Don’t Tweet at Me in that Tone of Voice


Setting tone of voice in social media is a challenge. How do you balance the assertiveness and authority with a sense of engagement and approachability? How do you strike a tone that delights your customers and attracts new prospects? And what is that “distinctive” personality that can only be expressed through text and how do you create it consistently?

Tone of voice is not just a problem for social media. In a business world where communication occurs largely through the written word – in email, messaging, enterprise social networks and so on, a misplaced word or misconstrued meaning can cause much drama.

Consider the hastily worded email that you sent after a bad meeting. Or the tweets you made in response to a troll. What about the situation where you really wanted to recall an email but realised that you could not?

IBM has been experimenting with language and semantics for some time. Their Watson platform specialises in natural language processing, and with the Tone Analyzer service, you may just catch an overly aggressive email in the nick of time.

How Tone Analyzer Works

We often rely on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help us profile individuals. It is still widely in use despite being largely dismissed as a scientific method – but I have always found its indicators lacking. I much prefer Sam Gosling’s OCEAN framework. It measures:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism


This framework is used by IBM to assess your social tone of voice. Watson also gives you a score on writing tone and emotional tone. You simply cut and paste your text into the field on the demo page and have Watson analyse your words. It then returns a visual assessment. This is the assessment from the first half of my last blog post. You will see, the post was:

  • 80% analytical (good for this kind of article)
  • 96% confident (I do want you to believe me)
  • 87% agreeable (please, please like and hire me).

You can also integrate this platform into your enterprise tools using the API platform. That could make for a very different form of communication within and beyond the enterprise.

But here’s a question – would you dare to run your marketing copy through this system? What would you find?

Marketing Skills of the Future, Now


I have dozens of conversations with marketers every week. And in almost every conversation, the topic turns to skills. Skills shortages. Employee capabilities. And technology. The rapidly changing marketing technology landscape shifts each quarter with new features, functions, platforms and data coming into play. Meanwhile, universities are pumping out graduates whose capabilities are already out of date.

It is becoming clear that we need marketing skills for the future. But we need them now.

I recently discussed these skill gaps with MediaScope’s Denise Shrivell, AOL’s Yasmin Sanders and RadiumOne’s Adam Furness. Each week Denise presents a 30 minute live video chat on the topics impacting Australia’s media and advertising industry, and this episode focusing on skill shortages was a cracker. On a positive note, we are seeing forward momentum. But are we seeing the gap closing? Watch a replay of the episode below.

Addressing skill gaps by improving your innovation fitness

Over the last 12 months I have been working with a range of clients on their digital and marketing strategies. As part of this work, we map out not just the strategic landscape, but the skills needed to deliver. Sometimes this means:

  • In-house teams need training
  • Finding the right agency to fill the gap
  • Every now and then, creating something entirely new – which is when the project gets really exciting.

One of the programs we have developed to help organisations to continue to move forward in this environment is called Innovation Fitness. The Innovation Fitness program, with its bootcamp, ongoing mentoring and support and target skills audit process is not just about closing the gap, but about delivering changes in the ways that you work.

After all, the future is not determined by technology but by our reactions to it. The questions we all need to ask ourselves is “How clear is our future skills strategy? And are we even on the right path?”.

#CoffeeMornings for Evening People

2015-10-30 08.22.34-1

The Sydney institution that is #CoffeeMornings has now been running regularly for the last nine years. And while we have many who turn up each Friday regularly, there are some that come only occasionally. Rarely. Hardly at all. Some people even tell me that they “just can’t get up early enough to make it to Single Origin by 8am.

So if you are one of these so-called “evening people”, then you may want to come along to a Coffee Mornings for Evening People next Tuesday evening. It’s like Christmas party way ahead of the Christmas party rush that happens in December. If you can make it, we’d love to see you.

Where: Papa Gedes Bar, Rear 348 Kent Street
When: Tuesday, 24 November 2015 @ 6pm


Influencers and Social Recommendation


In a world where the impact of traditional advertising is shrinking and where the option to simply block ads from our internet use is an easy option, it is clear that marketers the world over are having to rethink the way that they do business. In fact, they’re having to rethink the way that they do everything.

Some are leaping onto the hackathon bandwagon. Some are becoming more social. Some agencies are diving head first into data. And some are imploding, sending shockwaves through the lives of the freelancer networks who rely on their steady patronage.

And while everything is changing, in many ways, it all remains the same. Back in 2009, I came up with a concept I called the Auchterlonie effect. It was the digital version of playground storytelling and the concept seemed to ring true. In order for a story to spread through a network (think a class of 12 year old boys, or a group of connected Twitter friends), there are certain conditions which need to be met. It is about building and spending your social capital within that network. It is about generosity, action and reputation.

Years later, and despite various efforts to map and score our “influence”, it still remains elusive. But we do know a little more about the conditions and the triggers. And this infographic from the Smiley360 folks helps connect some of the dots. It’s just that there are always new and emerging dots that we have to take into account.


Talking Social and Digital Trends on the Echo Junction Podcast


GavinHeatonx300 Podcasts are one of my newly discovered joys. A well curated list of subscriptions basically means that you can remain up-to-date with your fields of interest independently of the mainstream media. This is particularly useful for topics that are too niche for the media or too controversial – which is why my personal subscription list includes podcasts on the topics of digital and social media, Australian history, and the history of writing and language (often including large amounts of swearing).

Podcasts also mean that you have a greater role in programming your own media content, so if you don’t like what you hear, you can unsubscribe and find something you like more.

One of my regular casts is Adam Fraser’s Echo Junction. With dozens of podcasts recorded this year, he has been seeking out and presenting some of the best thinkers and doers in the online world for the last year or so. He meticulously researches, prepares questions and challenges his guests to connect the dots between the enterprise and digital worlds. Some of the best episodes include:

Back in April 2015, I joined Adam to talk social business and the enterprise landscape, and last week we got together again to think about the future – 2016 – and what it might hold for the world of social and digital. It wasn’t an interview. It was a discussion. You can listen in here (and argue with me on Twitter).

Beyond Innovation Bingo: Doing Business with Government in the Digital Age


We have been living in the 21st Century for almost 15 years, and at last it seems, that governments at all levels in Australia have finally got the carrier pigeon. With Primer Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s very public recalibration of the business conversation towards “innovation”, there has been a remarkable level of energy and dynamism pumped into the the business world. From Wyatt Roy’s PolicyHack to the Telstra Digital Summit, and from the SydStart startup conference to the opening of the Australian Digital Transformation Office, it feels like we are constantly playing innovation bingo.

Will all this talk result in action? And will that action result in anything like lasting change? More importantly, will the benefits of this innovation – the digital transformation programs – actually deliver value and opportunity for anyone other than the big end of town?

On Thursday, 5 November 2015, is hosting an Open Opportunity Forum to address these questions. This breakfast event at the offices of Swaab Attorneys, aims to “provide the highest level briefing of digital engagement – to give [mid-tier technology companies] a practical guide to meeting public sector demand.”

Speakers* confirmed include:

  • The Hon Karen Andrews MP, Assistant Minister for Science, Australian Government
  • Professor Roy Green, Dean Business School, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)
  • Martin Hoffman, Secretary, NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation
  • Adrian Turner, CEO, Data61
  • Patricia Kelly, Director General, IP Australia
  • Audrey Lobo-Pulo, Data Scientist, Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Latika Bourke, Press Gallery Political Reporter, Sydney Morning Herald (Event MC)

In addition, Wyatt Roy MP, Assistant Minister for Innovation will kick off the breakfast with a live cross from Israel. Rounding out the event, I will share some practical tips on what businesses can do today to make a difference tomorrow. It promises to be informative and perfectly timed to help us all make sense of the newly emerging innovation landscape.

Hope to see you there!

Does Medium Matter?


When publishing platform Medium burst onto the internet a while back, it seemed like fresh life had been breathed into a stale medium (no pun intended). The integrated comments, sharing and community building capabilities were a fantastic way to turn the one-way, author-to-reader format on its head. And the limited release, invitation only availability drove demand for access superbly.

Medium also arrived at a time when LinkedIn’s publishing platform was growing in popularity. As a centre of gravity for business conversations and thought leadership, LinkedIn’s clunky Pulse technology could rely on its integrated access to YOUR business networks and news feeds, and seemed to grow on a daily basis. Using the same “influencer-led” strategy to launch, LinkedIn initially restricted access to the publishing platform, creating a clear distinction between those who had access and those who did not, but this was gradually relaxed, and the publishing platform began to open to others.

Yet as the “thought leadership” grew, so too did the clutter. LinkedIn attempted to categorise content to create a feed of relevancy as did Medium. It reminded me a little of the proliferation of blogs a few years back – resulting in an explosion of content and comment. But there is a clear difference. All this content are building OTHER PEOPLE’S networks. And those networks are picking winners – based on a few random elements (also known as algorithms).

In this experiment on Medium, Henry Wismayer, shows not only the new challenge of surfacing “new” voices on these new platforms, he also suggests that there has to be a deeper alignment. That the algorithm is not value free, but self-referential and self-reinforcing. You are either part of the game or you are well out of it:

The ease with which Triumvirate articles — even depressingly hollow ones — accrue views and Recommends provides an irresistible incentive for other people to follow the formula. As a result, Medium risks becoming a click-bait factory, a lame production line pumping out articles around the same limited themes.

And the point is that this is all a game. And can be gamed.

The core factor here is trust. Who do we trust and why?

In a time poor world, we increasingly rely on technology to filter the signal from the noise. But increasingly, there is a blandness to the experience of the “world wide web”. It’s no longer worldly nor wide.

And this is where the true opportunity lies. Medium has become, for me at least, a vast, shallow sea of thinly veiled opinion masquerading as insight. It’s not offering the richness it promised in the early days. In many ways, it’s the distinction that Alana Fisher calls out between subject matter expertise and thought leadership.

And the same is true for LinkedIn. Will either of these platforms matter in 2017? Perhaps they are simply on the path to inevitable disruption. Perhaps it’s not that Medium doesn’t matter, but that media itself is under threat. Now, that’s an interesting thought.

Improve Your Innovation Fitness: Make Yourself Redundant


“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”
Buzzy Trent

When we talk about technology – and when we talk about change – we often talk about “waves”. Like surfers talk. Except it’s nowhere near as interesting or compelling. Except when we add a tinge of fear to it.

When I first started working in publishing, I realised that I was already redundant. Or was on the way to being redundant. I led the way in implementing online coding in a world full of typesetters, and I started using desktop publishing when it seemed like blasphemy. The change was coming and I was doing all I could to ride the wave was there before me.

Later, at IBM, I learned about process re-engineering. And “restructuring”. And “outsourcing”. Everywhere I looked, I could see disruption, dislocation and relocation. There were people losing their jobs, careers being swept out from under them. It was a time of tremendous uncertainty.

The thing is, it is no different now than it was then. In many ways, we now live our lives in a constant state of disruption. Gone is the fabled “job for life”. Gone is the bond between employer and employee. And gone is the social contract that saw us all working towards a shared future where a “fair go” was on the table for anyone who stepped up. In its place is uncertainty, change and anxiety.

But disruption is not just about fear. It is also about opportunity.

One of the better lessons from my time at IBM was the need to treat a company like a living organism. Every year or two, there would be a restructure. While this was used as a way to reduce costs or shift them to another country, it was also amazingly invigorating. It challenged us to forge new networks in new parts of the business. It forced new and often unexpected ways of working. And it did so when all we wanted was to stay in our comfort zones.

Now, “restructuring” is not always the most pleasant of experiences. And it is emotionally bruising to find yourself out of work suddenly.

Disrupt yourself first

If you take your job seriously – and almost everyone I have ever met does – then the challenge is to make yourself redundant. The opportunity is to disruption yourself, your career and your industry before it happens from the outside in.

This is partly what we are doing with the Disruptor’s Handbook. Despite the name, it is not a “book”. It is a strategy and innovation firm. Our mission is to bring the innovation practices and methods used by startups to the enterprise. And yes, we have handbooks. We make them freely available on our website so that you can apply these practices to your own business. We also have thought leadership eBooks designed to help you make the case for innovation in your business. We also have a series of techniques and approaches that have not been published but are used in our client work. These are shared with clients so that they learn to do what we do – so they know what we know and grow in confidence and capability. We are effectively disrupting ourselves as we grow.

Challenging yourself

I believe that you must challenge yourself and your industry. Can you do better? Can you reinvent your business?

In challenging yourself this way, it keeps you thinking about the long game. It keeps you focused on the health of your skills and networks, your capabilities and your ability to deliver. And it keeps you focused on your customers and their needs, serving them as they shift and change.

And in a time of uncertainty, making yourself redundant puts you in the driver’s seat of your career. You can choose the timing of your next step and its direction. You can prepare yourself for the changes that are coming. It’s Darwinian. Survival of the fittest.

And this … “innovation fitness” means that you are giving yourself the best next chance possible. Don’t just see the next wave coming, ride it, baby. Ride it.

Taking Digital Leadership to a New Level

2015-10-26 12.00.56-1

When I started this blog ten years ago, it began with a rant. A call to action. It was a poetic exploration of what it might mean to focus on your customer above all else. It was also a warning about what would happen if businesses refused to do so.

There are more to the words of consumers than the corporations expect.
We huddle in groups, in chat rooms.
We explode on the keyboards of a million call centres.
Our imagination is unheard of. Our thoughts cancel out the process.
We are your hearts and your minds.
We are everywhere, all places, all over the shop.

Fast forward ten years and over 2200 articles later, and it feels like we might be making a little progress on this transformation in business that we call “digital”.

When I spoke at Telstra’s Vantage conference just a couple of months ago, there was a palpable sense that a shift was underway in the way that Australia’s largest telecommunications company was presenting itself. It was more assertive. Less about cables and wires. More about services and transformation. About helping customers solve business problems.

And with the Telstra Digital Summit, we are seeing a stronger Telstra yet again. Also see Joanne Jacobs’ live blog.

Kicking off with Andy Penn, CEO of Telstra

It was the most comprehensive display of digital leadership that we have seen from Telstra. In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of another company that is making such a concerted shift. There was context setting from Telstra CEO, Andy Penn and newly minted Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, sprinkled with humour, references to 80s music and examples of how Telstra is shifting from its telco base to become more of a “technology business”. There was still a reliance on numbers over storytelling and “core” messaging than vision, but it’s a new dance that Telstra is learning and like anything at this scale, it takes time.

A vision of the future with Robert Scoble

Peering into the near future, Robert Scoble and Kathryn Parsons talked about the way technology is empowering people, students and businesses to transform their own futures. Robert, in particular took us into a world whose future is inextricably linked to technology. Part geek fanboy and part techno-utopian, Robert’s exciting new world is populated by ever more deeply connected, yet strangely disembodied, individuals shuttling between meetings in driverless cars and adventures in virtual reality. Robert is an expert at connecting out-of-this-world market valuations for new technology with a vision for the future that is yet to be created, but in a country that is struggling to spread 20th Century broadband copper across its vast distances, it feels like it may take Australia longer than most to reach this new future.

Decoding the future with Kathryn Parsons

The energy of Kathryn Parsons, CEO of Decoded is palpable. A great storyteller, she effortlessly weaves her own story with that of Decoded – the accelerated learning program designed to get you up and going with coding, data and technology in a day. Soon to be launching in Australia, Decoded’s launch reinforces the fact that education is one of the great opportunities of the early 21st Century. And just as Australia exports a substantial amount of education to overseas markets, we are now seeing more overseas businesses eyeing the Australian markets keenly. Joining the US-based General Assembly, along with almost all the universities, Decoded brings a rapid sense of flair to adult learning. It will be interesting to see the ripples as they roll out here.

Enterprises learning to dance – Telstra’s Muru-D accelerator

Annie Parker, founder of Telstra’s startup accelerator, Muru-D, showcased two of the current businesses working through the program. When I first saw Holly Cardew talk about her Pixc business, it was all images, and online products. Today, just months later, it’s storefronts, investments and ecommerce – a dramatic and welcome move up the value chain. And Cate Hull’s vision for FreightExchange – an uber for excess freight capacity – remains clear and eminently viable as it did on day one.

Dazzled by data – Lithium’s Rob Tarkoff

Rob Tarkoff, CEO of Lithium dazzled the audience with insight, data and a world of big data experience. He toyed with the audience – testing our understanding of Daniel’s Market Theory (ie there is no theory, Daniel is his son) – going on to explain how the “born digital” generation are already exhibiting different behaviours and expectations from businesses and communities.

The rear view from out in front – Uber in Australia with David Rohrsheim

Uber’s David Rohrsheim was a crowd favourite, riding the wave of popularity that Uber is experiencing in Australia. When he asked how many in the audience had taken an Uber in the last week, almost the whole audience raised their hand. Here, David was preaching to his choir. This is where I hoped for a little more than the “why Uber is so uber”, but the audience certainly loved the storytelling.

X marks the spot with Brian Solis

After lunch is one of the most challenging speaking slots. Stepping into the void, Brian Solis took us the challenging landscapes of customer experience. As ever, Brian delivered insight in a smooth, easy to understand way. He is certainly one of the most accomplished speakers I have seen – polished, word perfect and authoritative. This time he was all these things, but with another quality. A depth or humility that I had not noticed previously. And this made his talk on X – customer experience, the crossroads for business – so good.

A brain on legs – Larry Marshall moving CSIRO to a new tune

We often say that “if you are the smartest person in the room, you need to get out”. And if this is the case, Larry Marshall, CEO of the CSIRO, is likely to find himself meeting-free for years to come. A great combination of entrepreneurialism and scientific chops, he has a clear vision for his 90 year old startup. Echoing Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull’s push for innovation and “agile government”, Larry challenged not only the audience but his own teams – “we have to be beta all the time”.

Telstra’s digital journey with Kartsen Wildberger

Rounding out the day was Telstra Group Executive, Karsten Wildberger sharing part of the Telstra digital journey. He touched on the challenges as well as some of the wins. It was refreshing to hear Karsten taking on the challenge of disruption, reframing it as opportunity rather than a threat – and encouraged the audience to think the same way. “Keep the customer at the centre of everything”, he urged.

Lethal Generosity with Shel Israel

The nicest man on the internet, and in many ways, it’s chronicler, Shel Israel, stepped us through what it takes to be “lethally generous”. And he is that in person. In fact, this is the title of his new book, generated to the millennial generation which he sees as the “greatest hope for the planet”. Listening to Shel, you hear not just a connection to technology but also a sense of the great underlying humanity which the technology was created to serve. As he says, “great customer service, even if it costs you a sale, gets you a customer for life”.

What the tweet – Twitter in Australia with Karen Stocks

Rounding out the day – in the last presentation before drinks – was local Twitter CEO, Karen Stocks. Given that the whole room could be categorised as “early adopters”, it was a shame that the presentation didn’t take us more into the future of Twitter. Clearly there was a lot of love in the room for Twitter and for Karen as CEO – and the segments on #likeagirl and Periscope reinforced the power and relevance that Twitter has created in the community. But it would have been great to hear more about their story with data and the tools that are available for businesses, their partnerships with companies like IBM or new features and capabilities coming down the track.

What’s next for the digital summit?

It was a broad brush conference and tied together many of the digital challenges in easy to consume, shorter, 20 minute snacks. There was fabulous diversity in the speaking line-up – it certainly wasn’t yet another conference dominated by MAMS (middle aged men in suits). The tweet stream provided some great, light hearted moments and worked to engage the audience across the day.

The faster pace also kept the audience focused and the energy levels high. And Telstra’s new-found confidence was surprisingly refreshing. Where once, their positioning was tinged with the air of superiority and arrogance, this conference felt like a more hands-on, let’s get things done attitude was pervading proceedings.  Some ideas for the Telstra Digital Summit 2016 (hey ideas are free):

  • More Australian speakers actually speaking about Australian businesses and conditions. It would be great to hear from Telstra business customers and the successes they are having. Some of the Telstra Business Awards winners had compelling stories and amazing digital outcomes. More of that please
  • Breakout sessions for case studies and deep dives. There’s plenty of room in the exhibition area to have mini-talks on digital topics. This would be a great way for Telstra to showcase their depth of expertise and “lethal generosity”
  • Connecting the audience. With around 1000 people attending the conference is now at the scale where connecting and networking with others is a challenge. With plenty of conference apps now available, it might be worth investigating something that helps connect people, ideas and opportunities.

Interestingly, while reading back over my blog, I found this article from 2008 urging Telstra to embrace an “almost unmatched opportunity” on the digital frontier. It has taken six years to hear these words from the lips of a Telstra CEO. Let’s hope that this forward momentum will continue.

Minimum Viable Policy – the Pitches from Australia’s First #PolicyHack

2015-10-17 11.06.06

On 17 October 2015, Wyatt Roy, the assistant minister for innovation co-hosted Australia’s first policy hackathon with startup accelerator Blue Chilli. It was a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the machinery of government, and hopefully use a little disruptive thinking to bring about changes in policy for the “innovation industry”.

Working with the “corporate innovation” policy challenge, I helped facilitate a team led by champions, Michelle Narracott and Justin Strharsky. Also on the team, tackling this challenge were policy advisors, representatives from industry, entrepreneurs and startups. There was serious expertise on hand from the Department of Industry and Science, Treasury, the fields of intellectual property, international trade and the mining, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

In the world of startups, there is a great deal of focus initially on an MVP – the minimum viable product. The idea is that as a startup we create the best possible product with a minimal feature set in order to test market viability. But with a “policy hack” the focus is not on a product but a policy. As such, the challenge for the teams was to develop a “minimum viable policy” – delivering a policy tweak or shift with the potential for a big impact on the “innovation industry”. This was a significant challenge given that:

  • The teams self-formed on the day
  • The participants had no prior experience working with each other
  • Time was limited to about 5 hours
  • Problems were broadly articulated.

That almost all teams positioned strong proposals for “policy hacks” is testament to not only the team champions, facilitators and mentors – but also the disciplined, lean methodologies used across the day.

You can read more about the experience here – and also the views from participants and observers:

And now, thanks again to Blue Chilli, you can watch the pitches in the video below. Where do we go from here? The machinery of government and policy is turning. The question is, how fast, and with a focus on what kind of outcome.

Pitch 1: innovation in larger enterprises

Policies to develop innovative, agile and adaptive practices in Australian medium and large businesses Presenter: Justin Strharsky Team Champion: Michelle Narracott Team members: Peter Samaan Catherine Pham Derek Baigent John Bathgate Rachel David