Friday, April 03, 2015

Put the yellow hat on and start hoping ...

I often talk about different strategic plays and games (I've added an example set in table 1) and how you can manipulate your environment (expressed in a Wardley Map) by the use of these. For those new to Mapping, I've provided a set of useful posts. For those who need to know a bit more about situational awareness, focus on the WHERE

Table 1 - A toolbox of gameplay

Now, once you start playing the game, you need to focus on the middle and be careful what messaging you send to the outside world - a bit of incompetence goes a long way when competing against others. There are all sorts of games you can play including Fool's mate and a long list of problems that maps can help to resolve.

I mainly work for Governments (as in several) and extremely large industries. All have a long term focus and getting this stuff right matters at exceptional scales - in terms of time, size and money. It matters less if you're flogging mobile phones or luxury beer kegs or fancy watches. You can be replaced easily enough, the market will see to that. Companies come and go all the time. Most of you won't last fifteen years. No-one really minds bar the company, shareholders and employees involved.

So, what about startups? I've been involved with many (indirectly through friendships and directly through advisory board to being the CEO). Several I know use mapping effectively. But should you always do what is right in terms of strategic play from a map? 

No, of course not. 


One of the importance things to consider is signal distortion. Everyone seems to like to give Gartner a hard time but whether you like it or not, Gartner plays an important role.

Before I explain, don't tell me the MQ and Hype Cycles aren't real things - I already know they're not based on physical measurement, I know those axis wander, I've read the ZL case and how MQ is just opinion - I'm already fully aware. It doesn't matter if it's not based on science and whether it's voodoo or not. They are still useful.

A lot of people and companies put a lot of faith in where Gartner analysts draw the dots on those diagrams. Drawing the dot in the wrong place can have negative consequences for some vendors and hence you occasionally get outrage. If you're looking to get acquired or break into certain companies then getting your dot drawn in the right place matters. You need to understand what drives the opinion of those analysts and make sure you fit with it.

What Gartner says is irrelevant to me and my area of work. But if you're a startup then you damn well should care what they say. If Gartner says the future is yellow hats then buy one and start hoping you get noticed. You want to grab the spotlight created by MQs and shine them firmly on yourself. You want to distort the noise in the "ether" until it choruses "me, me, me!"

I had this discussion recently with a startup who had mapped their area. They've been using mapping very successfully (raising many tens of millions) and noticed a discontinuity. From the map, one play was obvious but this was counter to what Gartner was saying. Should they do the right play or copy what Gartner said despite it being visibly the wrong play?

From a Government / National perspective you'd do the right play. But as a startup - your goal is almost always to get acquired. Doing the right play might help you build a long term business but it's not going to get you positively noticed and possibly acquired in the short term.  It doesn't matter what the map says, in this case you buy the yellow hat. Fortunately, they did the sensible thing and fitted in with Gartner. They bought the yellow hat.

Getting analysts to help send "buy" signals to potential acquirers is an essential part of the game. It's an essential part of getting further investment. It's like the bimodal stuff at the moment. Yes, I give bimodal a hard time but that's because I'm focused on different scales and whether an analyst firm thinks something is important is not for me. However, if you're a startup trying to get bought then you absolutely MUST be saying you're bimodal regardless. 

If they're telling you to hop, skip and jump then damn well hop, skip and jump - no matter how ludicrous it seems or is. Even when you know it's plain wrong ... hop, skip and jump. Just hope someone notices.

Those signals are useful. Learn to use them.