Saturday 9 April 2011

JFDI & the fear of failure

I remember still the smell of Bunsen burners, the noise, the rickety stands holding glass vials above the flames, and the worn, scarred initialled benches we all worked on in our Science lab.

It was in science that I learnt something I didn't know I didn't know. I learnt to quantify and focus on the process of trying to find an outcome through experimentation. That makes it sound terribly serious, and of course it wasn't - the process was supposed to be fun and often was despite our teachers best efforts to the contrary. 

But the approach - I want outcome x so I'm going to try inputs a, b and c and see which works best is something which is strikes me that those working with social media are still doing. Actually, I'll rephrase that. It's something the JFDI bods are currently doing in social media.

It seems there are two kinds of people. Those who look at what everyone else is doing, read the case studies, read the books, measure everyone elses outcomes and successes and then simply copy the inputs and hope for the same outcomes.

This requires careful thought, however, of a few things some people seem to be missing.

Every Council authority, every new NHS cluster, every Fire station and every Local Strategic Partnership looks different. Feels different. Sounds different, ringing as they do with the diverse dialects and accents of our wonderful country. One size does not fit all.

We are in danger of becoming prescriptive, not innovative. A recipe which includes Flickr for collecting residents photographs for us to use on our webpages and promotional material. A Facebook page for winter services, a main one for general announcements where no one ever bothers to like any posts or comments back, one for our leisure centres. A Twitter stream broadcasting out, ticking a box, everyone talking about engagement, but engagement rarely happening if my experience of watching one lad trying to talk to a supposed trailblazer Council about an outstanding invoice is anything to go by. A YouTube channel with lots of boring talking heads pushing their own agendas which no one ever watches.

JFDI is not a way of life. It's not something which should be done 100% of the time - you'd never be able to track all of the outcomes - and if you think it is then you're completely missing the point. JFDI is an ethos which borrows everything from the lessons you learnt way back in the science lab. State your required outcome, be sure of it, understand it, unravel it - and then pick a couple of different inputs and see what happens, see what comes out of them. Spend time nurturing the one which gets the most local interest. Not national or international interest, not newspaper interest, local interest. You are trying to engage and serve local people and not all local people behave the same. Tech savvy clusters of residents might turn their nose up at yet another Facebook page because they don't use Facebook. A predominantly older cluster of residents might just want a simple webpage with a comment facility to feedback through. 

It doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be simple. It has to fit the communication and engagement needs of the particular dynamics and demographics of your area.

You're going to have to put some effort in.
You're going to have to understand your local area.
You're going to have to work out whether you can afford to think a bit differently.
You're going to have to identify your required outcomes.
You're going to need to accept that sometimes, the data just isn't there and pick a tool or idea and JFDI.

It might fail.

No one likes that word. Wired UK magazine devoted most of their issue this month to the notion that as a country, perhaps the reason we don't produce as many tech successes is because of our fear of failure. Because of the stigma we attach to bankruptcy and business shutdowns.

JFDI is risky. But if you do everything in the list above, you can mitigate that risk and you can justify it, should someone come knocking on the door. And despite what some people are standing in front of you and telling you, sometimes JFDI does result in sustainable outcomes. BWD Winter, a Facebook page with 4,000 eyeballs reading its posts, with a community regulating itself, with end users directly thanking the drivers of the grit trucks, proves that. BWD Winter was set up in 48 hours, pretty much. We had clear outcomes we wanted to achieve and we had prior local resident behaviour to judge our decisions on, but ultimately, we JFDI.

We must, absolutely must, stop being so frightened of failure. We're in danger of becoming extinct if we don't.

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