Monday, 9 April 2012

Review: Inside Apple

Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired--and Secretive--Company Really WorksInside Apple is an account of the Steve Jobs era of corporate culture at Apple (although it does speculate on what the future might be like under Tim Cook's tenure).

It's fascinating because it seems the author got very little actual access to Apple and instead relies on ex-employees (often reluctant to talk - even when they have good experiences to relate), leaks and what others have surmised over the years.  Somehow he still manages to weave a compelling tale although it's hard to be sure just how true it is.

The first rule of working for Apple; is that you do not talk about Apple. Secrecy seems to be part of the company's DNA.  The other picture that emerges is that it was very much Steve's vision which drove it - he manages and micromanages every thing from product design to ad placement. There's an interesting discussion on this leadership style - which seems to be something like productive narcissism.  He plays favourites - both projects and people; he's by turns hectoring or praising. He's visionary yet lacks empathy.  Tim Cook by contrast is the consumate obsessive leader - a highly inner directed self starter and conscientious.  It seems they made a fantastic partnership - each able to complement each others strengths and weaknesses.

Apple it turns out, also want everything from you in return for only a decent rather than lavish salary.  There are tales of execs being sent to China at the drop of a hat and some being so burnt out they aren't able to move on something else when they leave Apple (although there are exceptions). That is the price of  producing insanely great products or putting a dink in the universe.

I also enjoyed the account of how Apple is fighting corporate senescence by trying to run itself like a start up.  Unlike cities, the author contends - companies appear to have a definite lifecycle mirroring our own of S curve of growth, plateau and decay.

There are lots of useful ideas in this book and I recommend it.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Writing and gamification

I've become a recent convert to Scrivener. It's a piece of software designed to help writers organise everything from their research and random thoughts to the final work.
But it's also a lovely example of subtle gamification (the idea of making tasks more rewarding and more likely to be done by borrowing from the gaming industry). One of the things you can do with it is set a project target (ie how many words you need to write overall) and also a day's target (how many words you need to write that day).
For my current book, I've decided I want to write around a thousand words per day and forty thousand words in total by sometime in April. Up pops the targets window which I can park next to my writing window (I knew there was a use for these new fangled widescreens).  It's a wonderful feeling seeing the number of words gradually increase as you type and the target progress bar also turns from amber to green in colour. Go over the target number of words and you are rewarded with a lower target number of words to write the next day.
It's certainly helping to crystalise my new habit of getting up first thing, sitting at my desk and hammering out some prose while eating breakfast.  Seven days so far - can I make it to the magic twenty one or so days it takes to embed a new habit? I hope so as it gives a wonderful feeling of satisfaction to start your day with a good chunk of words under your belt.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How an old idea becomes a new one: A cynic's view

Here's how an old idea becomes a new one:

1. Someone takes an old idea (or a subset of an idea) and dresses it up with a fancy new phrase. Often by combining something old with something new.  So a spontaneous Friday lunchtime visit to a wine bar with your trendy mates becomes flash-drinking or crowd-boozing. 
2.  Everyone else is bowled over - except for a few jaded old cynics who say this just something we were doing many moons ago ie drinking in their local pub. 
3.  Inventor of fancy new phrase huffs and puffs a bit. Decides to write a book or do a VIP (Very Important Project). The phrase evolves a number of derivatives e.g. crowd-mash-up (the name given to a busy Shoreditch pub where crowd-boozing takes place), flash-glassing (what happens when trendy folk talk too loudly in a local pub) etc. 
4. A few, perhaps even quite a lot, are taken in. Inventor goes on speaker tour around crowd-mash-ups or has a column in a national media outlet. 
5. Eventually, the new idea becomes old, loses its shine and everyone carries on doing what they were doing before i.e. drinking in their local pub. 
6. Inventor still has to pay the mortgage so goes to step 1. 

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Is hard work a good idea?

There was an interesting programme on the box the other night.  It was all about the poor in America. Now being poor in America is perhaps the unluckiest of situations to be in. You live in an apparently wealthy country, yet the philosophy of undeserving poor is strongly engrained within it.  As a result, those who have lost their jobs can end up living in tents or their car and have no real means of receiving medical treatment.  The sense of a collective responsibility for one's fellow citizens is not strong in the US.

The interviews with people in tent city all seemed to demonstrate the same. These were all people who believed in the American dream that hard work creates success - and yet somehow the success had evaded them.  I guess many blamed themselves.

I flip-flop on the idea of a work ethic. Like morals it often seems to be only for the poor people, and this should make anyone suspicious.

On the other hand, those without sufficient work often do not seem to thrive - whether they be millionaire playboy sons or the long term unemployed. And on a personal level, I've been lucky enough to have a succession of generally rewarding work. I would also consider myself a lazy person; if I can I will avoid boring or seemingly pointless work (even to the extent I'll work harder to create a system to avoid it). Thankfully, with a very few exceptions, people have been understanding.

But the key word here is rewarding. Of course, some of this comes down to your approach to your work.  Even the worst job may have rewards that are obscured to most. But for most people, a lot comes down to the working environment (is the boss a tyrant? do you have some degree of freedom over your work? are you appreciated? is there hope?) and whether you can live a decent existence on the wage available. If work doesn't tick the rewarding box, again you do not benefit from a having a work ethic - although it may make your situation bearable and rewarding on some level.

Also there's a wider context, there's simply less demand for the average person's skills (never mind those who have hardly any) than there used to be thanks to automation,  etc. Under such circumstances, encouraging a traditional work ethic, where hard work equals more pay and a better life, seems perverse and mean (the situation in the US). And yet, the successful people I've met have also been highly driven, often hard working people. But perhaps this is correlation rather than causation or perhaps hard work isn't the catalyst, simply a pre-requisite.

Then there's the idea that your hard work may put others out of work. Unpaid overtime seems to be on the increase in the UK, yet unemployment is also growing.  In such situations, is working harder the ethical thing to do?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Useful links to further information for LCC students

Many thanks to you all for coming along to the talk. As promised here are a few useful links for you to explore some of the things I talked about.

10 steps to blogging heaven

1. Do one thing well
Here's my blog post which expands further on the hedgehog concept.

2.Know your audience
Here's my blog post which shows you how to research your audience.

3. Get popular
Look at the most popular posts on or Reddit. Try to work out why they are popular. Do they have any of the following qualities:
  • Lists eg 7 weird ways to show your true love on Valentine's Day
  • Interviews
  • Reaction 
  • Cool facts
  • How to guides
  • Asking your readers questions
  • New ways to see things eg infographics
Content curation ie posting about other people's posts (or even using other people's content) is perfectly valid. But beware of copyright. Basically, the rule is - if you are unsure if you have permission, you probably don't. 

But public domain and creative commons content is often free to use on your blog. For example, see Flickr's creative commons pool of images. 

4. Make money from many sources
If you are looking to make money from your blogging, then unless you work on an organisation's blog, you will likely need to diversify the ways you can make money from it.  This is because each is likely to only contribute a small amount to your overall income.  Also by using a variety of sources, you are more likely to discover what works for you.

3 main ways:
As an affiliate, you make money if someone clicks on a a special link on your site and they then go on to purchase something from another site.

Sources of affiliate and advertising income include:
5. Be everywhere

6. Build your email list
Feedburner has a facility to let people subscribe to your blog by email but it's a bit limited.  You might also check out  Remember - provide a reason for people to subscribe to your list (it could be the possibility of winning a competition prize or to get a free guide).

7. Guest post
Guest posting on other people's blogs is a great way to increase exposure to you and your blog.

Do a search for your topic and "guest post" to find blogs that may take your content.

If your blog becomes popular - you may even find that others want to guest post on yours. This is a great way of giving yourself a break from posting as well as building your blog as being influential in the area.

8.  Create an ebook
Once you have a few hundred blog posts, it's time to consider if you could turn them into an ebook.  This has several advantages:

  • A new source of income
  • Being an author builds your credibility as an expert in the area. 
  • You can mention your blog within it

Apple, Amazon and other stores will let you list ebooks you create: has a good free guide to creating an ebook (not that the blog owner uses the gift of the guide as a means to get you on his email list).

Bloggers who became authors include The Simple Dollar, Random Acts of Reality...

J.A. Konrath is an author who regularly posts on how to make a success of publishing your own books.

9. Market it (the ebook)
Remember that email list of people interested in what you do? Your twitter, facebook and other social media presences? These are all excellent places to tell people about your ebook and other products.

Be kind to one person a day and in 3 years you'll have 1000 true fans.

10. Speak out.
Examples of bloggers who now do speaking gigs.
Bonus tip: Keep learning