Category Archives: Change Management

That you make decisions – Leadership by Example

Unbiased, for the good of the team/business, conflict management, change management

Solution 1 2 or 3 Choice Showing Strategy Options Decisions Or Solving

“Problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created.”

Albert Einstein

Let facts drive your decision making, not opinions. As humans we have an incredible number of cognitive biases that drive us to make decisions in certain ways that are sometimes not helpful, correct or even close to the ball park.

When decisions can take time, use that time, consult people who may have something contribute and be careful about asking the same people or people who may agree with you. Have a hypothesis, test it, get rid of it when you can see it will not work. Loosely hold your hypothesis unless you can see it will work. And than ask for other solutions.

Fast decision making or decisivenesses is often see as an important trait, but it can lead to being judgmental.

Be OK with changing your mind when new facts or evidence show another angle.

Nobel-prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has said that overconfidence is the bias he’d eliminate first if he had a magic wand. It’s ubiquitous, particularly among men, the wealthy, and even experts.

Cognitive bias

We often think we are making the best decision with data we have. Unfortunately our brains are wired to do certain things that are not always helpful. There are at least 181 cognitive biases, but here are the top 18. Cognitive bias can get in the way of making good decisions.

18-cognitive-bias-examples

What is your goal?

Decision making must understand what you hope to achieve, the impact and consequences for the decision.

Good Strategy Execution Requires Balancing 4 Tensions

Disagree and commit

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explains, to “disagree and commit” doesn’t mean “thinking your team is wrong and missing the point,” which will prevent you from offering true support. Rather, it’s a genuine, sincere commitment to go the team’s way, even if you disagree.

Of course, before you reach that stage, you should be able to explain your position, and the team should reasonably weigh your concerns.

But if you decide to disagree and commit, you’re all in. No sabotaging the project–directly or indirectly. By trusting your team’s gut, you give them room to experiment and grow–and your people gain confidence.

Change Management

Decisions often lead to change, change is hard, most humans hate change even if they agree with it.

  • Are you a dictator? e.g. “I am the director and I will tell you what you are doing”
  • Are you passive aggressive e.g. “Interesting perspective”
  • Do you hide behind others e.g. “You will tell your reports”

How to change is even important and will differ according to the culture, but here are some suggestions.

  • Involve early on, if possible get the affected to help you review the problem and solve together
  • Agree a plan of change
  • Agree messaging
  • Have a stakeholders map
  • Consider opportunities for review
  • How do you evaluate changes later to see if they were successful?

If you want a list of good exercises for serious change management checkout The Change Leader’s Roadmap.  I have used many of these exercises whilst as a consultant and they worked well

Conflict Management

How you respond to conflict will show to all what kind of leader you are.  Conflict is necessary. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team describes the lack of it as a dysfunction. Of course not all conflict is good, so managing conflict so it produces healthy results is part of a Leaders role. The biggest hint is to make sure all are heard and understood before moving to making a decision.

Unconscious bias

A quick and often inaccurate judgment based on limited facts and our own life experiences. These judgments can give individuals and groups both unearned advantage and unearned disadvantages in the workplace.

Biases are shortcuts our brain forms based on:

  • Our own experiences
  • Things other people tell us
  • Media portrayals
  • Institutional influences
  • Other external influences

11 million bits of information per second go through our senses. We can only consciously process 40 bits. 99% of our mental process is ruled by our unconscious.

If you ever get opportunity take the training.

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
— Abraham Lincoln

Procrastination

If you suffer from procrastination, maybe this slide deck will help you.  I wrote it for a Women in Technology group:

Being able to make a decision is important, how you do it and who you involved, will create your culture. So decisive is good, but sometimes you should take your time involve others in the decision making process.

Making a Decision

  • How do to evaluate alternatives?
  • Move from decisive to flexible and involve others
  • How is information used? Are you forcing your opinion or was the information used rationally?
  • How is the information evaluated? What biases have you used
  • How is communicated? How will this impact people?

Thoughts on Decision Making:

  • How do you check biases?
  • Are you rested well enough to make the right decision
  • If need to delay a decision, if it is not urgent delay it
  • Can you involve others in the decision, will this help get wider perspective or spot poor thought process
  • How do you evaluate major decisions

Resources for Decision Making:

Back to the list of traits

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Being Transparent – Leadership by Example

Share information, be proactive, focus on messaging and who knows the plan

glasses-vision

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

There’s nothing worse, than the feeling that leaders don’t care about keeping you in the loop, or even worse, that they’re keeping secrets. Transparency does not have to be “Radical” to be effective, there is a balance.  Does your culture have a lot of hierarchy or levels? Does this limit or slow down information? Is you culture overly autocratic or command and control? Is one person making decisions? Do they get upset if others implement ideas?  All of these factors will create resistance for information to flow and create a less transparent culture.

Make sure your vision, intentions, and methods are clear to everyone on your team and that they have access to the information they need to do their best work.

The essence to good change management is that people do not feel surprised, that they could see what was going to happen. Even better if they were a part of the problem finding, problem solving, decision-making and implementation process.

Gossip & Grapevine

Wherever you leave gaps of information, gossip will arise, people will start to make assumptions. You will hear a lot of information and personal opinions. Gossip a natural thing amongst humans. You will have to be good or become good at filtering the chaff from the wheat. Whilst gossip may give you speed of information you will not get from a more formal route, but be careful of trusting it. As a leader you should kill gossip with facts. Where you can get ahead of gossip by proactive with intentional sharing.

Trust

If you delay information and people find out from another source, you will lose trust. Or worse they might think you are not in the loop. How much do you share that is true as opposed to gossip? If trust is damaged, your team may stop talking to you, and start gossiping with others.

Teams, departments where the leader is judgmental or disconnected, information will not flow fast and some will never travel at all.  People will hide or delay information if they are scared of what “the boss” thinks.  This will likely also create a strong gossip vine, of incorrect or misinterpreted information.

Focused

Employees want to be kept in the loop. If an organisation fails to provide information, employees will go about searching for it in their own way e.g. gossip. To keep employees engaged, organisations need to be transparent. This will minimize distractions, establish trust in leadership, and allow employees to maintain focus on their work rather than going around trying to discover who’s doing what and why.

Copy the Behaviors of the Best

By being radically transparent about performance, companies make sure they are rewarding the competent, not the confident. This helps newer employees see what the most successful employees do, allowing them to easily model the behaviors of the best. As a result, the whole workforce progresses faster, creating a culture of continuous improvement and engagement.

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”
— L. David Marquet, Turn the Ship Around!

Transparent organizations get information to people, often this will lead to much easier change management, less surprises, also people giving solutions to problems they see. There is often much stronger trust between organizations and its people when they are more transparent.

Thoughts on Transparency

  • Information audit on who you share information with and why
  • There should be no surprises, if there has to be, be mindful how you share the information
  • Bring people in early to help problem-solve
  • Messaging can lead to over selling and a disconnect from reality
  • How much information do you pass on?
  • What information do you hoard?
  • How surprised are your people about changes? Ask them on a regular timeframe, did anything surprise you?
  • Change is always emotional difficult, how do you make it easier?
  • Cognitive Biases can get in the way

Resources for Transparency:

Back to the list of traits

Leading software engineers

A friend (non technical) recently asked me how I lead my dev team, he had led product and marketing before, so I have attempted to focus on the differences, that said good team leadership has commonality with all disciplines.

I currently have three software engineers, one IT/Dev OPs and one product designer (3 female and 3 male).  In the past I have led 23 teams. I will use this blog for my team to hold me to account 🙂

Casting Workbook Team

No Surprises

Being accountable for “no surprises” is the core. Where ever possible you should be accountable for all of the people that you work with, people should not be surprised by what you say, because you have already asked their opinion, maybe even evolved your thinking and they can see the process by which you went through to reach a decision.

It means more communication and more interaction with your people. It means you can be vulnerable. It means stepping outside of your “assigned” responsibility and forming relationships with all parts of your organization, and other organizations. Its about being connected, its about being a leader and a follower. It shows that people understand you and your core principles.  That you can be consistent and when you adapt they can see that to.

There are not things left unsaid, you are not passive aggressive or have control issues.

Being a Leader of context

The role you take on should change depending on the context.  Sometimes you are the coach, sometimes the mentor, sometimes the friend, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes the engineer, sometimes the product owner, sometimes the user advocate, sometimes the engineer advocate, sometimes the leadership context, sometimes the inspirer, sometimes the critic..  There are different leadership styles and yours should adapt.  In 2003, prior to my MBA this book really helped me step up my game The New Leaders: Transforming The Art Of Leadership Into The Science Of Results

You are the right person at the right time

Different places/ways to work

People are generally smarter/productive longer, when they can have different types of environments to work in and have multiple ways to express themselves.  Have multiple places that engineer can work in.  When I recruited my current team, I got the organization on board with the following:

  • Give the engineer a laptop
  • Have somewhere comfortable to work e.g. sofa, kitchen
  • Have somewhere serious/quiet with extra screen
  • Have somewhere they can stand up and code
  • Have somewhere outside if possible, natural light/fresh air is a great refresher
  • Make it possible to work remotely
  • That there are white boards for people to express, figure out a problem.

This is a good book if you want to really consider your culture and the way you work. The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.  Without doubt you should ask each team member what helps them concentrate, what distracts them, what they need to stay in the zone.  The obvious big one for many is a good set of headphones. Do not underestimate the quality of a good display also, anything at the quality of a Retina can reduce eye tiredness.

Different physical environments can refresh you, help you think bigger or focus. Be flexible.

Leave chunks of time to code

Engineers are generally more efficient if given chunks of time to code.  Thus have your meetings meetings near mornings or lunchtime.  To give several hours of interrupted research/code time.

  • Get engineers to block out their time on their calendars, so product/founders can book time when needed
  • Use an IM system to ask questions such as Slack or Skype during those chunks of time and do not expect a quick response

Developers need chunks of time to be left alone to get on and focus

Being a good human being

This means understanding each others needs and wants. Expectations both from the lead and engineer should not be hidden, things should not be left unsaid.  Sometimes we need processing time, to check in destructive emotion, but you should still tell that person how they made you feel. You should also be kind but not nice.

Both people should be able to be vulnerable with each other and trust each other.  You both need to avoid surprises.   This is done through good communication, which is not common and takes effort. This needs time together.

  • Feedback in the moment, always ask permission before giving feedback and make it about the behaviour you saw.  Do not assume intent, in fact assume positive intent. Give positive and negative feedback. Understand how each member likes to receive feedback. This is my slide deck from teaching my teams about feedback.
  • Weekly One to One checkins 10-30 mins, any fire issues? any smoking issues?
  • Monthly sit down at least one hour.  I have a list of questions to always go through, which we agree when we start together.
  • Allow others to lead, giving opportunities to members of your team to lead on a project/task whatever you do not need to be the boss of everything.
Question set for monthly
 
First conversation should be to agree the questions, here is a starting set.  They should based around the culture we wish to create and how we want to treat our people
  1. How are you feeling? Any hot issues we should talk about?
  2. How are you contributing to the company and your team?
  3. Are you a Team player? How are you involving others in your process?
  4. How are you growing/learning? Are we are helping your reach potential? Do you have mastery?
  5. What are your Technical Capabilities here? Where do you feel competent? 
  6. How are you helping the company grow and evolve?
  7. Are you Hungry? How productive are you? Are you taking inspired action?
  8. Do you have a friend here?
  9. Do you have a mentor or coach in the company? Are you coaching others?
  10. Do you want stay with the team and the company?
  11. What can can we do better as an employer/me as your leader/CEO?
  12. Do you feel you have Autonomy? Are there things stopping you doing your job?
  13. Do you feel you have Purpose? Do you understand what we are building and why?
  14. Are you contributing to the wider community? What can we do to help?

One to one, face to face is the highest bandwidth of communication

Your processes and system should evolve.

The way you do things should be Agile (as originally intended i.e. flexible and evolve NOT rules).  Agree a workflow together from product to engineer.  It should change and evolve to be right for the context.

  • When starting with a team, I will audit all current systems and ask for each members views privately on each tool/system/process, to ensure the less confident or shy people get their say
  • I will then have a team meeting to review what we need and what we like
  • Any team wide system change should involve all parties
  • Deadlines should have engineer involvement and not be dictated downwards

For example in my latest team we discussed the tools we wanted and we decided to use

  • Slack for IM
  • BaseCamp for idealization and research
  • Github for product/features/user stories and code/issue management – The way we used tags evolved several times.

Freedom to solve the actual problem

Sometimes Product/founders/Engineering leads may try to solve the problem in their way i.e. micromanage.  Giving the engineer the “code monkey” role of just coding to a very prescribed way i.e. an exacting feature.  Giving no space, to actually problem solve can be very limiting and create an environment where creativity and innovation are stifled i.e. the evil called micromanagement. Most humans do not like their freedom taken from them.  So find the the right balance between the organizations’ needs and the employees. That said some people like more structure, context matters.

  • Give space for engineers to solve the problem in their way. If you are already using Agile then you may evolve the story a couple times as users respond to the work.
  • Within the user stories/feature requirements do not limit.  Ensure you actual describe the problem you want solve, suggestion ideas/solutions but where possible do not dictate
  • Involve the team in talking about the features and discussing possible approaches, but the actual engineer who takes the feature gets to decide
  • Engineers should have some understanding of the customers. Ensure your engineers meet customers, and spend time with your Customer success/relations people.
  • Keep the engineer accountable for the response by users. Thus have good monitoring software and have a culture when engineer go back to check the real world implications of their work.

Micro Management is the evil of leadership, it kills creativity, innovation, trust, and growth. It can appear both in a manager and in the processes you impose on your people

A culture of science

Scientists experiment many times and fail many times and one day they get it right.  Encourage a culture of learning from mistakes not teasing/persecution which means encouraging experimentation and forgiveness.

  • Discussion should be based on logic in reference to code
  • Create an environment where people can I say “I do not know.. but here is an idea/feeling/instinct”
  • Call people out if they tease others about their failures or use it to argue they case in a discussion
  • Careful to not let irrelevant aspects enter into the discussion such as gender, race, age or sexuality. I say careful because humour can involve these but they should not sway discussions and the receiving of the humour should not be hurt.

Experimentation and failure should be Ok, team members should not “haze” each other. Leadership need to be able to move on

To build a team well, needs reflection and the teams involvement

The team needs time to connect as a team and evolve together as a team.  We have a book club where we talk about the teams performance in terms not related to code. How good are we at communicating:

  • Giving/receiving feedback
  • How do we react to others ideas?
  • Who do we go to help us through problems?
  • Who pair code with more often
  • How much do we know about each others strengths and weaknesses?
  • How vulnerable can we be with each other?

We used The Five Dysfunctions of a Team to kick start this conversation.  Every couple months we take time to talk about how a team we are in terms of communication. You need to invest in the actually team to have a team..

You need time for the team to talk about the team, spot weaknesses and evolve

 Ask your people how you are doing

“How am I doing?” should not be a hard question for you.  Ask it informally in your one to one monthlies and formally at least every 3 months.  The no surprise rule should be for all. It should be 360 your leaders, peers and your people.  Find out if people get what they want and what they need from you, in terms of communication, conflict/challenge, advice and performance.

You learn faster by other people telling you what you are doing right and wrong

Collaborating with your leader

Hopefully you chose your boss carefully when you were recruited into the organization.. but things evolve, so maybe that perfect person you went to work for, moved on.  I have found the best leaders are those who keeping growing i.e. they read about how to be a better leader, they can be vulnerable with you and you can talk openly.  When you make mistake your instinct is to tell your boss, when one of your team performs really well you never feel the need to take credit and generally you have no fear of your boss talking to your team.  If you do find the above hard, understand why.

  • Never underestimate the amount of time you will need for your leader
  • Know each others strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
  • Find those things you really enjoy about each other
  • Find those things that you find difficult and talk about them
  • Build strong relationships throughout the organization, ensure all find you approachable

Success in any organization is about working together and helping each other evolve

Adding to the team

Whilst you as the lead will drive this process, you should involve the team in the process. You should ensure everyone is trained and good at the interview process.  This may mean mock interviews, where your team interview you. Its worth noting that you do not want more clones, you need different types of people, skillsets, who sometimes will clash, but have the communication skills and reasoning capacity to grow from each other.

  • Be clear what the team is missing and what you need
  • Agree on what you are looking for both terms of technical and personality
  • Ensure the all those that are interviewing try out their questions, again no surprises
  • Have space for something social
  • The best interviews are like a great chat amongst friends about something technical
  • Personally I hire on communications skills, problem solving skills, learning capability and then current technical skills
  • I often look for potential as much as current craft capabilities
  • I do not hire more of me, I want diversity
  • If employing someone with less experience, be clear what the areas are and put in place a training program to fill those gaps.

I look for growth potential, hunger, curiosity, pro-active, problem solving capability, how they will add value to the team and how they will help the team evolve. Then I start start to consider technical experience.

Software engineers are great problem solvers

Sometimes we box people into a role.  Humans are so much more than their job title and job description. Most people are capable of applying their skills in other domains.  You have a problem, why not ask a software engineer?


I will keep adding to this blog as I learn.

Actions speak louder then words

A person, company, organization community can be judged on its actions and behaviours not its intents. Especially when the shit hits the fan. Its easy to be nice when the world is all good. Behaviours, the culture under stress shows the real capacity of the leadership.

the need to reflect on yourself

Mirror

I am a workaholic (I never feel I work hard enough), there used to be a few things that make me pause and force me to reflect such as illness, love, friends, mentors, etc. Sometimes these “interruptions” are random and infrequent and may not occur for several years.

Life has taught me to occasionally pause and consider who and where I am.

Every year now I review my life, I considering all aspects and what I need to change or not. At work they would call this a performance review.

You in the end, are the only person you have to live with throughout your life, you need to stay in touch and avoid too much drift. A little drift is good because it can allow you to reflect and consider new paths.

I use the following categories to help me breakdown what is important.

These are my personal ones that have change throughout my life, you may have different ones, over time you will find that they will evolve.

1. Love

Is there enough love my life in terms of relationships, friends and family? Are there people in my life that cost more then they give/gave? Am I giving enough to them? Do I Love myself? Does your “friend” spend more time talking about themselves then asking you how you are? Who helps you out when your are sick? Who calls you out on your stupidity? Of course these questions are reversible? e.g. are you a good friend to them?

2. Purpose

Am I working or playing towards something? Am I just floating? Am I happy with my level of progress?

3. Community

Am I giving back? Am I mentoring, teaching or helping others grow. Am I paying attention to politics and the communities needs?

4. Evolution

Am I still the same person or have I evolved? Am I growing and learning? Am I pushing the boundaries of my personality, my knowledge, and my skills. Is there enough challenge in my life?

5. Inspiration

Do I have muses? Do I have people? Books? Music? Arts? Games? Food? Is there something refreshing my soul? Do I have moments to explore or simply rest?

6. Health

Am I healthy? Do have the body that I want? Can it do the things I want? Do I eat as I should? Do I sleep as I should? Are you snappy with friends? Do you need time off?

7. Work

Do I enjoy it? Do I have a leader who inspires me? Does the organization value me? Am I able to use my core capabilities? Is the cost of working for them matched by the value I receive? Yes I give my work a performance review – are they what I need?

8. Finance

Do I have enough? Do I have plans for when things go wrong? Do I have saving goals/purposes.

9. My Drivers

Over time you will start to see patterns in your behaviours, things or people you prefer to be around.  It has helped me understand that I have certain drivers (some good and some not) for example I am incredibly curious, I want to know why, but do I spend too much time exploring/discovering and not acting?  There are things that I sometimes find difficult to manage e.g. being a workaholic do I make sure that I have enough rest and/or vacation, is my health good?; we are all better people to others when we are refreshed.

Making it real

Often I will draw a mind map for each (1-8) and then give it an overall score between 1 and 10. If it is lower then 5 I start to consider how to improve it, by adding things that could improve the score on my mind map on the edges.  I build an action plan for the next year e.g. If I do not have enough Love, should I meet new people, do I deepen the my relationships that are good for me, or do I remove people from my life.  After completing  all the mind maps I consider the bigger picture and the inter relationships between each mind map, e.g. could I kill two birds with one stone? Or is one so high and at the cost of others e.g. Work is at 9 but Love is at 2.

Then I will consider my drivers. Some of these drivers will clash with others, how are you managing that balance? I draw an illustration for each of my drivers and consider both the good and bad of each.

Then I again I will look at the connections between all (1-9).

This is the way I consider my life on an annual basis, you may have different things that matter, different drivers that push you. I urge you to discover who and where you are and how to make sure you are in control of your life, not too much control, but enough to be heading in the direction that you wish.

Becoming a leader of an organization

So recently someone I respect has being promoted to become a leader of an organization.  I want them to be successful, so I thought long and hard if I had some good advice that I could share. Was there a good book I could recommend? Or a video?

I own about 60 books on leadership excluding the MBA stuff.  There was one that I kept coming back to me, it was a book I first read when I had just being elected to office and became the cabinet member for Cornwall County Council (UK) as Community & Culture “Minister”. This role was a real step up for me in terms of budget (71 million) and staff (over 440 spread out over many locations), where there was often upto 4 leaders between me and the frontline staff.

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

Eric Brooke newly elected to the cabinet of Cornwall County Council 2005

The Best Place to Work by Ron Friedman

A good book for those who wish to improve their workplace. Provides a lot of evidence e.g. psychology studies and crafts them into a compelling narrative. The actions at the end of each chapter are a usefu summaryl.

A lot to learn here for all leaders and those who wish to be leaders. And maybe even for progressive trade unionists. And of course for people who would rather improve their workplace, rather than complain about it!

The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell by Oren Harari

This book not only had a lot of wisdom in it, that we often take for granted and thus forget.  I think the best kind of leadership book is one you walk away from and think/feel I want to be led by this person.  And to make it even better I know now how I can ‘upgrade’ myself to replicate this over time.

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them”

In the end the leaders behaviour will create a culture, so the book and video I recommended were as much about context (i.e. of this new leaders organisation, and its culture).

Another choice was the video by Simon Sinek, Start with the Why

This video ties into the need to inspire and effective leadership is about inspiration not overt control.

The book The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, had a number of factors I needed, it is written by a women who is also Canadian and the stories come from other industry sectors. Context is everything.

“Permission to dream is also permission to fail”

A book I found useful early in my career was The New Leaders by Daniel Goleman (he also wrote Emotional Intelligence).  It was this book that showed me on reflection, the different leadership styles you will apply e.g. command and control has its place, depending on the context.  It was also the book that helped to delegate with trust when moving into middle management.

Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion an inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through emotions..

There is a great TED video -> As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify by Yves Morieux

Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, my real forecast, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.

 

The last book is produced by CEO of the company with probably the best customer service on the planet. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh journeys through time and a mans’ growth in understanding importance of leadership behaviours and their impact on the staff and thus the organisations’ culture.

Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded

My last couple thoughts come from experience:

  • That leadership is as much about vulnerability, as it is about confidence – see Brené Browns TED Video
  • That followers choose who inspires and leads them rather then manages and controls them
  • That women leaders are often better coaches then males, but the often to do not “give” territory for their coachees to succeed in.
  • That “rebels” can often be bright people who are bored, give them something to do, they could become your greatest innovators

Finally leadership is a skill that you will never master, so expect to fail, maybe even plan for it, that said we often “love” rather than just respect the leaders more who have failed and have come back to succeed.

Choosing a name for your startup

Through my marketing career I have helped companies name themselves and their products.  Each journey is unique, sometimes it is quick and sometimes not, it should not be rushed. More recently I have helped out a couple tech startups, think this through. Here are my insights from the perspective of a startup or small business. I will assume you do not have a large advertising budget to educate your consumers or users.

The strongest names tend to be:

  • Unique
  • Easy to say(pronounce) and easy to write(spell)
  • Easy to understand
  • They tend to reflect Values or Benefits of the product not features, not sure of what FBV are? Look here
  • Have emotion as they describe inherit values
  • They may use words, with inherent trust in them, or coming a mythology already in place
  • They may be counter-culture, to rest of their sector
  • At least one noun
Bad names:
  • incorrect spelling
  • acronyms
  • boring
  • based on the latest trend
  • swear words
  • when using two words or more there is an inequality in the power of the words
  • adverbs

Things that do not matter:

Too many companies choose names based on what is available on the web.  URL vs Google search – in my humble opinion people rarely type in the URL bar, but instead will type the company name straight into their search engine (Google, Bing or Yahoo).

Corporate or product naming

Corporate branding – about the values, behaviours and thus culture of your organization.  So that you can attract the right talent to your organization.  In Simon Sineks’ book Start with the Why – people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it

Product branding – All about your customers and their needs/desires.

An example from a startup weekend (54 hours – No talk, all action):

We wanted to build a tele-presence (e.g. you could control it from a web browser) robot (on wheels, inductive charging and video camera) that people were comfortable with having in their home, it would either check to see if their pet was ok, used to communicate with tech-phobic granny or sweep the house to see if all was good.  We felt the biggest market was to look after or checkin on either pets or grannies, our price point was $300. Women cared most. So I went to a dog park to see if small dog owners in apartment block inner cities would be interested.  There were more women the first morning, all small dogs, about half could not get home to check their pet at lunchtime and would then rush home after work.  They said “I would love to check-in with Frankly, he is so cute”. The term check-in appeared a lot in conversation.  However they did not like the idea of a robot, it felt too un-organic, but one suggestion was “well if it looked like a bear that would be cool.  So I started asking what animals people liked.. They seemed to reflect the movies of the time so, chicken, panda, penguin and monkeys.. so it made sense to call it ANIMAL + CHECKIN.  So I tried Chicken Checkin – people reacted with a surprise and then a smile (That is good). This played well with the audience would buy it for their grandmother as well (the grand daughters using their own or mothers money for their grand mother). I then used animal names people wanted most on the higher price scale, aspiration and all that. Chicken checkin as the cheapest base model, Chatty Panda for the good model (two way video conferencing) and periscope penguin (extendable neck – kitchen counter).

One other thing I knew the leading competitors at the start-up weekend – one was being led by a local Venture capitalist on home security – so i was guessing they would be going for rational proposition, a touch of fear (of home invasion), republican and money.  Another competitor was being led by a local Angel – another way to give money to homeless people, so very emotional, democrat, and fair.  In terms of name and brand I was looking for humour, clarity, independent, emotional but tying into common sense.  Essentially I was ensuring we would portray something very different in the pitch, not just in product but in style. It worked to a degree we won best presentation.

You can read the start weekend post here.

The importance of emotion

Every word comes with a meaning to a person, it may even not be about the word but the letters used.  They may not or love the name simply because of their history. People always come with baggage.

Literal versus abstract names – its on a scale

Personally I believe the more literal the name, the less education(marketing) will be needed for people to place you. And it is important(why psychology and memory) for people to be able to place/position you if you want mass market rather than just visionary buyers.

Comparisons

How would you choose a child’s name? Why do certain names mean more than others? We have a surprisingly amount of prejudices/emotion based on human names, often based on the first person we met with that name

Process

If you are finding difficult here is a process that may help you discover the name. This journey may help you explore more than just your name but your whole business. Its important to keep it separate from the design process.

Stage One: Research

  • Know your shit – the business, the sector, the competition
  • Know your values – a process in its self, which should really involve others
  • Research your stakeholders – Porters five forces (Customers, Suppliers, Competition, New Entrants, Substitutes)
  • Choose a perspective (Who are the first set of customers you want onboard, who will champion your cause – what is their psychological makeup? What words do they like and use)
  • Your name is not alone – Type, colours, logo – will add clues to what you are about and can dramatically change the way words are perceived.

Stage Two: Get past the NOW

Sometimes people are so fixed about their idea, filter and prejudices that they cannot see clearly.  As the startup journey is very often emotional, it can cloud us from ration thought, which can be helpful.  That said a good name depends on having a strong emotional connection.

First Impressions

Get your team together and put the following questions on flip chart paper – give everyone post-it notes and a felt tip (it limiteds the number of words used) and describe:

Q1 – What do you(the organsation) do?

Q2 – How does your consumer/user benefit?

Q3 – What do you change in your consumer?

Q4 – Why are you unique? This one tends to get more bullshit answers than the others, be honest.

Q5 – What are your values and how does this reflect in behaviours and product/services? (If you are seeking actual behaviours then your values are not a reality, yet..) You should know this BEFORE you consider your name.

Everyone gets to put up there own views, no filtering or founder bullying.  Each idea should be discussed (people can keep adding) and grown. Brainstorming – not sure how? Have a look here.

Stage Three: Record the journey

Reserve a lot of wall space..

The Wall of Names – somewhere there should a wall of ideas, post-it notes with names, all are valid ideas. Each person would try to grow each idea, or help it down the evolutionary ladder. The more people you allow into the process the more ideas you will get.  This wall is not limited to words , pictures, sketches and photos are equally good.

The Wall of Customers (for product name) – the same as above but describes the customers you want. Their personalities, their drivers, fashion, music, everything

The Wall of Talent (for corporate name) – What are the types of people you want to attract? We all want smart people to work for us. But what kind of smartness? At a small business level your talent will be limited by the personality of the founder/leader. The unaware founder will want lots of people like them, but with different capabilities. The smart founder will be looking for different types of personalities as building a team is often about weaving, very different people together (as they all have different perspectives and will be able to see different problems and solutions).

Stage Four: Step out of your space

A fair degree of innovation comes from looking at other people doing other things, in other places and seeking what we can learn from them.  In part this happens so often that Michael Porter had two elements (Threat of New Entrants and Threat of Substitutes) in his Porters Five forces model to account for people who can come from another sector and replace what you are doing e.g. Apple taking over music and in part mobile.

Look at other organizations in other sectors (not your own) – which organization would you want to be from any sector profit, non-profit or governmental.  You are looking for the organizations that you admire and would like to emulate in some way.  For each organization breakdown why you like them, into values, people, products/services, get a little deep here, you are trying to truly see past the marketing/propaganda to see how they are connecting with you.

Unique possibilities

After you have reviewed the organizations consider what does not occur in your sector that already exists in another.

Stage Five: Deciding

Choosing a name is not an easy process.  Some people start with code names e.g. Project ALPHA, so they can just label it. Labelling is important for most humans.  If you are on a timescale I would suggest taking everyone out of work to start the above process, allow for no distractions, if possible get an independent to help facilitate the session.  They will concentrate on getting the best out of people in terms of ideas.  What ever you do always sleep on it.  The brain generally does some amazing stuff whilst you are asleep.

Names are like falling in love, you know it.  This can take time. Everyone will feel it.  That said even after choosing you may have doubts, thats ok.

The advocate – you will need at least one person to love the idea and explore its possibilities. Without a true advocate you do not have a good name.

Good places to think about it – Road Trip (with the team, not alone) you are together but in the real world with different stimulations, walk around a shopping mall, go to a conference about something you know nothing about, read an autobiography of someone with a completely different life to you. Lack of sleep can help 🙂 Expose yourself to different forms of stimulation.

Good books

These books are not directly related, but each has taught me something with naming:

Sticky Wisdom – Understanding and growing creative cultures

Eating the Big Fish – About branding when you are the punk on the block

How to have Kick-Ass Ideas – Shake it up

Visual Meetings

Logo Design love

If you want to deeper into branding here are a couple other reccomendations

Designing Brand Identity 

Brand Sense

Brand Portfolio Strategy

I welcome your thoughts and experiences.  Where did your names come from?  What are your favourite names?

A journey through design thinking..

Over the last couple years I have being considering design in terms of my startup Professional You.  We are working on something that will have a large amount of complex data in our system and that needs to be easy to access and manipulate.

In my life, design started with Technical drawing at school as child.  It than evolved in basic computer games later at school. However it was PageMaker and Quark Xpress both in their first versions that got me really into thinking about what I was creating and the process.  I still have this amazing book called ‘One Minute Designer’ by Roger C. Parker that was an amazing help to get me started. This lead me to training professional typesetters how to use the first Desktop Publishing software.

Later in life I took on a computer science degree and studied system design and UX at University which helped me to understand some more of the language and concepts. During my placement year I created with a partner a business to help businesses upgrade their paper based systems to electronic ones particularly Finance and Admin systems.  It taught me a lot about change management and the direct impact on people that systems have, thus my design and process became very people aware.

So back to the present, 19 years of marketing later…To help me with startup, which I can visualize entirely in my head I decided to absorbed some books:

  1. Head First Web Design – Ethan Watrall
  2. Design Interfaces – Jenifer Tidwell
  3. Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell
  4. Designing Web Navigation – James Kalbach
During this part of the journey I bumped into an amazing book which takes rational concepts and made them very visually meaningful. It taught me how powerful effective design can be.
  • Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder
Yet still my greatest frustration was now I understood the concepts but could not actually create them.  So I took an Introduction to Drawing course at (VanArts) and I learnt a lot with many of the Betty Edward books supporting my class learning.
  1. The new Drawing on the right side of the brain – Betty Edward
  2. Color – Betty Edward
  3. Basic Perspective Drawing – John Montague
Yet this still was not enough, I want to CREATE!  So off to college I go again this time BCIT to refresh my software coding skills. Completing my first course with 98.5% grade.  I loved it (you can tell by the grade) because it was leading me down a path where I could create 🙂
Ok so that is the introduction!  What got really thinking was a linkedin group I joined called Design Thinking and a conference they held recently in Vancouver, BC. The conference was really something, which I have yet to fully process.  But it was very good and had a lot of interesting people.   Somehow I ended up running a session on what should a Design Thinking Manifesto look like, my initial concept came from the Agile Thinking Manifesto.
We in the session revealed the values and the principles that should be a part of it.. Come join the discussion on the linkedin group and you can see the work we created here.
What I have learned from this journey so far:
  1. Is that there is value in iteration and striving for perfection can lead you down a rabbit hole
  2. Practice, practice, practice
  3. Working and playing with good people refreshes the souls and is fun
  4. Combining the words design and thinking implies there is a process that it is more than just intuition.
  5. Good design thinking involves engaging both the rational and the emotional parts of your mind.
  6. That you need to be able to take criticism and other points of view.
  7. That you have to have some part of you that enjoys turning chaos into order
  8. That your audience may not think and feel as you do
  9. That you should never stay still and need to bounce between what is safe and what makes you sacred
  10. That there needs to be story behind it a consistency of your journey
  11. That ‘pure’ design is elegant and more often occurs in nature than in human creation
  12. Simplicity and complexity can both be beautiful
  13. That whilst we admire perfection we don’t trust it
  14. Engage the users early and often
 There are more books involved in this journey which can be found here.