Jinnean Barnard

In Antifragility: Things That Gain from Disorder Nicholas Taleb says: “when you add uncertainty to projects, they tend to cost more and take longer to complete.” He compares today’s projects, which are rarely completed on time, to “large-scale projects [such as the London Crystal Palace] a century and a half ago [that] were completed on time.” The London Crystal Palace had glass and cast iron parts “built not far from the source,” didn’t involve computers or business-school-taught “project management” and was, according to Taleb, the product, overall, of a more linear and less complex economy than we have today.

Today’s projects are affected not just by the “planning fallacy” (business psychologist’s theory that “projects take longer, rarely less time” due to psychological factors – like overconfidence) but also primarily, for Taleb, by the fact that we have “more nonlinearities – asymmetries, convexities – in today’s world.” The issue is that “There is an asymmetry in the way errors hit you…”

Taleb says that: “Just as time cannot be negative, a three-month project cannot be completed in zero or negative time. So, on a timeline going left to right, errors add to the right end, not the left end of it. If uncertainty were linear we would observe some projects completed extremely early… But this is not the case.”

My understanding of Taleb’s arguments is definitely weak – I couldn’t stand up to questioning of how concave and convex nonlinearity work, and I don’t get any of the math – but I do “get” that there’s significant nonlinear uncertainty in projects today and an asymmetry in the way errors (or events) hit us.

Reading Antifragile and talking with friends has led me to think about the asymmetry of events on projects and four reasons why they sometimes take (much) longer than originally projected.

1) People

Most organizations seem to be “running lean” today, which means there isn’t a lot of built-in redundancy. If a senior person on a project leaves for a new job, the project stalls while a new person is found and brought up-to-speed. And sometimes that new person, not surprisingly, has new ideas. Replacing personnel, educating them, and exploring their new ideas adds to the right end of the timeline. And this can happen both internally and on the client’s side.

Possible answers: Flatter teams, with knowledge and authority more broadly disseminated. Better succession planning, better systems for knowledge transfer.

2) Information Technology

IT adds a layer (or three) of complexity to project planning. Changes in technical scope – such as the decision to pull from a database or add new functionality – can significantly skew a digital project’s timeline.

Possible answers: Simplify projects, clarify boundaries (define projects clearly) and  adhere to the scope. Maybe we need a system for evaluating the impact of a new IT issue and a decision-making apparatus that allows for quick assessment of whether a change is necessary, and how it will affect a project.

3) New Information

In projects with short timelines, new information may sneak by. But in a project spanning several months, new information can change everything. Finding out from the data analytics people that your demographic has shifted could lead to a much better product or service. It could also send you back to the drawing board. In our sped-up industry, new information comes fast and has to be dealt with equally quickly.

Possible answer: Planning teams/strategists/tech experts – integrated with the project – who, as with IT, can rapidly assess new information and decide whether or not it should impact a specific project.

4) Shifts in Purpose or Focus

The digital property you began a month ago was conceived to increase loyalty and customer retention. Suddenly, the focus has shifted to selling widgets. Economic forces result in reactive changes as organizations struggle to deal with uncertainty and/or falling sales.

Possible answer: Again, careful planning and alignment of goals and outcomes is key here. Smaller and/or more scalable projects may be the best way to deal with economic volatility and changing goals.

If you’re interested in reading Taleb (who also wrote The Black Swan), get Antifragile here. 


Source: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Antifr...
AuthorJinnean Barnard

By Jinnean Barnard

One thing I've recommended to clients is creating “evergreen” content – content that answers questions that people always ask about your brand, product, or organization, or that provides useful information that doesn’t quickly go out of date. The great thing about evergreen content is the number of ways in which it can be parceled out. Evergreen content can be leveraged and repurposed within your digital social ecosystem – as tweets, Facebook posts, short edited versions of longer videos, infographics, etc. – all linking back to the original evergreen piece. To be successful, evergreen content must be credible, interesting and genuinely useful to users.

In November 2012, Digital Agency 360i published a Content Marketing Report I recommend reading. The report describes the importance of a “solid content marketing strategy that factors in both low and high-investment content” -- flow and stock. The authors quote media inventor and theorist Robin Sloan, who says:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today.”

The 360i report goes on to explain how to achieve a balanced content marketing strategy that includes both stock and flow, via curating and creating content.

Whether you call it evergreen – connoting freshness, or stock – suggesting quality and tangibility, good content with a long shelf life is a significant element of your content mix.


AuthorJinnean Barnard

If you’re a woman on Facebook, you’ve probably seen this ad (or one like it) on your wall:

Cutting down a bit of the belly each day is easy by simply using this 1 weird old tip. Click here to see what it is…

It’s a winning combination of words and phrases and you see a similar structure all over the web, in magazines and in tabloids.  Here's why these "clickbait"ads are so effective:

They tout something limited, and therefore achievable. We’re all stressed out and busy – stretched to the limit. But we can manage “1 tip,” or “four quick ways to…” or “three simple steps to…” 

They advocate something different… If the method for cutting down belly fat is “weird,” it’s likely not something you’ve tried before (like dieting, which is hard, or exercising, which is even more difficult). It’s intriguing, and maybe it’ll be easier than the “normal” way (which you’ve tried, and weren’t successful at).

They're serious. It’s 1 weird “old” tip. It’s been around. It’s not scientific, which is threateningly intellectual, but it’s “old,” which gives it the gravitas you need to believe it. It’s something that people once knew but that has since been forgotten or lost – up until now, when you happened to stumble upon it on the internet.

They recommend something easy. It’s a “tip.” Sometimes it’s “1 simple trick,” or “1 easy step” – the important thing is that it seems achievable. Unlike, for example, a process, methodology, or regime. Nobody wants those. Too hard.

They're personal. A tip is something you’d get from a friend. It’s insider information, compelling, tried and true.

They're suspenseful. “Click here to see what it is…” It’s a tease, a come-on. It’s so good they’re not going to give it away right here on your wall. You’re going to work for it a (little) bit… It’s got to be good!

There are variations on this theme, of course. Sometimes the method is “old” or “weird,” but “rare,” “unique” and “remote” also work well. Sometimes it’s a “sneaky trick” – something that gets around the problem – or a “simple trick” – something you just hadn’t heard of until now. Sometimes it’s a “new discovery” – a double whammy since it’s new to you and to the world. Science hasn’t disproven it yet. Science can be such a drag… Sometimes it’s “forgotten.” “Forgotten,” as mentioned above, works like “old.” It’s got the weight of the ages behind it, but it got lost in the rush of modernity. Now it’s back, and it’s going to help you.

Does the tip for losing belly fat work? Probably not. Does the ad work? Definitely!


AuthorJinnean Barnard