Cleve Gibbon

content management, content modelling, digital ecosystems, technology evangelist.

Board Service

One of my personal goals this year was to learn more about board service. Corporations are changing. Governments are relying on and regulating companies more and more each day. As such, the role of a director is complex, yet critical for corporate success. It’s a tough gig.

I’ve spent a large part of my career in management. Specifically designing, developing, and deploying technology solutions that deliver better business outcomes. I continue to have a blast at that.

However, you cannot manage in a vacuum. The adoption of technology into the business requires increasing awareness of the economic, market, geopolitical, regulatory, and digital transformative changes corporations are going through. All within the midst of a pandemic, diversity and inclusive needs, and a purpose-driven agenda for a more sustainable planet for everyone. It is literally all change.

So why board service?

Shareholders elect directors to oversee management. Directors are ultimately accountable for steering the ship. I firmly believe that a great board of directors builds great corporations. And corporations are moving faster and more decisively than governments to deliver the environmental and societal outcomes the human race needs to survive. The role of the director is critical in this ever-changing complex business environment. By the same token, bad directors can result in bad companies. The actions of the few can be devastating to the many, both inside and outside.

NACD Accelerate

I’m a curious fellow. A pragmatic academic. So I decided to go back to school and get certified as a director. I’ve been a board member of private companies that I’d owned in the past, and on various board advisories for big tech companies. However, I needed to know the full breadth of what it means to be a director across all types of companies. Specifically, ones where I was not a majority shareholder.

So, I found NACD Online, or the National Association of Certified Directors. NACD raises the bar for board service. It equips you for directorship in ways I didn’t imagine. You learn very quickly the director’s philosophy of ‘nose in, fingers out’ thinking. Moreover, you get an instant community of like-minded people on similar but unique journeys. And finally, you get access to so many useful and useable resources.

Last week I passed the exam. I’m a certified director with NACD. It was challenging but rewarding.

Next Steps

Consolidate what I’ve learned. Share with others. Keep dreaming. Direct more. The search begins…

Washing the dishes

Right now thousands of people are washing dishes.  Both dishwashers and people are using that abundant supply of water to clean their dirty dishes.  However, we all know that water is fast becoming scarce.  It’s not abundant. So does this feel right?

I recently zoomed into a session run by Reckitt.  It’s a huge holding company with three category-focused global business units across hygiene, health, and nutrition.  As consumers, you know Reckitt for its brands such as Finish, Harpic, Nurofen, Durex, Dettol, Strepils, Gaviscon, Mucinex, Schiff, and many more.  With over 43,000 employees, £14 billion in revenues, and 20m products solid daily, Reckitt wears its 200+ years of heritage well.

The numbers: washing the dishes

So I stood up and took notice when they shared how they embraced their sustainability development goals.  More specifically, they shared three facts that shocked me into action.

Water usedDoing what?
100 litresHanding washing dishes
60 litresPrewashing dishes by hand, finishing in the dishwasher
10 litresDishwasher only

Hand washing uses 10x as much water as a dishwasher! Every wash. Every day. Put another way, handwashing is 10x more costly to the planet’s water scarcity challenge than dishwashing (if you have and use a dishwasher of course).

How can this be?  Simple.  Dishwashers are smart.  They re-use and clean the same water multiple times throughout the cycle.  Where, by hand, we wash, rinse, and repeat with the tap in near always-on mode.  

The change: let the dishwasher do its job

I live in Seattle and had a friend over to stay from NYC. She’s so much fun. So after lunch, we got to washing the dishes. That’s when I got chastised for not doing enough to prewash the dishes. During the same visit, I unpacked the entire dishwasher load only to learn that the cycle hadn’t gone around. That’s right, the pre-wash was so good it had fooled me. And then came another round of silly Cleve.

Knowledge is power. How I wish I was armed with what I know now.

So there are better techniques.  Firstly, you can pre-scrap. Secondly, reduce the amount of water you pre-wash dishes with today.  Lastly, invest in better dishwashers if and when you can.  But most importantly, you can share what you now know with others. Please do!

Responsible AI

A lot of people do not trust AI.  Sentient machines will eventually wipe out the human race if left unchecked. We’ve all watched Terminator and the birth of SkyNet.

Today, scientists and technologists disrupt at pace.  This is progress.  It’s great. However, AI requires a bit more thought given the scale and impact it is having on decisions we are asking it to make on behalf of humans.  This is important.  

A Responsibility AI awakening

I recently listened to a podcast from the lead scientist accredited with the first commercial facial recognition system back in 1994.  An amazing technological breakthrough. Now fast forward to 2011 and that very same lead scientist is stepping back to warn us of the impact of what he unleashed within the world.  He warns us of the ethics and responsibilities of AI.  What changed here?

As it turns out, many different yet interrelated things change. Compute power increased. Data became massively accessible to the masses. Back in 1994 social media wasn’t a thing.  So, for facial recognition to be useful, you needed a decent database of digitized faces to look up. That didn’t exist or wasn’t readily accessible.  Today, your average coder can scrap our favorite social platforms and build that semi-decent facial database.  Next download open-source facial software, connect to widely available cameras, and start identifying people in their local neighbourhood, school, workplace, without consent.  Left unchecked, this is a concerning future.

Joseph Atick recognized this and started to lobby for the responsible use of AI four years after his initial breakthrough. We have to get ahead of the technology.  Raise awareness and alert people about the ethical impact of technological breakthroughs.  What do they mean and how could they potentially change societal norms?

Today, facial recognition systems are the primary mechanism for unlocking our phones.  It’s a widely accepted technology gatekeeper to our most personal information.  Standard consumer ware.

Do the ‘extra’ work

I’ve designed, built, and successfully deployed many websites of varying shapes, sizes, and scales.  I’ve also got it wrong many times.  My aha learning moment was that the go-live launch day is urgent, but operational adoption of any web platform is important.  Long-term value creation means you never lose sight of tomorrow’s importance whilst dealing with today’s urgent. 

So for deploying websites, the finish line is at least 90 days past go-live. Success is the operational adoption of technology by its target users. Execution is merely right to left planning from there.  In doing so, we prioritize people and processes ahead of products and platforms.  It is even more important to take a similar approach when deploying emerging AI breakthroughs into the world.  However, the timelines are longer and the stakes are much higher than websites.  

Consider the AI responsibilities that you are accountable for. Give yourself a timeline of at least 9 years after your major technological breakthrough.  What do you anticipate the environmental, societal, and human impacts to be? Then educate us.  Raise alarm bells. Be honest.  Do the extra work.  Don’t just blindly revel in the urgency of the breakthrough.  That’s a short term rush. Play devil’s advocate. Seek to understand what is truly important.

Congratulations on your breakthrough and thank you for owning the responsibility that comes with it. Giving birth is hard, but raising a child, well, that’s a whole other level of responsibility.

Team of Teams

I recently finished the book Team of Teams.  For me, it was one of those books that give sensible names to the things already do, but articulated in a clear, smart, and demonstrable way.  

It’s about leadership.  What was complicated before is truly complex now.  A complicated problem can be decomposed into a number of parts with a manageable amount of inter-relationships.  Complex problems are those where the inter-relationships between the parts are much greater and nuanced.  A jigsaw puzzle is complicated, but a virus complex.  

Being complicated is different from being complex
– Team of Teams

You cannot solve complex problems with complicated solutions.   Hierarchical organizational structures with command and control leadership are efficient approaches to solve complicated problems.  However, the effective resolution of complex problems requires a different approach.

Shared Consciousness

So we must build teams where information flows like water.  Be open and transparent.  And develop that operational muscle to make information readily accessible in near real-time between trusted teams.  There are many techniques for doing this (PPP Reports, stand-up meetings, 1-to-1s).  

Empowered Execution

Grow and nurture leaders.  Your job as a leader is to provide oversight.  Proactively get out of the way.  Don’t stand in front of the information firehose throttling access.  Don’t make the decisions upstream and disempower teams downstream.  The flow of information within complex environments is too much for a single leader to make informed and impactful decisions with the speed and accuracy expected of them.  So don’t.

The transition from Command to Command of Teams is a good first step. However, an efficient shared consciousness brings diminishing effectiveness returns in Command of Teams structures as leaders quickly starting drowning in information.

Becoming a gardener

Instead, a great leader is oil in the engine.  They connect the parts.  Feeding the teams.  Providing oversight. Sharing information. And in doing so, tending the complex environment to enable growth. 

So I’ve heard this put two ways: 

  • Nose-In, Fingers-Out
  • Eyes-On, Hands-Off.  

Both work. So go be that gardener and grow great leaders.

Ethics and Compliance

Ethics and Compliance

The oversight of ethics and compliance programs is a core board responsibility.  A single corporate misstep today can result in immediate reductions in business operations and/or long-term reputational brand damage.  

Both are important but in very different ways.  

ethics and compliance

Compliance

A known set of rules, laws, regulations, and/or policies that are applicable to a group of individuals or entities.  

So compliance is binary in nature.  Your behaviors fall into one of two categories: compliant or non-compliant.  That’s because compliance is quantitative, objective, and black/white in its approach.  Being compliant means periodically determining whether you are, as they say, still on the bus.  

Ethics

A shared system of values.

And so ethics are fuzzy.  They require a higher level of judgment to determine whether individuals and/or entities share a common system of values.  Ethics are qualitative, subjective, and grey by definition.  Ethics pits your value system against someone or something else.  Comparing value systems is an important discovery through discourse.  Evaluating assumptions and getting real. Being ethical means continuously determining whether you are, as they say, on the right bus.

Ethics and Compliance

You need both.  However, employees are choosing companies that share their values.  Ethical companies clearly articulate purpose, have a point of view, and proactively go after it.  Where compliance enforces, ethics empowers.  Today, we’re seeing that ethics are multipliers to robust compliance programs. You need both in balance.

Three simple data questions

Information is useful and useable data.  During a typical working day, a business hopes to close with more valuable information than it started with.  The broader goal(s) is to better understand “this” in order to achieve “that” – whatever this and that may be for your business!  

Regardless, digitization creates meaningful and modular data chunks that enable information exchange to take place anytime, anywhere, by anyone. Data literally moves at the speed of light.  That’s how digital business is conducted today.  Always on platform businesses – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Spotify, Uber – never close.

Three important data questions

90% of company assets on the balance sheet today are intangible. Let that sink in – 90%!  Digital businesses place a lot of value on insights, information, intelligence, and IP.  This requires digital businesses to really deeply understand the data they manage.

So start by asking:

  1. What data have you got?
  2. What format is your data in?
  3. What data can you access to augment your data?

Simple questions that have a difficult path to the answers.  However, these answers are critical to your future business success.  The bigger the company, the greater the challenge.  When talking about data management in the broader sense, do you have answers to these three simple questions?  

What is product engagement

If you like something, you’ll use it. A lot. That’s product engagement.

I recently listened to John Straw speaking on a McKinsey podcast. I’m sharing his super simple way of thinking about product engagement. Take a look at these two companies:

Company A: Makes $1, per 100 users, with 1k interactions per day

Company B: Makes $1000, per 100 users, with 1 interaction per day

So which company has better engagement? A or B? Of course it’s A. However, it’s important for Company A not to lose sight of this as it grows the $ part of the equation.

It’s clear that company A has a product that customers want to engage with. Company B has got the marketing right.  Sustainable businesses scale products (the ends) not marketing (the means).  

Healthy Curiosity

My wife is a writer.  Last week she shared an interesting piece of advice for dealing with writer’s block. Cleve, you need a good dose of healthy curiosity Cleve. Of course, I asked for more details and I got this:

   Every week research something that you’re curious about.  

Something I’m curious about? Well, I’ve always wanted to learn how to code in Python. It’s a playful yet powerful programming language that I’ve never used in anger. Why not?

So on Sunday, I signed up for an online self-service python course. The University of Michigan module on Coursera looked perfect. From there I downloaded the Python for Everybody kindle book for a dollar and got to work. Six days later and I’m wrapping up the course and finished with the book. It was super fun and lived up to being playful yet powerful. I highly recommend it as a first programming language for anyone wanting to get into coding. I wish it was around when I was a boy. For parents, consider it for your kids.

Now, I hate snakes by the way (but love the movie Snakes on a Plane).  Python was NOT named after the snake.  No. It was named after the Monty Python Flying Circus comic strip.  Remember the playful part of python.

Back to Healthy Curiosity

I’ll let you into a little secret.  I don’t have writer’s block.  My writing efforts are far too short and sweet for that.  However, it did supercharge my curiosity in all other areas. It was as if my eyes and ears were temporarily supercharged.  I put all the energy derived from a dose of healthy curiosity into listening more intently and paying attention longer in my day-to-day. I’m hoping it continues into next week. I’ll let you know.

So healthy curiosity appears to be a good thing. Try it.  Pick something small and lean in on it. I’d love to know where it takes you

Cannes Lions Innovation 2021

Cannes Lions Innovation happens every year. This year it’s fully digital. The best of best submit their creative works in the hope of winning. Sadly, Cannes was canned in 2020 due to COVID. So in 2021, there’s two years’ worth of innovative work to judge. I had the honor of joining 9 other judges that reviewed 161 entries in the innovation category.

It was hard. So many great entries spanning the 6 innovation sub-categories of early-stage, applied, scalable, product, brand strategy & experience, and innovative technology. We shortlisted 17 entries. This week the shortlisted teams will present their work to the judging panel. By the end of the week, they’ll be winners.

Well done to everyone that entered. Good luck to the shortlisted. If you know any of the judges, next week they will have a singular focus. So wish ’em look.

Cannes Lions Innovation Judging in Progress

Devyce

I’m a Londoner living in America.  However, I still need a UK number primarily for banking purposes.  Security is real. However, mobile provider tariff plans are both complicated and costly.  So how do you get a reliable UK number with the least amount of pain? 

My brother introduced me to Devyce. One phone. Two numbers.  Devyce is a regular mobile app.  Once installed, you pay a monthly subscription fee for unlimited UK texts and calls. Devyce sits on your phone with no additional SIM card required. Just like WhatsApp using the UK number that comes with your subscription. All you need is an internet connection. Problem solved.

So how much?  My personal plan is less $8 per month people. Devyce is a smart, simple and scaleable solution. It also offers plans for teams and businesses. I think everyone should know about Devyce. Consider yourself told!

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About Cleve Gibbon



I'm Cleve Gibbon, CTO at Wunderman Thompson where we are passionate about digital content.

My sort of up-to-date cv tells you my past, linked in shows you my professional network and on twitter you can find out what I'm currently up to.