Customers did not come up with the graphical user interface. Customers did not come up with flat pack furniture. Customers did not wake up knowing they’d like spending half their waking hours playing Threes. I think it’s my job as an entrepreneur to walk the line between the idea of the pivot (humility) and the ideal of not quitting (a kind of hubris). The only way to walk this line successfully is to be constantly learning – learning new technical things, and reading up about ideas – and being curious in the midst of it all. Imagine there are two lines on a graph. Measure 1 is the desires of the customer to have a particular problem solved, and my interest in solving it for them (respect for customer) and measure 2 is the inherent beauty or truth or rectitude of a design or concept (artistic/egotistical creation).The point at which the two lines cross is theoretically the sweet spot, where my care for the customer is neatly balanced against the creative energy required to come up with an answer. Not so much a compromise but a point at which the two strengths are at their greatest, in terms of the likelihood of a product succeeding. In the meantime, my customers say they want what I’m developing, but will they still love the idea when we push it out? Maybe yes and maybe no. In the meantime, I’m going to go back to the 80’s and say to myself “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

Update 23 June 2015. Just read a post by Steve Blank about whether pivots really matter – and they sure do. Anyway, here’s another take on pivots: Do Pivots Matter?


I have a problem with the neddies. No. Actually, I have a problem with hypocrisy

ImageI am getting really tired of the slack arguments against thoroughbred racing. 

(Except obviously those made by vegans – so please this rant is not for you, vegans).

1.It makes you SAD! – oh dear, so it must be wrong that 50% of horses are killed? (Or whatever the figure is) What about the 100% of beef cattle, the 100% of lamb bred for meat, the 100% of broiler chickens? Oh, that’s okay! Why? They never even get out for a good gallop like the horses do. Their short lives are probably ten times worse. But people don’t wear fancy hats and have a good time near them, so it doesn’t count?Image

2. You hate the waste? Oh dear! But you wouldn’t dream of eating offal, pigs’ trotters, etc or learning how to cook the tough meat of old, tired breeding animals. Oh, not YOUR waste! The waste of the people in the fancy hats having a good time.

3. You have a sweet dog at home and you hate cruelty to animals? Yeah, but the dog doesn’t ever get let off the leash at the dog park, never gets to sniff or roll in really horrible smells – in short, never gets to be a real dog. But he’s kept alive and physically healthy. But we’re not talking about you not getting off your arse, putting on some old trackies and taking your dog out; we’re talking about those other people, in the fancy hats.

Our western problems with death are absurd. Us meat eaters cause living things to be killed EVERY day to put on your plate. You cause waste and you cause boring or uncomfortable lives for animals, yet your feelings of discomfort are basically tied to your own convenience. And your problem with those OTHER people having a good time in fancy hats.

I have a long-standing ethical problem: I eat meat, but it does not fit with my other values. This is my problem. It will take me years to sort out, but I am not going to outsource it to my feelings of envy over people having a good time in fancy hats, or outrage and guilt over something I can’t control like horse racing. Put up or shut up.

Let’s stop outsourcing the problem of aslyum-seekers to our media and pollies

The Labor leadership is settled now.

The next question is, how do we lead our leaders into making better choices and communicating better about asylum seekers?

Some Australians have been so thoroughly frightened by ‘them’ that if they hear the message ‘asylum-seeking is not illegal’ all they hear is ‘we can’t stop those brown people’.

People with education assume the politicians are ducking a tough problem, but in fact most of the time they’re responding to the fear of most of the electorate.

In our history, we ‘trained’ our population to be frightened of the advancing hoards. Now we have some un-training to do.

It won’t help to only reverse asylum-seeker policies; the population has to accept refugees fully and see them as humans.

Almost all of the solution is in our (the progressive voters’) hands and we should stop outsourcing our angst to media and pollies. We need to think of ways we can communicate and build little friendships with those ‘other’ people we meet – at the supermarket, at BBQs, at work, on the train. The ones we politely disagree with but never really engage with, because their views repel us. We should also speak up when the media reinforces the fear – but don’t make the frightened audiences take on yet more fear – fear of us as well.

The solution is really very simple and we don’t like it: we need to reach out to our neighbours and touch them (ugh – not literally). Not preach, just connect. We need to respect them as fellow citizens, but not let that respect ossify into just accepting everything, let that respect mean we care enough about them to have conversations of substance.Image

Behaviour in parliament

Cathy McGowan in, Sophie Mirabella out.
Indi is a beautiful part of Australia and the people there deserve the best.

Sophie's Record

Ms Mirabella was ejected from parliament five times over a period of 36 parliamentary sitting days in 2011 for “unparliamentary behaviour”. Ms Mirabella did not apologise for the continual interjections that resulted in her expulsion from the chamber, stating “If the government is speaking nonsense, I’m not going to sit there and accept it”.

In 2012 Ms Mirabella was unable to participate in the vote on the passing of the carbon tax bills due to being barred from parliament for 24 hours. She was ejected from parliament by Speaker Peter Slipper after failing to heed two warnings. A colleague of Ms Mirabella, a coalition MP, stated that “she should have realised during a crucial week in the chamber her first priority was to be in the chamber”.


The Australian, ‘Suspended Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella defiant over clash with speaker’, 12 October 2012

The Border Mail, ‘Sophie Kicked Out…

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Killing two birds without drowning any: the asylum-seeker-small-biz-training policy

ship of the lineThoroughly disgusted by Kevin Rudd’s policy to unilaterally send to Papua New Guinea any successful asylum-seeker who comes by boat, and believing that the main reason both major parties are so terrible at making policy in this area is because they are both immersed in the same discourse, with the same constraints, I have attempted to cobble together my own, alternative policy for Australia’s intervention in the global refugee crisis.

I recommend this idea to anyone who is also offended, worried, concerned, grieving, angry, furious, righteously apoplectic, guilty, pessimistic and morally challenged about this new (and all previous) ALP policies.

Let us have a plethora of policies. Let us, every one of us, have a policy. And let it be known.

So that all the pollies, and all the pollsters, will see that policy development can be a matter of captainship of the largest kind of ship of the line, rather than a small barge in a dirty, narrow canal.

I propose the tag #mypolicy, but do whatever you want. Just shout about it.

My Policy

Budget: given that the Government has a costed existed policy of $200K – $400K per person, per annum for placing asylum-seekers in detention, and given that these costs will rise (?) when the new PNG policy comes into force, we have a lot of money to play with, people. But bear in mind there is a moral dimension to not spending more money than we have to.

The Big Idea.

A. Have a HECs-styled bond system for settlement.

The bond pays for a combination of

  • training relevant to the person’s original occupation and/or skills that are needed here
  • mentoring and training for the establishment of a small business
  • first two years’ basic income support for their family,
  • a welcome package of basics eg K-Mart style pots and pans box, clothes, bedding, table and chairs. Army surplus etc. See what they’ve been doing in Finland for new mothers since the 1930’s. We could do something similar for asylum-seekers
  • train tickets, library cards, phone cards

B. Leverage experienced, skilled baby boomers

Increase employment of older, experienced trainers in the TAFE system, and train them to be able to mentor people from CALD backgrounds. Give this qualification as much status as the Cert IV in TAE. Make sure there is incentive for Vocational education employers to create plenty of part-time roles.

This part is important as it benefits the section of the community that is most frightened of asylum-seekers and their impact. It gives them the opportunity to step up and lead where they feel they are being forced to follow.

C. Change the tax system for small investors

Unproductive residential property investments support unsustainably high rents. The reason they persist is the losses can be written off. Instead allow micro-investment in small business to be written off – obviously, in controlled circumstances, with ceilings and floors (pardon the property pun). The US has for some time been trying to implement their JOBS Act – we could do it faster and better. Put Paul Keating or someone like that in charge of this program.

Here are some other principles:

1. Given that the current policy does not allow asylum-seekers to work or in other ways support the growth and development of the Australian GDP, this is clearly a waste of time and human resources.

Allow asylum-seekers to work or to train.

2. Given that current two policy ideas are both in contravention of various international conventions Australia is signatory to, we are not in a long-term sustainable position as we are effectively in breach of our legal obligations.

Have a policy that is within our legal obligations.

Obviously, this has been written on the fly. But given that it’s had more thought than any of the other policy ideas, let’s go with it. I’m not even going to touch on the moral and spiritual aspects of this policy area. It’s almost as if it hurts too much. So that will be the subject of another post.

What’s your idea?


Thoughts and feelings about distorting Julia Gillard’s work

Image of Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton

Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton

When I studied Australian history, I learned that we had been making public records wrong, recording based on the dominant view we thought that now we know that distorting public life leads to further distortion, we can stop it happening again

Good. So all us women have to do is educate ourselves for leadership positions and go for it. But no. We had a capable, educated, talented negotiator as a Prime Minister, but she was female.

And now we are collectively going to change the public record, and say she was shite, right in front of my eyes. Right here and now, we are going to change the truth. And everyone will go blindly along with it.

I used to think it happened secretly, when be wrote history books. But no, it happens openly, actively.

So take heart, everyone who has ever had a big lie told about them: you are now in very fine company indeed.

Here is the piece by Anne Summers: Mad as hell and not ready to make nice

In the 17 days since she was deposed Julia Gillard has been thoroughly trashed.[..]  Laura Tingle even referred this week to “the Gillard experiment”, implying the ALP won’t be going there again. Meaning what? No more women? Or lawyers? Or single, childless, atheist Welsh redheads?

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