Finding your way in Chaos with Agile techniques - Cynefin Framework
Agile, leadership, thoughts

Is this normal? How can I deal with chaos?

The one constant in life and business is change.

When it’s your socks that need changing most people can sense, assess and respond with appropriate action. But when you’re marching days into the arctic circle, your main issues is survival, not stench. Frostbite, not the fragrance of your socks.

When normal is abnormal and you have multiple inputs you look to group and rationalise so that you can act accordingly. You create routine and discipline to make things simple.

The day ends, socks from everyone in the family go in the wash (grouped in the washing basket), we put new ones on tomorrow (found in our individual drawers).

In fact, I’m grateful that most of us have accepted the standard daily routine and haven’t chosen to optimise or experiment in sock longevity.

How about when things are more complicated?

How do you deal with multi touch attribution in marketing, while the market is in flux? How do you fund your entry to a new market with confidence, while exiting another?How do you work out if something is normal, when you’re doing it for the first time?

Huh, it’s no wonder there’s mixed satisfaction with first times given the varying research, scenarios, and inputs that go into them.

Heck if THAT first time had a stakeholder brief, a pre-meeting meeting, budget analysis, room allocation and a pre-mortem I’m sure billions would have far better memories of their first time. Such is the irony that those who have worked in large corporate multinationals can attest to: you often have far too much planning involving far too many, for events that should be a walk in the park for two.

So standard events and first times we can handle, but what do you do with chaos, disruption, and disorder?

“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson

Dealing with utter chaos

There’s a framework I was introduced to a couple of years back that builds from the Agile cycle of Launching, Analysing, Learning, and Adjusting. The Cynefin Framework, penned by Dave Snowden almost 20 years ago is the perfect aid for today’s VUCA world.

Simple or Complicated?

When confronted by seeming disorder, in most cases we can: sense, categorise and respond. Some points may require analysis but overall we can form best practice and good practice to deal with most scenarios.


When things are complex we can: probe, sense what’s happening and respond. This works when there is some sort of flow or pattern occurring that we can see happening. Think of putting patches on a leaking boat to see which stops the water coming in.

When there are one hundred holes in your plan, profits leaking everywhere but it’s all going in one direction you can probe, sense which holes are now leaking less, and respond. The patterns are complex, but you can start to move them into some complicated best practice.


When there’s no order, rhyme or reason: act.

Things seem uncontrollable, so act through which you control, sense what happens and respond.

Next, hunt for leverage.

Act. Start creating and pulling levers one by one.

Discover the biggest lever and pull harder.

Turn the chaos into order and set the direction you desire. The art is focusing on the right big levers.

“ You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” — Marcus Aurelius

From Chaos To Simplicity And Back

The best companies in the world and products, take us from seemed chaos to simplicity.

  • Spotify use machine learning to take us from a bunch of CDs on the wall to a play list that suits us, our mood, and activity.
  • Amazon takes the chaotic world of online shopping creating a simple categorised way to hunt for your Christmas gifts.
  • Apple took a complex digital camera and put it in your phone for in-focus shots from your lock screen. They combined it with a bunch of other things that used to take a backpack to carry, but now fit simply in your hand.

The key for growth being that continual path from chaos to simplicity and ensuring that for your customers: simplicity doesn’t equal boring and repetitive. The most thriving brands and platforms have variety, novelty, and investment. They’re not just simple.

Their simplicity enables complex and chaotic interactions.

You came to Facebook or Instagram for the easy photo uploads and the novelty filters or old friend connections. But you come back because of the variety and unpredictable messages (almost chaos) your connections post. You keep coming back because of the investment you’ve made in data, shared history and connecting with a community.

Anyway, before you jump over to Facebook or Instagram…

Spot the complex, get complicated and dive into chaos!

Oh, and please commentshare or like if you think someone else needs a little chaos in their life.

turn your nontent into great content - Value your tribe
agilemarketing, content marketing, social media, thoughts

Stop The Nontent – Create Epic Content

You, as a member of my tribe intimidate me. I’m scared into not posting, through fear of as my friend AJ puts it – posting NONTENT. You know, that: meh, blah, filler, “like or share if you agree” type content. I need our connection and the learning I get from consuming your content. I want to share value to get value.

But it struck me. That is the exact message I want to give this week.

Create Epic Value And Give It Away

As many will know by now the rationale behind inbound or content marketing is to create content that answers questions that potential customers may have. In essence you are aiming to be the subject matter expert for your product, industry and niche. The main aim being to subscribe them to a content journey that ultimately converts them to purchase or partner with your brand.

The byproduct of creating answers to questions your customers may have is a bank of SEO rich pages for Google to index. If you are checking the terms people use to find your website, and using Google’s keyword planner (or other optimisation tools), over time this bank of content should ultimately help push you up the SERPs. Getting you closer to number one in Google.

The trouble now, more than ever, is that we are all creating content and competing for eyeballs. Facebook and Twitter are overloaded, YouTube is flooded, even the TV has far too many channels for us to watch. We need to go beyond just answering problems to actively adding value with our content.

One answer is to create unique audience specific content – go niche.

One great example of giving away useful content is the website created by Sacha Judd of the law firm Buddle Findlay.

Back of a napkin - a startup tool

The website, aimed at start-ups, provides a boilerplate company document. It outlines the main points of a company’s structure to ensure its is documented – covering things like: the parties involved, who gets what share of ownership, who gets what profits and how decisions are made.

Lightly branded with a Buddle Findlay letterhead, it’s a valuable tool for startups and connects them with a community.

I also made a little form last year to help people conduct a Digital and Social Media audit. It is designed to help small businesses check that they are on the right path and to develop a short roadmap to getting their digital presence right. I hope it has some value for a small business looking to get their online profile right.

Even though it is in essence the exact same strategy I would use with a multinational company or personal brand – it’s ingredients. It’s not the mix, nor the exact methods i’d use to bake my online cake. Hopefully it entices a few more people to check me out as a potential chef. Digital marketing chef that is.

Although that epic piece of valuable content can be related to your core business it could equally be about a unique technique, skills or knowledge you have developed. Brett Kelly was an avid user of Evernote – so much so that he decided to create Evernote Essentials a book that sold 16000 copies. This ultimately led to him being employed by Evernote.

Here are a few others that have already gotten in on the game:

  • John Deer with their Furrow Magazine
  • Adobe with
  • Lego with The Lego Club Magazine
  • American Express Open Forum
  • Entrepreneur on fire

So my challenge to you is to take what you think is IP – Intellectual Property and turn it into something VIP – Valuable Interesting and Popular.


The art of simplicity and great customer service – Ken’s Yakitori

Ken's Yakitoriya a great Japanese BBQ place with authentic Charcoal grill and decor
Ken’s Yakitori – Best kept dining secret in Auckland. Focused on the customer and experience.

Now I’m trying to give this a digital or social media twist, but to be honest, this post is about a great evening and meal at one of Auckland’s best hidden secrets – Ken’s Yakitori on Anzac Ave.

With my broken high school Japanese and the help of Google translate – it turns out Ken has been in business for over 15 years. I’ve been a patron for over 10 years now and the service, experience and delicious food remain one of my favourite dining experiences in Auckland.

The experience begins half a block away as you get a whiff of Yakitori and charcoal from the front of house grill. As you open the door the welcome call of irasshaimase (literally = Welcome) rings out from all staff members. From then on in, it is true to its rustic Japanese theme.

Last Saturday was no exception, even after a 5 year gap between visits. We were ushered in to the bustling bar and seated on wooden stools in a corridor with just enough room to pass. The decor masters the art of Wabi Sabi with its Shou sugi ban or burnt wood paneling echoing the theme of Yakitori. The mismatched tableware is so Wabi Sabi you feel like you’re at a summer house or camp ground.

The food was fantastic and the Yakitori packs great smokeyness into its simplicity. Each skewer, unmistakably minimalist, has at the most two ingredients. Never pulling the palette too far from its charcoal infused base notes.

We were always attended and the staff had a sixth sense for a drink that needed replacing. They also filled what might have been a slight wait between platters, with some complimentary sweet potato crisps.

But what did I learn from Ken that I can use at work?

Well to be honest Ken has perhaps let the online side of his business take a sabbatical. His website is in need of a refresh and they’re posting some beautiful pictures on Facebook (which they could do more with) KenYakitoriAnzacAve and they feature on Yelp and Foursquare.  So if you do or have checked them out, please leave some recommendations.

Although Ken (well his business) doesn’t proactively use online to its full potential his focus on his customers, good service and great food mean his patrons and word of mouth speak for him.

His business is just like a good online community/website.

Ken Preparing Yakitori
  • The “irashai” as you enter makes you feel like one of the community immediately. Like Norm entering Cheers.
  • The menu is very visual, just like good social media, and simple to understand.
  • His staff are ready to help and responsive. Waiting for any cue that help is needed rather than hiding the contact details. And maybe the responsiveness is easier given his business size and by the fact that he can see all staff and patrons from the grill.
  • With the grill right in front of everyone you also know it’s well prepared. Open and transparent business at its best.
  • During the great power outages of 1998, Ken was one of the first to buy gas powered fridges while still in stock. You need to be open as many hours as possible to stay in business. Many restaurants went under due to the outages. Ken prospered.
  • Ken keeps his past hygiene certificates up on the wall like badges. Signals of good service for the newbies to spot easily.
  • There’s also a cute NO MSG sign behind him. Obviously everyone asks as it just tastes so good. I can imagine him pointing and giving a cheeky wink when asked what’s the secret to great Yakitori.
  • Best of all, he makes sure the food is exceptional. Good products and services sell themselves.

Ken deserves our patronage and maybe we can help him out with some good social media sharing and reviews. Cheers to a great Yakitoriya.

agilemarketing, thoughts

Digital Project Management and Tuckman’s Phases

Mentoring teams for digital projects and web development can be plain sailing. No, really.

The Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “Forming, storming, norming and performing” back in 1965 to describe the path to high-performance that most teams follow. Later, he added a fifth stage that he called “adjourning” (that others often call “mourning” – it rhymes a little better). Wikipedia covers them here –  Tuckman’s phases.

Mad Life

The phases can be seen in project teams of any size, formal or informal and in any setting. Understanding the phases is step one. Knowing how to navigate through each phase at an appropriate speed is the leader’s art. But also a skill for all team members.

Icebreakers, the more embarrassing the better, are great tools to break down the barriers in a Forming team. Unravelling interlinking hands, naming the teams mascot, balloon passing –  all feel a little bit childish. Yet remember how innovative we were as kids. How free our thoughts were…

The Storming phase, despite its name, can be innovation at its best. In a strict management led project – where the projects manager dictates workloads, task and roles – the manager can control overtly domineering team members and assert their positions, tasks and roles. They can also encourage the introverts and push the team through the phases.  Self selecting and self regulating teams, like those in Scrum don’t have this “luxury”, which in a way is a blessing. Team members fall to tasks which they can best perform.

The Product Owner’s job is to ensure they are focusing on the most valuable tasks to complete the project. They must instil an understand of what it is brining to the end product. Giving them an understanding of what, why and when lets them focus on the how.

A good example of teams passing through the Forming and Storming stages in subsequent iterations is the improvements in sizing. As the team learn to understand those that are optimistic and pessimistic about the complexity and time involved in tasks, they learn to how to explain their positioning and understand that of others.

When the team reaches the Storming stage, adhering to strict scrum processes and routine can comfort those who are worried about decisions being made. Point out the phases to team members that have concerns. Also, bear in mind that if your project has dependencies or requires new members mid project, your team to a certain extent, will revert to Forming again.

One Scrum practice that is paramount to the growth of the team is the retrospective after every sprint. An aid to the Mourning or Adjourning phases, the retrospectives focus on open and frank conversation around improvements. This highlights the strengths and weaknesses in the team.

The Mourning, of how things were in their old team encourages members to take the good points through to their next project.

They’ll carry experience of when to sail into the storm and when to tack.


Start-Ups – Its About The Expert Staff

The other day I came across Pixellus – a Norwegian company focused on digitization, editing and restoration of customers’ unique and irreplaceable collections of images. They take your old format, films, slides, photos and negatives then digitise them to keep and share in today’s digital world.

Pixellus logo

Pixellus may sound like every other online start-up out today, but there’s three reasons that they are seeing good growth in revenue. One of those being their Expert Staff.

Passion drove the founder
Christian Wig (@christianwig) the company’s founder has built the firm that combines his passions.

An avid photographer, Christian spotted a need for those more established photographers, who have great shots in old format film.

He has an IT background meaning that developing data storage, payment methods, delivery systems and scaling the process would come easy. His youngest son, was also in need of a job, and loved working with photos.

His passions have combined.

Experts are at its core
While Christian’s son has an interest and ability in photo editing, what really makes him in expert for the job is his Autism. With high functioning Autism, this job really brings out the attributes that were making it so hard for him to find a job.

Like the other staff with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism – his personal traits help Pixellus perform as it does.

Top of his skills/attributes list are:

  • Dedicated
  • Accurate
  • Focused on details
  • Structured and systematic
  • Very logical – either/or
  • Loyal
  • Honest
  • Often likes repetitive and predictable work – with well defined and clearly documented tasks

Where normal employees would find it hard to work on the same defined tasks, by nature autistic spectrum workers focus in on the minute details. They pick out imperfections easily and are most comfortable with a routine to their day.

Loyal and honest, they are also very frank in their communications. Direct and to the point they are honest about the work they have produced, any issues they have and if they’ve made an error. And because they’re focused and methodical there are FAR less errors and the quality is a lot higher.

As the number diagnosed with Autism or Asperger syndrome grows every day, Christian sees Pixellus employing more who have an interest in photography.

Developing an online training course Christian takes those with initial skills and brings new recruits up to speed on the specific skills required for the job. The training also means his employee base is as scalable as his infrastructure.

The team of Experts all sign confidentiality agreements which combined with their nature to ‘not blab about work’, means confidential or personal image collections are in safe hands. Their track record here has already landed them contracts with local organisations and the photographer communities.

They also take pains to mention privacy in their PR and media efforts. When the workers were interviewed by local TV, their own personal images were used to illustrate on screen and client materials were stored securely as usual – by experts.

Easy to use their services
With competition already established, Christian realised that like all successful online services Pixellus had to be easy to use. The minute it is difficult – companies and customers will shy away from adopting the service.

Flexible pick up and delivery hours, an online review of digitised photos, and easy payment methods streamline the process for customers. The online training program also means induction is an easy process for new recruits. A system that’s easy for all users continues at Pixellus’ core.

Their Facebook page shows how willing and satisfied customers are spreading the word to their contacts.


Cold Calls – Please Google Me!

Sorry – a little rant ensues – so please discontinue reading at will.

Does anyone else suffer from endless cold calls? I get at least two a day and the latest two technique are real doozeys. Thankfully I have a reception that check and voicemail most.

But those that do get through are really bad.

Really feels like they are making schoolboy errors.

Calling Home...
Calling Home… by

Some samples

“Hi – its mumble from mumble. I’m calling regarding your ad on mumble dot co dot uk if you could give me a call back on 0207….”

This leaves me vaguely worried that someone in my team has put their “tech guy” on to me to place a banner ad. So I call back to find out it’s a potential slot on the most irrelevant site possible.

“Hi – Its Mumble, just following up on our email chain from December.. can you call me on 0203…”

A chain involves two linked items rather than one piece of unsolicited email BTW.

The next type – approach me about services that at a 30 second glance you would know we don’t need. I’ll say this online again for reference

  •  We have a CMS, CRM, email tool, Social Media tools and are fully staffed.
  • We don’t need branding help.

Google me

The most frequent calls are for rebranding, Social Media and CMS systems.

Those are a little obscure and would take a bit to figure out but how about knowing:

  • I work at a B2B company so don’t need DM consumer emailing lists or B2C services.
  • I work in Digital Marketing, Social Media and Content Strategy so don’t need
    • a yellow pages listing
    • paper stocks
    • reprinting
    • physical storage
    • to change my phone company
    • physical event locations
    • or bus services for that matter.

I work in Digital Marketing so I will ask my networks first if I need an expert. That said – if its innovative and your approach is right…

Rant over, I’m off to check my phone messages and print some reports to fax home. Please add your favourites – I’d love to get a chain started.


Notes: Alterian Alchemy and CM7 Launch event

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the UK launch of Alterian Alchemy™ and Alterian Content Manager 7.

David Eldrige, CEO and founder opened the event with some great notes on the catch phrase shift to #engagement from open and close campaigns.

Although the terminology and systems we use will still focus on campaigns, marketers that “get it” will turn campaigns into micro projects, with an overall view to engaging clients and prospects – to ultimately turn them into brand evangelists.

There was a great snippet video shown:

Many discussing the true face of customised marketing. Moving from the mass broadcast to mass customisation.

Supporting materials are available at

And by engagement were not talking old school “dear client” “regards, consultant” but rather true customisation: more relevant and timely information to clients via email AND on your website.

That move from push to pull…