dw2

1 March 2009

A different kind of job title

Filed under: catalysts, communications, openness, vision — David Wood @ 11:29 pm

The companies where I’ve worked for the last twenty years – first Psion PLC, then Symbian Ltd – were, in the end, commercially driven companies, with a mission from shareholders to generate profits. The Symbian Foundation is different: it’s a not-for-profit organisation.

That’s not to say we are blind to commercial considerations. On the contrary, our task is to support a collection of member organisations, many of which are highly profit-focused. We have to manage our own finances well, and we have to enable our member organisations to earn significant profits (if that’s what they want to do). But we’re not, ourselves, a fundamentally commercial entity.

With this thought in mind, we took the decision that we ought to rethink other aspects of how we organise ourselves, and how we communicate. We did not want to take it for granted that elements from the setups of our previous companies would automatically also appear in the setup of the Symbian Foundation.

One outcome of this is a decision to avoid overly business-oriented language like “vice president”, “officers” and “chiefs”, in describing the senior management team. Instead, we’ve eventually settled on the term “Leadership Team”. Hopefully this terminology conveys an emphasis on openness, approachability, and a pioneering spirit.

To designate my own particular area of responsibility, I’ve taken a deep gulp, and I’ve plumped for the description:

Catalyst and Futurist, Leadership Team

In brief:

  • As catalyst, my role is to enable the Symbian software movement to discover and explore innovative solutions for the many challenges and opportunities faced by the mobile industry;
  • As futurist, my task is to distil compelling visions of the future of technology, business, and society – visions that provide the energy and inspiration for deeply productive open collaboration among the many creators and users of mobile products.

As catalyst, it falls to me to accelerate reactions that might otherwise occur too slowly. These reactions draw on energy that’s already present in the ecosystem, but my activities should help to ignite that energy. I’ve written before about the important role of catalysts in ecosystems, in my review of the book “The starfish and the spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.

What’s involved in igniting reactions? In part, it’s to hold out an attractive vision of a different way of working, a different kind of product, a different software architecture, a different user experience, and so on. That’s where the “futurist” part of my job description fits in. In part, it’s also to act, on occasion, as an irritant.

From time to time, I’ll be acting as an ambassador for Symbian, as an agitator, as a networker, and as an evangelist. I’ve got mixed views about the term “evangelist”. On reflection, here’s why I prefer “catalyst”:

  • Evangelists come with pre-cooked solutions – they already know the answers;
  • Catalysts come with suggestions and ideas, but the answer actually comes from the ecosystem, rather than from the catalyst;
  • Evangelists listen, but only to improve their prospects for converting the listener;
  • Catalysts listen, in order to find the ingredients of a solution that no one fully understood in advance.

If I should forget this advice in the future, and speak more forcefully than I listen, I’m sure that members of the ecosystem will find the way to remind me of what true openness really means!

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6 Comments »

  1. Hi David,

    Thanks for engaging community. I know its discussed several times but may be with symbian foundation this time result could be different.

    This is with regard to symbian signed. Currently TC trust certificate is required for siging which only registered company can obtain. So individual that can make applications, contribution to platform are not engaged.

    Take an example, official figures says that 71% of UK business is run by sole traders (i.e. no registration to company house, only one have to register with HMRC with National Insurance number).

    There is always a single argument in support of getting publisher ID which To track the origin of application. Well, this can be tracked with Passport, National Insurance, Tax reference numbers etc if you wish to do so.

    I hope symbian foundation will try to engage individuals. When unemployment increases, talented people sitting at home can do amazingly good and innovative things. Don’t you think that this is the right time to invite them?

    Comment by Anonymous — 2 March 2009 @ 11:28 am

  2. David, I agree that job titles have basically become increasingly inflated and meaningless.
    However, I’m not sure these are the way to go. In all honesty. I would find it hard to take such a business card seriously.

    I think you are already a brand within the industry and as such “DW, Founder” or something a bit more stern is probably all you need.

    Anyway, here are some problems with the terms:

    And futurist to me means a follower of a the Italian Futurism movement of 1900s which celebrated the triumph of technology over nature. Many supporters were supportive of fascist ideals.

    A catalyst may be positive or negative (speed up or slow down), though a negative catalyst
    generally referred to as an inhibitor.

    A catalyst remains unchanged during a reaction.

    A catalyst may be consumed by the product that it helps to create and becomes inactivated by the end result! This is the basis of negative feedback in biochemical pathways – it stops reactions running out of control and killing the organism.

    Comment by Twm — 2 March 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  3. Hi Anonymous,

    >"There is always a single argument in support of getting publisher ID which is to track the origin of application. Well, this can be tracked with Passport, National Insurance, Tax reference numbers etc if you wish to do so."

    This is one of the options that are on the list for consideration. The good news is that the size of the team inside the Symbian Foundation that will be running and steering Symbian Signed will be larger than the size of the corresponding team inside Symbian Ltd. So we’ll be able to analyse and progress these suggestions more quickly than before.

    >"I hope symbian foundation will try to engage individuals. When unemployment increases, talented people sitting at home can do amazingly good and innovative things. Don't you think that this is the right time to invite them?"

    Definitely!

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 2 March 2009 @ 1:08 pm

  4. Hi Twm.

    By “futurist” I mean simply, someone who speaks and writes compellingly about the future. It doesn’t need to be overly-technologised or de-humanised.

    For an example of a similar kind of usage of “futurist”, see the article Inside the Mind of Microsoft’s Chief Futurist.

    >"A catalyst may be positive or negative…"

    I’ll be trying to live up to the postive meanings 🙂

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 2 March 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  5. Well. Sometimes negative catalyst would be beneficial – e.g the banking sector 🙂

    I suppose it’s a bit like band names. The more you hear it, the less odd they sound.

    Comment by Twm — 3 March 2009 @ 5:54 pm

  6. Excellent title David. I know and appreciate exactly the message you want to convey, and I think roles such as yours are very important for all large organisations, even though they’re sometimes not stated in those terms.

    Comment by Troed — 6 March 2009 @ 4:58 pm


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