Digital strategy: why, how…wait…why again?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few months pondering questions of strategy, partly because I’m a deeply boring person and partly because it’s sort of my job.

I was half following the discussions at today’s Leeds Digital Lunch which was attempting to define (or at least explore) the question of a city-wide digital strategy for Leeds, now I was only following things at a distance, via Twitter, so there is no question that any sort of nuance was completely lost on me but it did make me even more sure of a few things that’ve been on my mind of late.

Every now and again I’m asked to help define a digital strategy, whether that’s at work or inputting into things other people are doing elsewhere.

Let me say this now, and loudly (imagine all this is written in caps): a digital strategy, on its own, is a pointless thing. Completely pointless. You may as well have a ‘chairs strategy’ or a ‘conversation strategy’ or an ‘indoors strategy’. Saying you have a digital strategy, or you need a digital strategy doesn’t really mean anything. I understand why these conversations happen, digital (especially in the arts sector) has come to be an awful, nebulous, catch-all term for…well, sometimes it seems to cover anything that involves electricity, or technology – i.e. it is so broad and indistinct as to be almost completely meaningless.

Someone said recently (and I forget who so, sorry): “it’s a layer.” Now, the fact that they didn’t really define what ‘it’ was seems to back up my earlier point, but this definition seems to get closest to what I think people are describing when they talk about ‘digital’. And this brings me to my second point of frustration about the drive towards a digital strategy, it isn’t really a thing, digital (or at least what I think people mean when they say ‘digital’) is reaching a point of all-pervasiveness which means it enables, represents or engages with almost every single thing we do. In and of itself it isn’t really anything, social media is just conversations and other socially interactive behaviour but carried out and represented via the internet and web-enabled technology. Take it out of that context and into the real world and it’s just…talking and that. The same could be said of many, many ‘digital’ activities and functions – ‘digital’ (and yes I’m keeping the apostrophes every time I write it) is something that bleeds into everything your organisation does, and if it doesn’t at the moment it will do in the not too distant future. The advance of digital, technological development and all that jazz has fundamentally altered (or some might say irrevocably damaged) industry after industry, and it’s not going to stop.

Your digital strategy, if we’re still admitting that it might be a thing that exists, should be something that exists in terms of how you’re going to think about every other element of what you do. It is something that enables other activity. It is, in my view, probably more influential over tactical activity than your strategy itself.

“We aim to reach new audiences” – strategic aim. How you achieve that can be done in any number of non-digital ways, however digital can also play a part in helping you meet this aim in conjunction with the non-digital, revelation time – you do not need a digital strategy to accomplish this.

Saying “we aim to reach new audiences online by filming our work and putting it on youtube” is NOT A STRATEGY, that is a description of tactical activity.

All too often I see and hear people describing a succession of activities that don’t really have anything at all to do with anything and trying to call that a digital strategy. Being more active on social media, improving your website, creating more content, making better use of your data – not a digital strategy. Just ‘doing more stuff online’ isn’t strategic if you don’t have any clear idea about WHY you are doing it.

The sooner we stop thinking of ‘digital’ as this thing we can put a ring around the better, the relentless speed at which technology develops (and behaviours and attitudes along with it) means that the moment you start trying to define it you’re already out-of-date and becoming less relevant with each passing moment. People get far too hung up with specific technology, or platforms. We should be able to step back and look at what we are are trying to achieve and assess the tools available to help us do that. Now many of these tools are likely to be technological (or ‘digital’) in nature, however we don’t need a separate strategy to tell us that. I really feel that a sensible organisation would have, by now, realised that the ‘digital strategy’ debate is a distraction, it should simply be part of everything we do, because it probably already is.

So there we have it, my two problems: 1) I think a lot of people misunderstand what strategy actually is and 2) a digital strategy makes no sense, “it’s a layer”.


Dropping the ball, again.

Another year, another Arts Council evaluation thing to fill in. Once again the ‘digital’ section was very short and the questions that were asked were so pointless as to almost be insulting.

This tweet summed it up quite nicely:

@SamScottWoodThe six #digital Qs asked by ACE of NPOs in annual review. I despair. Q5 my particular favourite.

This is, surely, ACE’s annual opportunity to gather meaningful information about all of the organisations that it funds. This in turn could then be used to carry out sector-wide analysis and could inform strategy and funding priorities in the future. SURELY!? Asking how many people have visited a website, or how long visitors have spent on your website does not fall into this category. This simply provides meaningless, contextless, useless information.

This is even more frustrating when you look at how much data ACE ask for throughout the rest of the submission (i.e. more than 6 questions). Given that ‘digital’ (a nebulous, catchall term of nothingness but the one that everyone uses to mean ‘stuff wot is on the internet and that’) is supposed to be a priority and ALSO an area of weakness across the entire sector you would’ve thought that ACE would be absolutely desperate to paint a meaningful picture and use this to – say – allow organisations to benchmark themselves against other relevant institutions and share best practice. No?

Oh well.

Wasted opportunity.


What I think about running when I’m reading books about what people think about running

I like reading, I’m no great literary mind but I like a good story. I also really like reading about things that I enjoy doing, so recently I’ve been working my way through a few books about runners, running and the like. To start off with I read ‘Born to Run’ which has in part been credited for helping to fuel the barefoot/minimal running argument/craze/fad. I’d been putting off reading it for ages because, well, everyone else was reading it and I’m a contrary twat sometimes. But I bought it for my brother for his birthday and he loved it so I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s a really passionately-written and fascinating book, I suspect you probably have to have an interest in running to enjoy it and there are certain parts of your brain you need to switch off to go with how vociferous the author is about certain things. But on the whole, a good read.

It made me think a bit more about running, and why I run. A few friends have started running recently and it’s interesting to observe how other people approach it, and what they get out of it. Warning, what follows is very introspective and probably quite boring, but I enjoyed writing it.

The first time I went for a ‘proper’ run was with my dad, I was about 9 or 10 and really wanted to go with my dad when he went for one of his ‘jogs’. It was probably only about 2 or 3 miles, from the village where we lived to the nearest town and back, but I remember it really vividly. It was dark, it was misty, I was wearing a gilet (it was the 90s, shut up) and it made my lungs burn a bit (the fun of running in the cold). I remember being quite proud when we got back to the house.

I’m not really sure at what point I went from someone who went for the odd jog to considering myself ‘a runner’ – maybe while I was at uni as a reaction to the hugely unhealthy lifestyle that comes with being a student?

I didn’t really start training properly and regularly until I was training for my first marathon in 2010, I think that was the point when I really ‘got’ running. Before then it had always seemed a bit difficult and something to endure rather than to enjoy. The all-encompassing nature of marathon training made me confront the more meditative aspects of forcing yourself to go for a 2 or 3+ hour-long run. I don’t think at any point up until then I had ever given myself that long alone with my thoughts, certainly not consciously. I quite liked that realisation, from then it felt like I was getting more from running than just the physical health stuff. I realise that is not the most well-articulated epiphany but I think it goes a long way to explain why I have spent more and more time running over the last few years, not only does it feel like you are actually accomplishing something (even if that is as banal as travelling an arbitrary distance that also, normally, means you end up where you started) but it also gives me some time, most days, to sort out my thoughts and work out what I think about things – sort of ‘brain admin’ for want of a better description.

I also love the improvement/achievement aspect of it all, follow a training plan and you will improve. And that’s great. You get out what you put in, there are no shortcuts, you can’t just decide to run faster, or further, you need to work at it, in the simplest possible terms I am completely in love with the honesty of running.

I don’t really like training with anyone, I love racing with lots of people I know for all of the pre and post race stuff but training is my thing, time spent, on my own, where my opponent is myself – this is probably deeply anti-social and misanthropic.

I have an ongoing argument with myself about listening to music when I run. On the one hand it’s quite nice to stick on some music and detach yourself from the entire experience a bit but on the other hand that feels a bit like cheating, and like you’re trying to trick yourself into forgetting that you’re actually running. At the moment I am in a ‘no music’ phase, but sometimes training just gets really difficult and any distraction is welcomed.

Running is great, I love it, I probably spend more time running than I do on most other things other than work and sleep.

Good things – for book recommendations n that

Duolingo – a website/app for learning languages (excellent for enabling me to send purposefully grammatically incoherent emails to my German friend), free, easy-to-use, all the good stuff.

Willy Vlautin – just finished Lean on Pete, which was great.


Memories and photos

I’ve been trying to come up with an idea that’d give me a reason to start taking photos more regularly again, particularly portraits if at all possible.

I’ve always been fascinated with memory and memories and how collections of seemingly unrelated stories and anecdotes can form something really fascinating and apparently connected when presented side by side.

So with that in mind I am going to start collecting people’s earliest memories and putting them online together with photos of that person. I don’t really know what it’ll evolve into, maybe it’ll show some sort of common starting point for everyone or maybe it’ll be widely diverse. Let’s see.

UPDATE: and it all lives here

New project

So ever since Cam ( and I stopped doing Tapes ( I’ve had a bit of a ‘side project’ shaped hole in my life. Well due to a number of things I’ve decided I’m going to try and rectify that. I’m currently bombarding various people with ideas and hope to have an actual shape of a thing developed soon, it’ll likely combine art and music in some way (mainly because I like both of those things and am terrible at both so like to work with talented people who are ace).

Currently I think that it may involve cassettes, lots of postage and bits of card. But let’s see.

Subsidised arts

A few inarticulate thoughts:

There has been a bit of a debate recently (that I’ve been reading, via my phone, on the way to work) about the place of subsidised arts in the ‘arts ecology’ of the UK. The general consensus seems to be that in these straightened times subsidised arts companies are becoming more conservative and as a result more overtly “commercial” in their programming. A friend of mine from Germany expressed the view recently that ‘if a commercial theatre is going to do it then a subsidised company has no business going anywhere near it’ and whilst I can completely understand the desire and need to maximise box office revenues I do agree with his point. The public subsidy surely exists in part to help create work that simply isn’t commercially in its (primary) focus.

I recently read an article written by Melvyn Bragg in the Daily Telegraph, the comments left under the article left no doubt that any public subsidy of the arts was an utter waste of money but given the readership of that particular paper that probably isn’t surprising. I have also heard directly from government ministers (who, depressingly, actually work at the DCMS) that there is ‘no point’ in public funding of the arts and it should be ‘left to the public to show what they want by where they spend their money’. But surely this is an utterly depressing viewpoint, if it was left entirely up to ‘market forces’ to dictate what art did and didn’t get made then we would (it seems to me) get stuck in a hideous downward spiral of banality until we reached some awful rock bottom that resembled the daytime TV schedule. Horrible.

But then maybe I’m just seeing this all through some lefty, guardianista, simplistic prism. Maybe we can’t afford to fund stuff that “noone wants to go and see”, that challenges audiences as opposed to to pandering to some arbitrary lowest common denominator of entertainment. Although if that is the case then I think I might move abroad, it’d be an entirely awful state for our society to end up in.

I’m aware that this is not an extensive, in-depth or particularly considered post, but it was on my mind.

Related stuff: (I realise there are a lot of Guardian links there so it’s probably not the most balanced selection of reading)

Some book reviews – “This book will save your life” and “Naive. Super”

Right, I don’t pretend to be any sort of authority on literature (see here for evidence) so have been trying to read more to better myself, broaden my horizons, expand my mind etc. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the first two books I’ve worked through (warning: this will not be articulate):

This Book Will Save Your Life (A.M Holmes)

The cover made me really, really want a donut. I had no idea what this was going to be about, the quote from Stephen King on the back, referencing Catcher in the Rye meant nothing to me (I’m a literary vacuum remember). As it transpired it is about a chap called Richard who has a mid-life crisis, in every sense of the word. A journey of ‘self-discovery’ follows, which even as I write it sounds absolutely horrendous. But it is, in actual fact, absorbing, funny, inspiring and brilliant. Thoroughly recommended.

Naive. Super (Erlend Loe)

Another story about a bloke having a crisis, this time he is only 25 (a quarter-life crisis?). It was originally written and published in Norway (hence, in Norwegian). It is written quite simply – I don’t mean that in anything other than a positive way, it’s a clear, simple narrative. There are a lot of lists. It’s completely charming and again I hugely recommend it, maybe I need to be more discerning.

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” – Abraham Lincoln

So, in an effort, to be more like Abraham Lincoln apparently, to widen my literary horizons I have been soliciting book recommendations. Twitter and Facebook, it would turn out, are tremendously useful for things like this (as well as the more traditional ‘borrowing books from your actual real life friends in actual real life’

I’ve bought the following:
Life of Pi
I, Lucifer
Einstein: his life and his universe

I’ve been lent this:
This Book Will Save Your Life

And these are on my ‘to get’ list:
Magician by Raymond Feist
In The Half Light by Anthony Lawrence

So it would appear I’ve got enough books to keep me going until Christmas – I will try and post some articulate thoughts once I’m done with all the reading n that.

Day -1: bags (almost) packed

Have spent a fairly frantic morning trying to locate everything I need for the ride, that done I then tried to force it all into one pannier….which was never gonna happen. So, for the first time ever I’ll be riding with two panniers. and cleats. wiser people than i would say this is probably not the time to try so many things for the first time. it’ll keep things interesting at least!

Off to pick up the hire car that’ll get us up to Inverness later, I think the last time I drove anything was last summer to/from Istanbul. Fingers crossed the roads are better than Bulgaria.


2 days to go and I’ve just fitted SPD pedals to my bike – these are to go with the new cycling shoes I got for my birthday. The process involved lots of getting covered in axel grease and swearing.

The theory is that cleated pedals mean you pedal more efficiently and god knows I need every drop of efficiency I can get my hands on, HOWEVER cleated pedals also mean you are clipped to the bike. I have spent the last hour trying to get the hang of clipping in and out of my pedals, unsurprisingly this has been a fairly spectacular failure so far – I expect to fall over on a daily basis, to anyone who knows me this won’t be a massive shock.

This is a very bad idea…

Oh, weather prediction for Friday and Saturday is currently 14-16 degrees, sunny, hardly any wind. Perfect. Let’s hope it delivers as promised!

Idle hands

To keep my mind off the fact that I was forcing myself to train the other day I decided that I will endeavour to keep a daily blog whilst on the bike ride. I’m not sure if it’ll be of the slightest interest to anyone but I kept a diary when I went to India a couple of years ago and if this serves the same purpose then at least I will find it interesting in the months and years afterwards.

I’m also going to try and harness the over-the-top power of my phone and post videos, photos and gps data. But that may all fail hilariously. Let’s see.

Less than two weeks to go…uh-oh!

So training for the cycling has been going ok, although I’ve not managed to do as many longer rides as I would’ve liked I’m still getting out on the bike every day even if it is just to and from work.

To be completely honest my running training has been absolutely rubbish, in the last fortnight I’ve maybe been for 5 runs. Which, if you’re training for a marathon, isn’t enough!

On Friday I needed to get a lift home from work with a load of video equipment I thought I’d leave my bike at work, get the taxi home then run back to work and finally cycle home. It’s about 6 miles from home to work so an ok distance. The run part was fine however towards the end of the cycle I got hilariously crippling cramp in my left calf and almost fell off my bike. I’m sure I looked completely ridiculous yelping in pain and wobbling along completely unable to straighten my leg and put my foot down.

Tomorrow I’ve got to go for a longer run (12+ miles), I’ve also started lunchtime runs at work – I’m trying to convince other people in the office to come out with me. The knowledge that other people are also going out running means I can’t be a lazy arse and wimp out.

Less than 2 weeks until the end-to-end starts, over the last 2 weeks the highlands have experience 60-80mph gales and temperatures down to minus 6. GREAT! Hopefully it’ll sort itself out before we get up there….

Training, weeks 1-4

Right so apparently I’ve convinced myself that I’ve started training for the list of things I’m doing this year (details: Annoyingly due to the slightly stupid way that things have worked out I effectively have to train for a 1000-mile bike ride and a marathon at the same time.

I’ve trained for a marathon before (read about it here and here), it’s no fun, it makes you hungry, tired and sore. Let’s see if cycling 100 miles a week helps that – I’ve been informed by a few people that it might actually be a good idea, cross-training n all that.

I’m yet to be convinced…

My training at the moment consists of trying to do at least 1-hour a day on the turbo trainer (bike) combined with trying to get out for a longer weekend ride on the road and trying to get my weekly running mileage up past the 30 mile mark. Which has met with mixed success thus far.

Ah well. 2 months to go…(eek)

end-to-end nonsense

Have started planning for the end-to-end ride I’ll be undertaking in a few months. It’s going to look something like this

1. Friday 22nd April: John o”Groats to Lairg (95 miles)
2. Saturday 23rd April: Lairg to Grantown-on-Spey (90 miles) total 185 miles
3. Sunday 24th April: Grantown-on-Spey to Kinross (110 miles) total 295 miles
4. Monday 25th April: Kinross to Moffat (120 miles) total 415 miles – although the routeplanner took a really odd route round Edinburgh that’s added an unnecessary extra 30 miles by the look of it
5. Tuesday 26th April: Moffat to Kendal (100 miles) total 515 miles
6. Wednesday 27th April: Kendal to Chester (110 miles) total 625 miles
7. Thursday 28th April: Chester to Gloucester (120 miles) total 745 miles
8. Friday 29th April: Gloucester to Tiverton (100 miles) total 845 miles
9. Saturday 30th April: Tiverton to St Austell (80 miles) total 925 miles
10. Sunday 31st April: St Austell to Land’s End (70 miles) total 995 miles

Queueing, and why I can’t do it

Now apparently we English very good at queueing, Bill Bryson even mentioned it in his book about England. I think its probably even edging its way towards becoming a recognised national trait, you know, in travel guides and stuff.

Unfortunately something has happened in my past, I couldn’t even pretend to know what it might be, that has resulted in me being unable to queue. Seriously. If I see a queue I will do anything to avoid joining it, absolutely anything. I would willingly walk in circles, juggling flaming chainsaws to avoid joining a queue (and I have very bad co-ordination so this would probably result in me losing a limb and then setting myself on fire and maybe dying). That’s how much I hate queueing.

I am generally a very patient person, however for some reason when I am forced to wait, in a line of other people, for a service or product something happens in my brain which results in a strange social freakout.

Some examples;

  • I desperately needed to go to the bank to do some important bank things, there was a queue so I immediately turned around, left the building and went for a completely pointless walk around the block (it was raining, so this was stupid), on returning to the bank I saw the queue hadn’t cleared so I went for another walk around the block. I repeated this 3 times (3 times! this is obviously stupid) before the bank reached a low level of busy-ness where I could walk straight into the bank and be served by the cashier without having to engage in queueing.
  • I needed to get cash out from a cash machine in town, it was saturday so it was busy. All of the cash machines I went to had queues so I ended up walking about a mile out of town to find a not-busy cash machine
  • I have gone without lunch at work on numerous occasions, simply because the canteen was busy

Almost without fail whatever solution I come up with to avoid queueing ends up costing me more time and energy than would’ve been spent simply joining the queue. And the sad thing is, I know this, I am completely aware that it is strange and pointless and a waste of time to go to such weird lengths to avoid standing in a line.

My lovely girlfriend finds this very strange, and she is right to, I find it a bit strange sometimes too. It’s almost like a reflex reaction at times, I’m walking away from a potential queue situation almost before I’ve even noticed what’s going on.

When I am forced to join a queue (e.g. whenever I go to a post office, post offices are never quiet, they ALWAYS have queues) I get incredibly annoyed almost instantly and start thinking things such as: how dare all these people get in the way of my incredibly important business (i realise this is stupid), what about all the important things I could be doing/learning/solving but instead I’m stuck here, that teleportation device won’t invent itself you know! (this is also stupid). And then I get annoyed at myself and how ridiculous a reaction that is to something as simple as basically having to wait.

So yeah, I’m rubbish at queueing.