TRIAL NOT ERROR: Why every organisation should have Trojan Mice

Okay, confession time: I try my absolute hardest to avoid books on social media.

Books on climbing? Yes. Books from self-styled social media ninjas? no thank you.

One of a few that stands like a shining beacon is the excellent ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do’ by Euan Semple.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve recommended this hardback work to. Even if you don’t go out and buy it you can take something from the title.

One of the reasons why I’m rather keen on it is that it strikes a chord with some of the work we’ve done.

One example that Semple comes up with is ‘Trojan mice.’

In other words, in an organisation do lots of little things to see where they end up and if they work without shouting about them to the world. Or senior management. He writes:

“Conventional initiatives are like the more familiar Trojan Horse. Big, lumbering, slow moving. It takes a lot of people to move it and it is very hard to get it to change direction without a lot of effort.

“As we deployed low cost small tools and kicked off little initiatives at the BBC we began to describe our approach as deploying Trojan Mice, a metaphor borrowed from British consultant Peter Fryer.

“Set up small, unobtrusive inexpensive and autonomous tools and practices set them running and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.”

It’s an approach that in spirit chimes with Dave Briggs’ line about JFDI – Just Flipping Do It.

Thinking back, some of the things I’ve done have worked well. Others haven’t. None of them we’ve made a big noise about from the word go.

Of course, there is the argument from some PR people that everything – Trojan Mice and otherwise – has to be linked up to a campaign with objectives, key messages and things to measure. I’m just not so sure about this. This feels like trad comms sellotaping itself to the new stuff and forgets that fact that to make this new stuff work you have to embrace the fact it’s a conversation.

With Trojan mice you can make some mistakes. Do five things. If two work, tell your bosses’ boss about them and see how you can nurture them elsewhere. Even the quiet failures you can learn things from.

Creative commons credits:

Trojan horsey


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  1. Kind of agree with this. The only bit I’d challenge is the need for the need for objectives. Even with ‘Trojan mice’ or ‘Just Flipping Do It’ you’ve got to have an objective in mind. A reason for doing it and a direction to aim. What you don’t need to do is make it big and complex. It’s even more important not too waste too many resources on trying to measure it. Yes, measurement is extremely important, but not when it is disproportionate. Far too often the effort it takes to measure stuff properly just doesn’t stack up and you’d be better off putting that effort in to just doing it. The other problem with measurement is too often it is the wrong stuff that is measured, which in turn makes any evaluation flawed.

    1. Great blog as ever dan & some really interesting points. Agree with Stuart on measurement – it’s about having a sensible balance. I know at times I’ve killed myself over the analysis of stuff that in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that important.

      All that energy could be better spent driving things on. Having said that the machine is sometimes created to collect all this measurement and by doing it I’ve been able to persuade people to get behind projects or trust in them so it wasn’t wasted effort (even though it suited a different purpose)

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