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Digital Privacy: Why We Need Clear Notice & Consent Protocols and Trust Frameworks

Read the fine print

When was the last time you read the full terms of service or privacy policy for an app? Have you ever read them? When you received notice they changed, did you read the new ones? If you read them, did they give you clear insight into the amount and type of personal information your service providers can share or sell?

It sometimes feels as if every day there is a new revelation regarding just how innovative some organizations have become at finding new ways to break their customers’ trust, while profiting from their personal data. While providers might argue that their terms of service “clearly” state they have a right to do so, do we really believe that most people truly understand them?

Let’s be honest

It made me think. What if terms of service were written in plain language that broadcasted the service provider’s intent? What would that look like? So, in the spirit of the “Honest Trailers” film trailer parodies I decided to write an “Honest Terms of Service”. The list my vent generated was long, so here are just a few of them.

Honest Terms of Service

These terms of service are intentionally written in legalese such that, even if you understand them, they will not help you realize their full implications. They are long and blandly written and, hey, don’t you have better things to do? If you are breathing, you have consented to these terms of service. Let’s be honest, you didn’t even make it this far.

– We will begin building an extremely detailed profile of you whether or not you use our service.

– If you become a user, we will aggregate all of your new user data with what we have already collected.

– We will sell all of your data and derived insights to anyone who will pay for it, regardless of their intent or associations. We will continue to sell your information to them regardless of how they use it.

– We will offer an app that lets you have “private” conversations with others and give you the impression those conversations will never be shared. We will mine and sell that information.

– We will listen to your audio conversations. We will transcribe this information. We will use or sell what we learn from it.

– We will offer you the convenience of using our ID to login to other services. We will keep a detailed record of every service you use and when. We will aggregate that with everything else we know about you and sell it.

– We will capture your images from photos you post, whether restricted or publicly, and sell them to facial recognition companies so they can identify you. They will sell the derived information.

– We will track your location and interests and use that to determine whom you know. We’ll also pull that from sources such as your friend and contact lists. We’ll be watching them too.

– We will publish non-binding statements about how we value you as a customer and respect your privacy. While it is true we value your potential as a revenue source, we value profit over your privacy.

Though these terms were inspired by actual events, my point is to highlight the extent of this issue, not to name and shame any organization.

Clear terms of service are not enough

Even if we could envision a world where terms of service would be read by everyone and truly understood, could they ever truly be effective? Would they ever result in the type of digital privacy that people will eventually demand? I do not believe so.

A model for trust

There are currently a number of emerging digital trust frameworks that such as DIACC’s Pan-Canadian Trust Framework (PCTF) or the Citizen First Joint Council’s PCTF Public Sector Profile that are working to address this. These frameworks help set a bar for digital interaction that should enable us to better live up to our digital potential. Conformance to the guidance from such frameworks should at the very least enable us to better gauge which organizations we can trust, to what standard of identity and privacy they operate and, to some extent, how they value individuals’ privacy.

In fact, it was my review of the latest PCTF “Notice and Consent” criteria that led me to think about these “honest terms of service”. To achieve compliance, the Framework demands clear communication from providers to users regarding things such as the specific data they intend to use or share and how it will be used or shared (“Notice”). It also requires providers to solicit explicit permission to use the data, and acknowledgement of those intents, parameters, and constraints from individuals before the data can be used (“Consent”). There are some exceptions, though it’s a great beginning.

Allons-y!

You can learn more by reviewing these emerging frameworks yourself. These groups are always looking for feedback and new members. Check them out, and help us move toward a more effective, productive, privacy-respecting digital economy.


About the author

George Watt is a Partner at Becker-Carroll, a Converge Company, and is responsible for Strategy and Lean Innovation. A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains. He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

As VP of Strategy for a multibillion-dollar technology company, he was responsible for global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design and operation of an innovative startup accelerator program. He has held many national and global leadership positions and has led global teams spanning North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. George is co-author of “The Innovative CIO” and “Lean Entrepreneurship” and tweets as @GeorgeDWatt.

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George WattDigital Privacy: Why We Need Clear Notice & Consent Protocols and Trust Frameworks
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The Importance of Digital Hygiene

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is broadening globally, both the private sector and the public sector have taken action to address its public health impact and to dampen its effect on the quality of life of their citizens and employees. What has been encouraging is how the private and the public sector have been implementing complimentary responses as witnessed, for example, in social distancing policies of governments (e.g., closing schools and postponing events that would generate large crowds of people in close proximity) and businesses (e.g., extending work from home policies and closing their facilities to large meetups). This alignment is outstanding. Even more so if you consider that much of it was done without deliberate and coordinated planning.

Unfortunately, there are always those who will try to take advantage of people when they are vulnerable and suffering in times like these, and it appears this time is no different. One group estimates that victims of COVID-19 related scams in the United Kingdom alone have lost more than $1 million USD in just over a month. There are countless claims of miracle cures that either attempt to separate people from their savings by selling a fake cure, or by driving up their stock price with similar claims. Scammers are phishing and creating fake web sites claiming to have healthcare information or COVID-19 outbreak maps. It has become so bad the World Health Organization had to dispatch a press release warning of phishing scams and sites impersonating them. Other health agencies have taken similar actions.

In their rapid response to this outbreak, some organizations are considering easing their security policies to simplify digital business and accommodate remote workers. However, it is clear that as we focus on our biological hygiene, we cannot lose focus on our digital hygiene. We need to ensure that the people and organizations we transact with are whom they claim to be. We need to be certain they have the qualifications they claim to have. We need to be confident that our privacy is preserved and our personal and financial information is not vulnerable. All of this needs to happen seamlessly and conveniently. This is no small task.

The good news is that there are already a lot of smart people working on these problems. Organizations like the Citizen First Joint Councils and the Digital ID & Authentical Council of Canada (DIACC) are already working to create environments that make digital transactions safe, convenient, and privacy preserving. They have made great progress, and you can help them to advance this important work either by providing feedback during their public comment exercises or by becoming a member and helping them create a better digital future.

So, let’s follow the example of the resilient people of Italy who joined together in song to make their physical world a better place, and let’s join together to make our digital world a better place.


About the Author

George Watt – Partner, Strategy and Innovation Practice
Becker-Carroll, a Converge Company

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

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George WattThe Importance of Digital Hygiene
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What Musical Theatre Can Teach Us About Business Strategy

Musical theatre actors are amazing strategists. The similarities between the types of strategic decisions by a single actor in a musical and someone running a large organization are striking. Those actors make strategic decisions every day and we can learn some very important lessons from them. Let me explain.

Deliberate and Detailed

This week, I had the pleasure of listening to an actor speak about preparing for a recent audition. It was truly amazing. Each of the three main elements of a business strategy were clearly articulated through the choices she described. She had a clear objective for the character. She thought through her advantage – things the casting team wanted that she might be able to bring to the role that someone else may not. She also thought about what others might bring that she might not, and she thought about how to leverage both. But what truly impressed me was her attention to detail in the scope of her strategy.

Even for an audition, acting is more about making choices than I ever imagined. As she spoke about her preparation, the level of detail and the number of clear, deliberate scope choices she had to make was mind-numbing. “Should I deliver this monologue forcefully or softly – even if the character is hardnosed?” “Should I hold this note back in this bar and sing it softly, or blow the audience’s hair back?” “What is my character feeling when she says this – one – word?” “Where would this character look? Where wouldn’t she look?”

Back to Business

Throughout my career, I have helped develop strategies for very small and very large businesses and organizations. I have evaluated business ideas and program pitches, and held a position where it was my job to help many businesses to articulate and improve their strategies. In my experience, the second most common cause of poor performance was not being deliberate about scope. (The first was not truly having a strategy, but that’s a topic for another article.)

Like this actor, businesses need to make deliberate choices about what they will – and will not – do. They need deliberate answers to questions like:

• Which components will we build? Which won’t we build?
• Which components will we buy?
• Where will we build it? Where will we buy it?
• Which customers will we serve?
• Which potential customers will we deliberately not serve?

It would surprise you how often teams have no answer to either of the last two items.

Which languages (human and programming) to support, which geographies… at times it may feel as if the list is infinite. Though, your choices must be deliberate. Failure to make deliberate choices is abdicating your strategy to “luck”. While my father used to joke that he’d “rather be lucky than good” at anything, as a strategy, that one does not have a great track record of success.

Be Deliberate

The next time you’re thinking through strategy put yourselves in the shoes of our actor. The casting team liked what they saw, and they’ve called you back so they can see more. The stakes are high and you’ve decided you’re “not throwing away your shot”! So “Rise up!”, and:

• Ensure your strategy has a clear objective
• Clearly articulate your own advantage and how you can leverage it
• Make clear, deliberate choices about what is in scope, and what is not
• “Listen to the data” as you deploy; things might not be as you thought they were
• Inspect and adapt; things change, and your strategy will need to evolve


About the Author – George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

As VP of Strategy for a multi-billion-dollar technology company he was responsible for global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design and operation of an innovative accelerator program.

George is co-author of “The Innovative CIO” and “Lean Entrepreneurship”, and tweets as @GeorgeDWatt.

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George WattWhat Musical Theatre Can Teach Us About Business Strategy
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Digital Identity Needs User Experience

I have always wondered why we don’t have our driver’s licenses on our phones. Why do I have to carry my wallet still? Why can’t it be digital? We had the privilege of attending the Canadian Cybersecurity and Identity Expo 2019 this past year. The event brought together a fantastic group of people to talk about the big questions in our industry. One of the biggest problems posed was this: “Does digital Identity need user experience?” With the collaboration of private and public institutions with our citizens, we concluded that we could create an experience that is trusted and respected. To achieve this, we must be human-centered when we are designing Digital Identity systems.

Human-centric design is essential when we design these ecosystems. To create successful systems, we need to change the way we interact with the people that use them. Does this pose a design problem? We humbly think so. We believe that designing our solutions with a focus on the people who will use them is an essential part of the creation of trust and usability.

While at the expo, we sat in on a break-out session being run by Blackberry. The running joke was that they had not made phones in years. Interestingly, what Blackberry has been making is remarkable software ranging from two-factor authentication and device management to collaborative workspaces. One thing that struck me from this presentation was that one of the presenters had UX in every single one of his slides. When we asked him why, he said these words: “User Experience is what makes Digital Identity possible.”

Imagine this scenario: You are about to go on a trip overseas, and you need to apply for a passport because you have never had one before. How do you go about doing it? Luckily, the government website explains how to do this in a few steps. But why do you need to go to their website, fill out a form, find two guarantors, gather your identity verifying documentation, find a place that will take passport photographs, take the picture, wait for the picture to get signed by someone waiting, and then take it to a Service Canada location only to wait for someone to tell you it take two to four weeks and that it will arrive in the mail, which assumes that you have a home where you can receive it?

Wouldn’t it be a much better experience if all you had to do was show up at Service Canada and let them know that you applied for a passport and that you’re there to pick it up or place it in your digital wallet?

Sercan KumDigital Identity Needs User Experience
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You’re Not Failing if You’re Learning

How “learn-fast” thinking can improve innovation and combat fear of failure

“We’re a large organization. We can’t fail fast and break things!”

It’s that type of statement I frequently encounter, so it was no surprise to hear it at a conference in Seattle where I spoke recently: “What if we changed the wording slightly and said, ‘Learn fast and iterate’?” I asked. “Could you do that?” Their answer was a definitive, “Yes”. You might be thinking, “But how is that different?” Let me explain.

 

A cringeworthy beginning

A number of years ago, I was facilitating a workshop where we developed an approach to organic innovation for a global, multi-billion-dollar technology company. Throughout the workshop the phrase “Fail Fast” had been used a number of times by participants. I noticed that the CTO, who has had an undeniably successful career as an innovator, would cringe whenever someone said those words. Eventually, he asked if we could start using the phrase “Learn Fast” instead. His point was that a counter-intuitive result from an experiment was not a failure, not if you learned something from it. I agree with this point. In fact, in my experience, it is often unexpected results that lead to the most interesting and exciting discoveries.

 

Learning fast

Our “Learn Fast” culture continued to evolve. We encouraged responsible experiments with clear objectives based upon falsifiable hypotheses. We celebrated learning, regardless of outcome, whenever a person or team:

  • Had a clear objective
  • Articulated a falsifiable hypothesis
  • Executed their experiment well
  • Learned something from the results
  • Adjusted their plan, strategy, tactics, approach, and/or business model as a result

We even, lightheartedly, referred to “failure” as “the F-word” whenever someone used it.

This approach helped us to rapidly explore ideas for both incremental and breakthrough innovation. It also sent a strong signal to everyone in the company that innovation was not only “OK”, but that it was encouraged. Though, it did not stop there.

 

Relief valve

We found that approaching new ideas for anything – program management, research, even building our incubator/accelerator itself – as an experiment led to tremendous benefits and outcomes. “Let’s run an experiment” became a mantra, and it was a simple way of signaling to others when someone wanted to take an acceptable, responsible risk. It was understood that if we agreed that it was a good idea for a person or team to run the experiment then we were also accepting that the result may not be what we predicted it would be. If that were the case, there would be no retribution for anyone on the team as long as they executed the experiment well, as characterized above. It was amazing how our velocity and results improved, and it did not stop there.

The team’s morale and energy also improved immensely as the Sword of Damocles, which is seemingly ever-present in mature organizations, was forever stored in its sheath. I can tell you that my personal productivity and creativity soared in its absence. Many colleagues made similar, unsolicited remarks to me.

There is one key element in this approach that must be clearly understood in order for it to succeed. It is failure if you’re not learning.

 

Let’s run an experiment!

Learning to approach life in general as a series of experiments has improved my own well-being enormously. It removes self-induced pressure, it has made me more curious, and I learn more as a result. Additionally, I believe, I have been much more effective at work, at home, and in my community as a result. So, why don’t you run an experiment and see whether you get as much from this approach as I do.

 


 

About the Author

George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

Photo Credit: Crystal Kwok at Unsplash

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

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George WattYou’re Not Failing if You’re Learning
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Even Angels Need a Guiding Light

Make your innovation program more effective by training its governing team

During a recent Lean Entrepreneurship CIO Event in Atlanta I was asked a fantastic question: “Did you have to train your Angel Team?” The “Angel Team” was our incubator’s governance board. The team was responsible for deciding which ideas entered the incubator and provided mentoring to all of the startups within. Today, the answer to this question is “yes”. Although, that is not the answer we would have given earlier in the program’s life and this is because of a very important lesson we learned during our journey.

A great beginning

The people who formed the inaugural Angel Team had been involved with our incubator since the program’s inception. In fact, many of them had been participants in the workshop where we initially defined the challenges the incubator was designed to address and set the program’s strategic objectives. They had an enormous amount of context. However, once we were ready to launch the program in earnest, we needed to expand the Angel Team to ensure it was large enough and sufficiently diverse. We also needed to ensure it adequately represented the company’s broad business interests and varied organizations.

As we expanded the team, we realized that new members were unaware of things like the program’s objectives and intent, its structure and stages, and their own role within the team. The need for this level of orientation was fairly obvious, and these “introductory topics” required only an hour or two of review. As the program matured, we discovered the need for another class of, arguably more important, training – for Angels with all levels of experience.

Bad habits

Over time, the performance of the Angel Team began to drift. We had added more businesses to the incubator and those businesses were in various stages of maturity. As the volume and variety of activity increased, and the Angels became more comfortable with one-another, we found the Angel Team beginning to develop some bad habits. These bad habits included diving deeply into interesting, though irrelevant, topics (“chasing shiny objects”) or pursuing a line of inquiry too early in a business’ life. The latter can have dire consequences, as it can cause an incubating team to run out of time and funding by focusing on the wrong activities. Founders will often act on any topic an Angel raises, whether relevant or not, therefore it is critical that the Angels stay within the proper context when speaking with them. At best, this behavior created unnecessary stress for incubating teams.

Providing a North Star

Left unchecked, these simple habits can place an incubating business, or an entire program, at risk of failure. We created an “Angel Fitness”  program to ensure each Angel had the skills necessary to give each business the best possible chance to succeed, and that Angels focused their efforts on activities most critical to the success of each incubating business. The program consisted of some simple memory aids and extremely lightweight training resources.

Training your own Angel Team is critical. To ensure your innovation governance team is effective and focused, the following points can help your team stay on track:

  • Ensure the team is diverse (demographically, organizationally, and in experience)
  • Use simple “ceremonies” (meeting formats) to ensure focus and reduce waste and time
  • Supply lightweight training on skills essential for a member of any board
  • Remind the Angels the stage the incubating team is at prior to the beginning of each ceremony to ensure they are operating in the appropriate context
  • Provide active facilitation during all formal interactions between the governance and incubating business teams to:
    1. Focus conversations on the right stage of maturity
    2. Keep the group from “chasing shiny objects”
    3. Ensure they are in the proper meeting context (i.e., mentoring or judging)

Less is more

We also provided a one-page overview of our innovation program outlining each stage’s objectives as well as an illustrative set of questions for each stage. It, alone, had a tremendously positive impact on our Angel Team’s performance. The Angels often referred to it during our “pivot, pause, or persist” reviews to ensure they were operating in the right context; and the illustrative questions often inspired new, relevant, and exciting questions of their own.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event. I enjoyed our discussions and your fantastic questions.

Photo Credit: Skeeze from Pixabay

About the Author

George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

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George WattEven Angels Need a Guiding Light
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Why Innovation Competitions Backfire

Understanding the evolution of breakthrough ideas can be the key to a successful innovation program.

 

Why do innovation competitions — aimed at delivering breakthrough ideas and improving morale and engagement — so often have the opposite impact; sometimes even causing the most innovative employees to leave? Often the reasons are clear. Favoritism, poorly defined guidelines, and lack of universal access are common culprits, though it’s not always that obvious. I have seen innovation programs and competitions fail for a much more insidious reason.

Many, perhaps most, innovation competitions I have seen offer a one-time prize in the form of some sort of finite funding (e.g.: several thousand dollars in “one-time” budget) or time (e.g.: one month to work on the winning idea).

 

Here’s a dirty little secret about innovation: Successful, new ideas cost more as they evolve.

Work early in an idea’s life might simply involve talking to potential customers to determine they actually have the problem the idea solves, and whether they would pay for a solution to the problem. That work may only require one or two people for several weeks, or a few months. If the idea resonates, it will be time to build the product. That may, for example, mean bringing on a development team of five to ten people. That is a steep cost increase. Perhaps as much as 500% or more, plus any new equipment or resources that may be required. This type of increase will continue well into the life of the idea.

 

Sponsors of innovation initiatives often fail to ask this most important question:

What happens if they succeed?

As a result, the winner often has just enough time to prove the idea resonates with potential customers before they run out of funding and have to stop working on the project. That can be way more demoralizing than not having the contest. The innovator now has proof they have a good idea; and they have to abandon it. They get frustrated, some may leave, sometimes to pursue their idea elsewhere. Worse, some stay and begin to do just enough to keep their job, because that’s what is rewarded. There have even been cases where the innovator was laid off because they “weren’t contributing” to the mature organization’s objectives.

 

The impact can be very broad

Friends of the innovator, and others who learn of it, can also become frustrated and demoralized. Not only do they feel bad for their colleague, they have also just received a message that the organization does not value innovation. In some cases, the message is that innovators will be punished.

 

It’s not all bad news

Innovation competitions can be very energizing and can lead to amazing discoveries. There are a few, simple things that can be done to increase the probability your program will have the positive impact you want it to.

 

  1. Be clear about the objective of your competition. (Are you looking for a new product, new business model, specific technology domain, etc.?)
  1. Be clear and specific about the award.
    (A pitch to leadership? Funding? How much? How long? What happens when it’s gone?)
  2. Ask yourself, what happens if the winning idea gets traction with customers?
  3. Plan for increased investment in successful ideas.
  4. Be transparent and set expectations properly.

 

There are many others, though item five is the most critical. If your team’s expectations are set properly, your program is much more likely to have the positive impact you want it to. If you do not have second order funding, make that clear at the outset and ensure participants understand what that means. If you are concerned there may be no viable ideas in your area of interest, clearly state the evaluation team has the right to declare no winner.

If you are transparent and set expectations properly, your team is much less likely to interpret your contest as innovation pageantry. Or better still, plan for success – and if you don’t find it – fund another competition.


About the Author

George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

As VP of Strategy for a multi-billion-dollar technology company he was responsible for global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design and operation of an innovative accelerator program.

George is co-author of “The Innovative CIO” and “Lean Entrepreneurship”, and tweets as @GeorgeDWatt.

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George WattWhy Innovation Competitions Backfire
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Determine the Problem

The first thing I focus on when deciding how to approach a client is what potential value I can bring to their area of responsibility. How can I help? I seek to understand the direction in which they wish to progress, what factors are important to them, what their objectives are, and where their potential problems lie. In today’s environment of complex enterprise systems, the first estimate of where a solution lies is likely well off the mark.  Thankfully, maturing methodologies and practices based on failures and iterative successes exist to help us find appropriate solutions. I often recall a Harvard Business Review article, “Are You Solving the Right Problems?“ by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. This article illustrates the different perspectives in which a problem ought to be viewed and analyzed.

Often when saddled with a huge program of work, there’s a tendency to fall back on the templates and checklists of prior projects. I’d hazard rote adherence to a checklist plan is fraught with risk. How do we know if we are on the right path?  How do we confirm hypotheses along the way? What is the risk of pausing to assess progress along the way and adjust the path if need be? What is the assumed risk of not doing so? Before diving into the vast array of possible solutions and choosing only one, I make a concerted effort to understand the problem at hand. When we define the problem first, we open ourselves up to multiple solutions, lessening the chance of tunnel vision on the wrong one.

The Solution Is not the Problem – Defining the Problem Is

A great place to start the conversation of defining the problem is with ideation and strategy. Enter Mr. George Watt and his Becker-Carroll practice. Author of the recently published book Lean Entrepreneurship, George’s practice brings decades of experience in adapting models and proven methodologies developed in the field to the client’s problem-space. The problem definition starts with the initial dialogue.  Becker-Carroll is here to assist you in this journey forward.

Defining any problem can be a handful for anyone. It’s important not to skip the initial discovery and defining process that all problem solving methodologies need in order to be successful. Conducting a thorough dialogue is necessary to fully map out any issue, and you use that map to lead you to the best solution.

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Michael BaranDetermine the Problem
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CCTT – Changing the Role of the Community College

I have always been a fan of the way that Quebec creates a level playing field for young people.  Regardless of one’s family circumstances, Quebecers go out of their way to give young people a chance at achieving their dreams. Having lived in and outside of Quebec, this attribute stands out more than any other, especially in Gatineau – from their sports and academia to culture and even politics.

In my mind, the biggest differentiator is the role of the community college (CEGEP).  With 2-year pre-university, and 3-year career-oriented programs, students are provided with an opportunity to get a high-quality education that is within the reach of youth from even the most modest of backgrounds (about $400/year). Regardless of the program, all students are exposed to literature, philosophy, and even physical education. They finish programs with a college diploma and are ready to face the world with a well-rounded education (and in general, with extremely well-developed analysis and writing skills for their age).

In the interest of continuous improvement and innovation, Quebec has taken the role of the community college to the next level by creating the Collegiate Centres for Transfer of Technologies (CCTT). From modern farming to cybersecurity, a small business can partner with the colleges to innovate and be more competitive in their industry. This also provides students with the opportunity to get hands-on experience that is relevant to the career they are pursuing and allows professors to be more in tune with their respective industries. This creates a scenario where the education system has a more direct impact on the growth of the economy.

Becker-Carroll was one of the first companies in the Outaouais region to write a letter of support to have a cybersecurity CCTT established at our local CEGEP. We were happy to be there when the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, announced its launch. We have since become a customer, have used its students, and have found it to be a great resource.  We have partnered with them on a self-sovereign identity research and development project, and we are even having discussions with them about setting up training programs for government and business around trust ecosystems. It is clear that the role of the community college has changed.

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Bruce LevisCCTT – Changing the Role of the Community College
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What Wilderness Navigation Taught Me About Lean Transformation

Lean approaches drive benefits far beyond their profit-driven, private-sector roots

I hear it often. “This lean and agile stuff is cool, but it’s not really applicable to me.” “We’re not a startup.” “We create programs, not products.” “We deliver government services.” “We’re a non-profit.”

I have seen lean and agile approaches drive value in all of those cases and elsewhere. Not convinced? Here is an example that is about as “elsewhere” as you can get.

A small difference makes for great distance

Lego Explorer Man

I used to teach navigation using magnetic compasses and paper maps. Once someone asked, “Being off by one degree isn’t such a big deal, is it?” It can be a very big deal, as the impact of even a small error expands over time. For example, if two people leave the same point on headings one degree apart and walk only the length of a soccer field (100 meters), they will be roughly 1.75 meters (~5 feet, 9 inches) apart when the reach the end. That’s not much, but it’s enough to put someone on the wrong side of an obstacle depending upon the terrain. And if our travelers continued at a leisurely pace (typically near 5 km/hour), the distance between them would increase by over 87 meters every hour they walked. They would be more than 2 kilometers apart after one day.

It doesn’t take long for that small error to create a large problem for one of our travelers. Now, suppose they made a second minor error and became two degrees off. What if they had to work their way around an obstacle like a steep mountain or swamp and were put off course? Unchecked, the impact of every error grows, and each new error can exacerbate the impact of the ones that came before it.

“Lean Navigation”

For centuries, navigators have used a lean/agile approach to mitigate these risks. Periodically, experienced navigators ask themselves questions like “Do I know where I am?”, “Am I still moving toward the objective?”, and “Should we still be headed there?” They check their bearings to validate the hypothesis that they are still on course. They use maps, charts, and landmarks to determine their location. They observe their surroundings and the weather to determine whether their original objective is still the right objective. Sometimes they adjust their course toward a better objective, or away from a dangerous one. The modern GPS’ infamous “recalculating” message is evidence that even today’s high-tech navigators still use this approach.

Experiment, Inspect, and Adapt

Whether you are building incremental technology, a new program idea, or the next disruptive breakthrough, a similar approach can increase your odds of success. Learning from our navigators:

  • Run small experiments to validate your hypotheses (e.g.: Our program will achieve our objectives)
  • Experiment frequently since conditions may change
  • Inspect and adapt based upon what you learn to ensure you create something people will want
  • “Listen to” your data

The last is, perhaps, the most important of these.

“Firm commitments, weakly held”

If their charts and data tell them they are not where they should be, navigators don’t ignore it or try to explain away the evidence. They may validate their data if it is unexpected, but they are willing to believe their hypothesis was flawed or that some event beyond their control has changed their circumstances. They are able to overcome their own bias. Unfortunately, I have seen innovative people succumb to their own bias, ignore their data and their advisors, and run out of funding or have their program cancelled.

Lean on!

I am not claiming Magellan read the Agile Manifesto. However, I do believe that, regardless of whether you are a start-up or a large government agency – profit-focused or altruistic – the great work of lean and agile pioneers like Taiichi Ohno, Kent Beck, and Martin Fowler may be much more helpful to you than may be initially obvious.


About the Author

George Watt

A transformative leader, George has spearheaded initiatives that have enabled businesses and global enterprises to address complex technology problems, deliver new business benefits, and drive millions of dollars in savings and productivity gains.

He has delivered innovations of his own such as a knowledge base for a neural network-based predictive performance management solution, one of the earliest private clouds (2005), and a lightweight event management agent.

As VP of Strategy for a multi-billion dollar technology company he was responsible for global scientific research, worldwide innovation initiatives, and the design and operation of an innovative accelerator program.

George is co-author of “The Innovative CIO” and “Lean Entrepreneurship”, and tweets as @GeorgeDWatt.

Photo Courtesy Andrew Martin at Pixabay

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