Fixing the weak link…

The first 15 minutes of this interview have kept me thinking a reasonable part of the weekend.

The question is what parts of your organisation are strong link games and which are weak link games.

I think that we’d all find that far more parts of our organisations are weak link organisations than strong link ones. However, most organisations organisations that I work with are worried about the next star player and the next killer move.

I’m left wondering why!

Hidden away from the rest of the World…

So there is something I don’t understand. Or more precisely, another thing that I don’t understand.

Fifty years ago a revolution occured in a valley in California because Xerox filled a building as far away from head office as possible with very clever people. Over the course of a decade, they created the future.

There is a brilliant account of what happened that is well worth reading.

So this worked. Brilliantly!

So why don’t people try and copy the method? Why aren’t there moon shot guesses spread around the world?

We see the same thing in war as well. All sides create secret towns cut off from the front lines, Las Alamos, Bletchley, or the closed Russian cities.

However, companies today, put these places where the bosses can ‘drop in’ and mess things up. Why?

Decentralised Culture…

Sometimes you find the most amazing things in the strangest of places. However, whenever you do, it makes the discovery somthing special.

A number of years ago, I was wondering around EPCOT in Florida because I had a day to spare and a childhood of images of Disneyworld to experience. EPCOT is a strange place, it’s built for far more people than visit it therefore it’s quiet and a good place to reflect.

I had no plan and few expectations when I started wandering. I came across the massive China Pavillion and wandered in. From memory, there were five of us in the massive 360° cinema, so basically it was empty.

On leaving the cinema/ride there was a small exhibition about China and, wonder of wonders, sitting in the middle of the room was row after row of the Terracotta soldiers.


Would I have travelled to China to see them? Probably not, but I have to say that they were wonderful to see and started me down a road of reading about China and it’s history.

To the person that decided to make this exhibition possible. Well done, mission accomplished!

Which brings me to Lens, the old mining town in Northern France. A few years ago the Louvre (yes the world famous museum in Paris) opened a branch office in Lens. A strange place for an investment like this but I think that was the point.

250 works were moved there and displayed in an innovative single room where the position in the room of the object depends on when the object was made. Oldest at the front and with European on the left and Asian on the right!

So we went to visit when we were travelling north and what did I find?

Well surprisingly, I found the Egyptian version of what I’d seen in Florida years before.


A lovely surprise, because everything is not in one place!



Straying from what you know…

I’m being pitched a lot at the moment. Considering the world today and where it was six months ago, this is hardly a surprise. There are a lot of people that want to help me transform and “go Digital”.

I read each pitch, I can always learn from someone else, but I’m often hit that the person pitching me doesn’t show master of the domain that they want to transform.

Let me explain…

This is an early Picasso. Don’t believe me? Look here…

He can obviously paint, and paint well. He’s mastered the old way of doing things, look at the way the material falls. Once he was a master of the old, he transformed to the new.

Same works for engineering. Adrian Newey is a genius, and someone I greatly admire for his ability to constantly optimise and move forward. Each years the cars improve and each there is always something that nobody else has seen.

I believe that a lot of this is because he was forced to master the basics in IndyCar. Race after race of mastering the basics with strict limits. He mastered the old a long time ago and I’m sure that has stayed with him during his whole career.

So when the pitch arrives, what am I looking for?

Mastery of the existing before telling me what the new will look like.

Alexa failure…

The background to this is that I have a few Amazon Alexa’s spread around the house, nine at the last count, from the lounge to the garage! They started off as a cheap way to have multi-room music, but they now control lights, TVs and even a clock.

Well… I’m currently re-reading In the Beginning… Was the Command Line the essay by Neal Stephenson. Which although dated remains a fantastic reflection on the role of tools in our lives, how they’re chosen and how professionals chose them compared to the enthusiastic amateur.


There is passage at the centre of the essay about the GUI and how it forces clarity, and precision. His argument being that the graphical user interface forces the opposite. The GUI is a representation of the machine that often leads us astray. Anyone who has suffered from an Apple “no message error” knows this too well.

The result has been that for the last 20 years, we have a GUI and a terminal window. Even on OSX, the terminal is still there giving clarity where needed.

The Alexa is too like returning to the world before the terminal window. Understanding what is going on via the speech interface is a nightmare. It’s like playing 20 questions with HAL in 2001. Every question seems to be interpreted in exactly the way you didn’t want it to be.

In fact, Science Fiction is a good place to start. In Star Trek, they can talk to their computers, they do it all the time. However, look at the bridge. When they want to know what is going on, they have a dashboard; they even have physical controls. Obvious…


This obvious solution is extended to Alexa by an application interface. Of course, there is one but it’s a nightmare. A wonderful world where everything is a list.  This is a consumer device where the interface looks like SAP; and just like SAP is a series of lists. No hierarchy, no structure, just lists. Home management by accountants!

Alexa Web

There are even some functions that you can’t do on the web and need an application on your phone. This application also suffers from the worse of interfaces with zero clarify about what is going on. That anyone at Amazon considers this a good interface amazes me. I assume that anyone on the development team who uses it has two light switches and one Alexa because that is all that they can fit on screen at any one time.

Alexa App

However, it works and is reliable. So, I thought that it was time to add an Echo show to my desk. A good opportunity, or so I thought, to have a good custom interface and to understand what’s going on in the mind of Alexa! I thought that I was buying a dashboard for my Alexa system. I was finally going to see the bridge.

No chance with the Show, which has a screen good enough to watch TV, but must be the worst interface they’ve created so far. It has very limited functionality, you can’t edit devices or groups of them. You can’t even easily see on screen what you have.

Try asking the Show for the weather for the next week. It shows four days and then scrolls to reveal the last three. Why? There is more than enough space. It doesn’t show any more detail then the temperatures and an icon. Why?

Amazon Echo Show 8 review: The best Amazon smart display, period ...

How this was created and shipped amazes me. That they shipped it in this limited state without an App store and better ability to customise probably shows that Amazon is getting over its Alexa period and may be moving onto something else already.



Random thoughts…